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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

Role of Honor by John Gardner

Role of Honor - John E. Gardner

Gardner's fourth Bond book.

The second appearance of SPECTRE.

With luck, this will, in a way, prove to be Gardner's first Bond book.

It began with the last one, Icebreaker, in which Gardner did away with most of Bond's magic tricks. Here, he takes that a step further, taking away even his car--or, to put it more descriptively (and accurately) his mobile fortress. Bond returns to the Bentley, which contains nothing more than a spare gun and a mobile telephone.

Taken in conjuntion with the previous novels, this is insane, of course, and something no secret agent who wished to remain alive would ever do. But that seems to be just the point: to SEVER the connection with the previous novels and bring Bond back down to Earth a bit.

At least, I fervently hope that is the point, because Role of Honor is far and away Gardner's best Bond novel to this point in the series. It's really no contest, like Bond against Nick Nack, Scaramanga's diminutive Man Friday in Roger Moore's version of The Man With the Golden Gun.

(It isn't the first time Gardner has seemed to re-think an earlier decision. His first novel had Bond taking a house in the country near an occasional girlfriend. Neither house nor girlfriend have been heard of since.)

This book, to modern readers, even has about it a kind of nostalgia that brings back a touch of the flavor of Fleming's originals. Not by design, of course, but because it involves computers and programming--and oh how technology has evolved in the last three decades. Even better, Bond's 3-week crash course in BASIC, Fortran, and flowcharting fails to fool the computer genius villain for even a moment.

Gardner could still do well to reread a few of Fleming's less grandiose novels, for his plot here remains (in the end) overblown and unworkable, but remarkably suspenseful and exciting even so. It's about a computer gaming expert whose "games" provide simulations for various criminal activity. Then he takes on a contract for SPECTRE. In Dr. Jay Autem Holy, Gardner comes close to creating a memorable adversary for Bond. Without doubt, he's the most interesting one so far.

Contains a few good set-pieces, one of which has Bond and Holy discussing SPECTRE's mission while playing one of Holy's simulations (of the Battle of Bunker Hill). To give away the others would be to spoil them, but both involve Bond in life or death situations.

Yes, Gardner still leans too heavily on Bond's sex appeal and, yes, every woman in the world still wants him on sight, but even this is toned down (a bit) here, which is all to the good.

In all, Gardner's first real contribution to Fleming's legacy. It still ain't Fleming, but it's good entertainment.