When I first picked up the bright orange US hardback and read aloud the title Win, Lose or Die. I can say I wasn’t exactly compelled to spend my time reading it. But of course, you can judge a book by it’s cover, so I got my head into it and was left with a truly masterpiece of an adventure stuck in my head.
John Gardner writes most of his Bond novels like an Inspector series, more Investigating and detective work, so I was expecting a few double-crosses or even some triple-crosses (as Gardner is famous for) and he didn’t fail to deliver those.
The book is very unique and I tend to like stories that stray away from the normal formula, but not to the extent that the character of James Bond, his attitude and the rules of the basic formula are unrecognisable. Warning: There are some plot spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t read it and don’t want the book spoiled I suggest you don’t read further.
During the Gulf war, Oil Tanker (Son of Takashani) makes its way out of the treacherous sea near Iraq. It’s attack by a group of Terrorist using gliders. But they fail to get a foothold of the ship due to its good defences.
Days later a SATCOM satellite picks up the conversation between two ‘unknown’ terrorists. Discussing plans to take hold off a ship they call ‘Birdsnest Two’ later translated to be the ship HMS Invincible, a Through Deck Cruiser which will participate in Landsea ’89, a giant war-game played by all the major world powers.
The SIS believe the Terrorist Organisation BAST (Brotherhood of Anarchy and Secret Terror)Plan to invade the Invincible. But there is a problem. Three high-priority guests will staying aboard the Invincible to talk about all things war and peace and they stubbornly refuse to cancel the meeting. Bond is placed aboard the Invincible as primary Head of Security.
Sure enough, as Landsea ’89 begins and the voyage begins, BAST makes their move, Bond must find out who is the traitor, how to handle it and keep everything else running smoothly.
A thing Gardner tends to do is add completely unnecessary scenes or ‘twists’ into the book, and you begin to wonder if he just does so to past the time and take up space. Though I can understand Bond’s time in Naples the whole ‘Northanger’ bit was very unnecessary and Gardner gave a weak explanation, leaving you feel slightly confused. Who wouldn’t know a group of Terrorists had taken over a Military base?
Bond’s time aboard the ship is more like Murder On The Orient Express then anything else, which isn’t bad, but tends to get on the boring side. But he does write it all very well, and his in-depth knowledge of the Royal Navy and their procedures for some reason make it all the more interesting, and then leaves you some knowledge of the RN.
When I read through the plot description I was expecting a literary version of the Steven Seagull movie Under Siege. While the book didn’t involve Bond sneaking around the boat picking off terrorists one at a time throughout the whole book, there is a whiff of it in the last half of the book.
The villain’s motive wasn’t very inspired, the members of BAST doing it for the same old ‘Better World through Terrorists acts’ excuse with the leader of the organisation having alternative motives. Another good thing that came from the book was seeing Bond back in the Navy, he himself having memories about his Navy days and having to get back in the saddle so to speak.
But one thing, which I’m sure angered some Bond fans, is Gardner’s constant acts of trying to change everything that Ian Fleming intended Bond to be. While Bond’s attitude never really changed through any of Gardner’s book, he takes away the minor things that make Bond, Bond. In his previous books he wiped out the Double-Oh program, took away Bond’s PPK and now changes his ranks from Commander to Captain. While I can accept small changes and modernisation these things fans have just become attached too. Something next author Raymond Benson knows and respects.
The positive far outweighs the bad, I enjoyed the simple yet affective plot and the great characterisation and development that Gardner is best at. If you want to see Bond under pressure and take the reign of a Sea Harrier this is a book you will feel thankful for reading.