Friday, August 31, 2007

John Gardner R.I.P.

John Gardner, who wrote the Boysie Oakes series and continued the James Bond series from 1981 to 1996, passed on August 3 from a heart attack. He was 80 years old.

Gardner was born Nov. 20, 1926 in Seaton Delaval, Northumberland. His father, Cyril Gardner, was an Anglican priest. During World War II he served in the Royal Marines. Following the war, he graduated from St. John's College at Cambridge and did postgraduate work at Oxford. He became an Anglican priest in 1953, but left the priesthood after only five years. He then got a job as drama critic for The Stratford-Upon-Avon Herald. His first book Spin the Bottle, detailing his experience with alcoholism, was published in 1963.

It would be his second book, however, that would set Gardner on the path to fame. Published in 1964, The Liquidator featured a spy like no other before. Boysie Oakes appeared to be the stereotypical, heroic man of adventure, something which to his employment by an intelligence agency. Unfortunately, Oakes is actually an unrepentant, inept coward who would rather spend his time at home. Gardner would write seven more Boysie Oakes novels.

It was in 1981 that Gardner was called upon by Ian Fleming's executors to write a new series of James Bond novels. Gardner had mixed feelings in writing new Bond novels, viewing 007 as Ian Fleming's character. In the end, he would ultimately write 16 Bond novels.

Gardner wrote several other novels, including several other series. He wrote two novels featuring Sherlock Holmes' archnemesis, Professor James Moriarty (he would have written more, but a fight with his publisher ended the series). He wrote five novels featuring Herbie Kruger, a large American in the service of British intelligence. Most recently he wrote five novels featuring Detective Sergeant Suzie Mountford, a London policewoman during World War II.

I must confess that I have not read a lot of John Gardner's books, but I have liked what I have read. Of the men who have written James Bond since Ian Fleming, I still believe he was the best. In writing the novels, Garnder used a style very similar to that of Fleming. With regards to his plots, he perhaps had more skill than Fleming. His Bond novels often feature double and even triple crosses, and often original twists involving the standbys of the Bond novels (power hungry madmen, assassins, and so on). I also enjoyed his Professor Moriarty books, which were an interesting take of the character (truly showing him to be the Napoleon of Crime). His books about Detective Sergeant Mountford are entertaining as well, capturing war torn London perfectly.

In fact, that is what I liked about John Gardner the most. He was an author who was able to play with genres. In his Boysie Oakes he almost parodied the spy genre, with a protagonist who was so cowardly he actually hired others to perform the assassinations assigned to him. In the Professor Moriarty and Detective Sergeant Mountford books he proved a master at atmosphere, capturing the spirit of both the late Victorian Era and World War II England. With his James Bond novels, he evoked Ian Fleming's novels while adding his own twists to the mythos. Gardner was definitely a master of the thriller genre. There weren't too many writers who could match him.

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