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  1. The 007th Chapter: For Special Services – Invitation by Force

     

     

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart – cunningly presented out of sequence…

     

     

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    Contains huge spoilers. Of a book over thirty years old. Isn’t it terrible, that news about The Titanic? Bet you can’t guess who Darth Vader really is. I think I’ve drunk wine younger than this book. Once, with regret. 

     

    I’m thinking… Ronseal.

     

    I haven’t succumbed to product placement (yet) but as I age, I dwell on how to keep wood. If none-the-wiser, or just aghast at the squalor of that joke, Ronseal is a creosote (this won’t get more exciting). Other brands are available but Ronseal stands out for possessing a bouquet that smacks-up dead quick dirt cheap, and having been advertised with the slogan “it does exactly what it says on the tin”, a phrase that has entered the wider lexicon, like those “Keep Calm” things – Keep Calm and Drop Dead – and “A Mars a day helps you work, rest and cultivate Type-2 diabetes”.

     

    This springs to mind not through an urge to paint the fence – one engages the little people for that, how charming they are with their “vans” and their “views” – but because I hold a-mitt a 1987 Coronet UK paperback of For Special Services. It looks chewed. There’s a distinct – dog?  – toothmark at the moment Bond eats a tuna sandwich and drinks Perrier. I might be blaming the hound unfairly; could have been me, enraged at this dumbing-down / plebbing-up of 007. There’s another incision just as Bond crams his gut with “chicken pie” and Apple Jonathan – presumably not Sir Jony Ive, although since Bill Gates gets an oblique reference in Role of Honour one can’t dismiss the thought. Fair’s fair, both meals are comforting beige stodge, so I might have been trying to join in. “Beige stodge” seems apt, somehow.

     

    Back to the “point” – the selling (or selling out) of Gardner Bond. Can’t judge a book by its cover, say “they”. Codswallop: the cover has “James Bond” in letters larger than both title and author, there’s a silhouette of a dinner-jacketed man taking aim and the base has “007”, big and bold. Little else upon which to judge it, frankly. It does exactly what it says on the tin. The book has James Bond 007 in it, although moot whether it’s ectually Ken Spoon (or Ron Seal). For Special Services might be open to many criticisms – on their way, lovey – but terminal ambiguity is not one. There is nothing else this could be. Anyone spotting you reading it – once they’ve stopped pointing fingers and whispering (although that’s nothing to do with the book and you know it) – would be in no doubt about what it was; similar absence of doubt in their deciding to flee, chop-chop quick.

     

    The back cover risks undermining this single-mindedness, instilling anxiety whether such tin-based-promise will come true. Things start “well”, boasting that Bond comes armed “with a new pair of Sykes-Fairburn commando daggers and a new Heckler & Koch VP70 hand gun”, as if that can impress non-mental people, and evidence of a burgeoning trend that hardware gets top billing. Still, the book delivers, narrating inanimate serial-numbered murder-things in greater detail than its characters. Possibly the point is that 007 is just an inanimate serially-numbered murder-thing too. Mr Gardner, you scamp. As if that wasn’t enough tedious name-checking of story-hijacking objects, the “turbo-charged silver SAAB 900” clanks back. The author’s note thanks SAAB (GB) Ltd for “proving that the James Bond SAAB really does exist” even if they don’t any more. Karma caught up with them. Because it wasn’t driving a frickin’ SAAB.

    Next bit’s odd: “With a new woman, even more desirable than Pussy Galore or Lavender Peacock, in his arms…” One was a lesbian, the other a … some typing (can’t and won’t and shan’t remember): low thresholds, both. That word “desirable” is questionable – under police caution – given that the girl is his best friend’s daughter. I’ll come back to this. Doing what it says tin-wards, other than being rescued in very slow motion from a plummeting lift, I’m not sure Cedar is ever in Bond’s arms, not even when her father sex-rings her out. “The master spy” – he’s not a spy, Mr G makes this perfectly clear – “the ultimate hero” – an alcoholic given to racial abuse and violence; great – is once again “ready to serve Her Majesty”. No he’s not. M, having failed to get the expensive 007 finally killed by loaning him to the SAS as an air marshal, tries again by seconding him to the US to pursue an ice-cream maker with foggily explained designs on the Presidency who lives in the house from Gone with the Wind (I’m not making this up). That’s the point of the title. He’s not a British agent. Again, I suggest Mr Gardner is deliberately extracting the urine but I know that’s not a universally-held view. “…and the arch-enemy Blofeld and SPECTRE back on his hands”. Given how it plays out, the “back on his hands” is a massive spoiler, albeit the phraseology suggests it might be the same Blofeld as before. It most decidedly is not. Just as well, given the “increasing mutual delight” in the “magic of the love act”, although that kimono the old loony was last seen wearing did present his thighs alluringly. I hope Bond’s throttling of Blofeld Snr wasn’t a “sex thing”.

     

    Still… SPECTRE, then. 2015’s not-wholly-necessary film of same name promises a “cryptic message from Bond’s past” provoking 007 into noisy acts of scowl, uber-philtrum and gun-bang. The non-cryptic message reads “the last one and the Connerys with SPECTRE all made shedloads, so let’s grasp easy coin”. You might be browsing this nonsense in March 2015 (date of “writing”) but know the film’s “secrets” anyway because a fat-faced boss-eyed attention-seeker has decided that since they’re too dense to understand theft, copyright and confidentiality, none of those can therefore apply to them, and they must win the prize that comes with broadcasting everything about a Bond film first, that prize being absolutely nothing at all. If only reading this after Nov de 2015, you’re better off contributing to the massdebate about the bit where [deleted], and why Bond [deleted] with [deleted] and [deleted] and Gareth M.

     

    How, though, could one (re?) introduce SPECTRE to a series that has rebooted its timeline and still make it personal and meaningful to Bond? For those indulging in spavined whining about how we “need” (…pfft) an adventure that isn’t personal, consider how personal 90% of Fleming is. It’s when Bond is at his least personally engaged or threatened – Diamonds are Forever, say – that the story loses focus. They’re all personal, some more than others I accept, but rarely without investment of suffering or consequence. It was the coiffeured mannequin breezing through explosions that was a problem, not a solution to be again embraced.

     

    Whatever the merits of how the film does it, to be praised / vilified once I’ve bought the DVD on a BOGOF deal with Marley & Me 9: His Legs Have Gone, Best Shoot Him, For Special Services presents a way to tackle it. A time-shifted series uses SPECTRE, barely a year after “Bald Shrieking Man” has been chimnified by Unca Rog. On that – how did the Gardnerisation of the Special People escape the wrath of McClory? Perhaps even he didn’t consider the books worth filming. I suppose it’s that the literary copyright of Thunderball belonged to one set of exploiters and, until recently, the more lucrative rights to Thunderball’s complex screenplay (Gunbarrel; Tranny; Eyepatch; Wig; ‘Plane; Bombs; Rack; Water; Fish; Shoes; Junkanoo!; Sharks; Fight; Boom; End) vested with others.

     

    If that supposition holds, there’s something gloriously provocative about For Special Services, not just in continuing the deadpan spoofery of Licence Renewed. There, Mr Gardner challenged literary Bond’s absurdities, shoving that maidservant and OCD breakfast into a modern (-ish…) age to which they were deuced ill-suited. This time, he’s also taking on the films. This is an ostentatiously “filmy” Bond and – perhaps inadvertently but I’d like to think deliberately because it’s much more entertaining and provides actual purpose to his efforts – Mr John rubs the Broccoli noses the wrong way by showing what ridiculous things they would do with SPECTRE (and they are ridiculous) at a time when the films couldn’t touch it. Like that game one plays with one’s offspring, holding a toy out of their reach whilst they flail to grasp it, then smashing it nonetheless, cackling wildly into their tear-strewn midge-head faces (…just me?). In his third Bond, Mr Gardner will rip up 007 himself by marginalising Bond and making him look stupid. Art, of a kind.

     

    Before continuing down this line, a clarification: if from the previous piece you understood me to assert that John Gardner undervalued his task, that isn’t what I was seeking to say but that would be a failure of my faculties rather than yours (probably; I’m feeling generous and I need the likes of you to creosote the boathouse later. Cash-in-hand. Don’t expect a cup o’ tea). I believe he worked at his task; it’s just that it’s not the task as first appears. One would have to try bloody hard to pull off the trick in plain sight. They’re a hoot, not a grind. Not with me? Fine (he lied). Not saying I’m right – married, with children, and exposing these thoughts to the anonymity of the internet, so I abandoned all expectation of being “right” years ago – but this is how I prefer to think of these first few Gardners, otherwise I’m not grasping any purpose in return for the grasping of my money.

     

    For Special Compartments’ Services’ structure goes some way to emphasising (what I’ve suggested as) its point, other than the cynically mercantile. The cover would be better screaming “The one they couldn’t film!” This is Eonised Bond, off the leash and exposed to ridicule. Not convinced? OK…

     

    – unusually for a Bond book, but habitually for the hateful, hateful films, there’s a “pre-credits” sequence meeting the Broccoli building-blocks head-on and exposing how neutered the films are by making the incident sickeningly brutal. Material like “…blood spurted in a hose-like jet” from a carotid artery and “horrific croaking rattle” from bloodstained lips are splattered around, liberally. You wouldn’t dare do this in a Bond film; not even one of the grumpy ones;

     

    – the age of the lead, and the suggestion that he is catnip for younger women. Mr Gardner takes that by the horn (fn…no), emphasising the discomfort of watching a Bond in his dotage by adding extra urrrrr in making the girl his friend’s daughter. You thought For Your Eyes Only was unsettling and creepy? Wait until you read this;

     

    – Eon’s inconsistent approach to Felix Leiter pushed to absurd levels by mischievously suggesting here that he is heterosexual;

     

    – a mid-film book chase that Bond wins via a gadget-laden car inexplicably finding itself brought to the location without credible explanation for it being there, other than to be conveniently on hand for ensuing set-piece action. Eon did it with the Lotus Esprit to Sardinia. I, Gardner, send an even more unlikely vehicle even further and at even more inexplicable cost to the taxpayer on a mission that isn’t even for the UK! Ahaahahaaaaaa!;

     

    – the films have a curious attitude to physical deformity, in infrequently using it to signal evil. The grotesquerie of Fleming is toned down, not to offend $. This book has a woman with a deformity the castrated-for-dollars (cashtrated?) films couldn’t show. If you popcorn-fed lot weaned on “Bond films” bothered with Fleming, the twist would be no surprise. No spoiler; a ) this is meant to continue Fleming and b ) the book was published in 1982. Investigate the art of coping. And reading;

     

    – the hallucinogenic ice-cream – Eon take Fleming elements (Fort Knox’s water in Goldfinger the novel) and twist (the instantaneous gassing in Goldfinger the film); similar trick here, and sillier. Hey, Eon! I can out-stupid you. Don’t get jealous and rip off my better ideas for your films, y’hear? 

     

    – a SPECTRE meeting where Blofeld is “hidden” – at least to the reader – at which finances are discussed and a minion who has failed to meet targets is extravagantly murdered! Seems familiar;

     

    – at the same meeting, it is put to Blofeld that it would be easier to put a contract out on Bond, but no! Blofeld wants to lure 007 (somehow, unclear) into assisting (somehow) the scheme (unclear) whilst simultaneously trying to kill him (somehow, unclear) in a ludicrous manner (miffed ants, gargantuan pythons). Blofeld’s plot is brought to you by Mason Verger. It didn’t need Scott Powers to point this out; I, Gardner, did it fifteen years earlier! 

     

    – fie, to the films’ prosaic crocodiles and sharks! Fie! I say. I’ll give you something even more loopy: man-eating pythons that take an hour to swallow the victim! How silly is thatYou’d never be able to show that on screen, other than that Bob Simmons jigging around in a binbag;

     

    – taking Fleming character elements and shoving them in to try to convince it’s connected to the source despite evidence to the contrary, making no sense at all. Here, the Blofelding raises memory of Tracy, despite her being electro-deleted from Bond’s brain by Sir James Molony;

     

    – a conclusion in which Bond doesn’t actually want the girl. Ahahahahahaha! Got you there;

     

    – the innocuous turns into an apocalypse, a traditional Eon structure. Gardner often foretells sinister progress – smart cards in Scorpius, dubious Eco-politics in Seafire, Hillary Clinton in COLD. Here, he foresees to the letter Right-wing cretin Texans wanting to seize the White House, backed by a shadowy cabal of war profiteers – never going to happen – and the “dangers” of fake objets d’art leading (somehow, unclear) to destabilising the US military. He only went and predicted Octopussy.  He was not heeded! See the suffering within barely a twelvemonth! We wouldn’t get particle-beam weapons until crime syndicate SPECTRE Janus stole space-based weapons system Sea Wolves Space Wolves GoldenEye. That Korean also wanted to set one off a few years later and look how well that turned out. He’s a seer. Four hundred years ago, Mr Gardner would have been burned as a witch, were it not for a Sykes-Fairburn commando bodkin hidden in his broom’s “special compartment”.

     

    I, Gardner, have showed you both the nature of what you have done and matters you cannot hope to do. For Special Services is your legacy, Eon. Look at the bleakness of your souls and tell me that double-taking pigeons, swanny-whistle doo-wops and Bondolas would not eventually have resulted in… hallucinogenic ice-cream! Giant stooge-swallowing snakes! Lengthy car-chases screwed in to stop the pace collapsing! (Already there with that one, true) Abundant gadgetry! (Already there with that one, too) Particle-beam weapons, whatever they are! Awkward age-gapping!  How is this not so-very-Eon, of its day? I rule. Weep, for you are no more than… um… billionaires. Yeah, you losers. 

     

    Reading the book again after nearly twenty years’ liberty, making those the fangmarks of three dogs’ back, it’s stark how much it bops Eon on the nose before smearing them in their own “doings” to try to teach them never to do that again. As dog-training, this never works; it didn’t here. They bite back.

     

    Let’s join this action spectacular. We’re in a hotel room. Suspecting several Gardner pieces will start that way, you could use it to jab at the torpid atmosphere or, more fairly / unwisely, depending on how receptive I’ll be to your view (it’s “underabundantly”), the nature of this 007th Chapter experiment. Not for weakness of execution, which I can’t defend so I won’t, but the inherent flaw in “analysing” DNA of written Bond. Short stories aside, the nonsense typed at you focuses on an early section so it’s unlikely to stumble across one obvious ingredient: the shocking denouement, be it Fleming’s James Bond strangling the foreign-and-physically-handicapped man then curing a truculent lesbian via application of his willy, or Gardner’s Ken Spoon discovering he’s been betrayed again then settling down to order room service; he fancies a Crimson Fireball. It’s a type of pie.

     

    As a result, this hollow go-nowhere needling of mass-market literature tends to focus on matters in set-up rather than pay-off. Happenstance that sometimes this process will hit on a “significant” moment – Bond’s first impressions of Leiter, Mr Big, Drax and getting under the unappealing skins of Kronsteen / Klebb, say – but more often it won’t be anything particular in the incidents themselves, but distinctiveness of atmosphere, opinion, character and travelogue, frequently bridging the opening bit and the start of Act II. The seventh chapters of Diamonds are Forever, Dr No, Thunderball, The Spy who Loved Me, The Man with the Golden Gun, Colonel Sun and Licence Renewed are solid representatives of this kind. The remaining characteristic is flamboyant indulgence, with OHMSS and You Only Live Twice basking in detail if not advancing things energetically. All types of chapter present themselves as moments to reflect on what has passed, before gear-shifting upwards. It’s debateable whether the 007th Chapter of For Special Services encompasses any of these structural types, instead going for exciting instantaneous incident that one later contemplates with suspicion about its necessity for, or logic in, advancing the plot. Another questionable Eon-trope amusingly rattled in our faces.

     

    Bludgeoning aside its being the most outrageous Bond never-to-be-filmed, as an exercise in the writing of Bond it tickles themes particular to Mr Gardner’s pleasingly skewed attitude. Consistent with Licence Renewed’s bell-clear notion that there’s no place for Bond in an age of proper spy novels, branded surveillance cack and SAABs, M can’t find anything for 007 to do. This continues with the “team work” of Icebreaker, Bond an expedient cog rather than necessary qua Bond, and again in the fourth one with having him “resign”. He’s not on a mission per se in Nobody Lives Forever. James Bond doesn’t have a proper assignment in at least four of the first five. Scrabbling around for purpose; a metaphor easily teased from its shell. The books are their own review.

     

    What he does have is an appetite and even before the 007th Chapter, he’s well-fed. Firstly, at Campana in Marylebone High Street; now part of the inoffensive but insipid Strada chain. I sense a parallel. Mr Benson’s comment that the Gardners would be “munched at McDonald’s” (unbelievably ill-judged and failing to share Mr G’s talent for seeing what the future will bring) isn’t quite so: this is middle-market fare, the sort of place with a “vision” (yuck) and agreeable mains that provide sustenance but no memories, and obscene mark-ups on its cash-and-carry wine. Presentable but impersonal, its menu screeching that it is “passionate” about food, otherwise the quality wouldn’t convince. Similar to emblazoning “James Bond” on a cover, persuading that you’re swallowing the real thing. Not savoured at Sardi’s, but sustained at Strada. Chewed at Café Rouge. The sort of restaurant with an outlet at an airport. That level. Posher is the meal Professor Penbrunner and his teenage wifelet shovel down at Le Perigord, albeit the pear tart is “mouth-melting”, suggesting it’s overcooked. The menu is excellent; must try Le homard a la nage de coriander, although sweetbreads dusted with harissa sounds painful, garnished on one’s sweet red bell pepper.

     

    Other appetites are sated with Q’ute, with whom 007 “…made love with a disturbing wildness” – how “disturbing”? Was there shrieking? Were there voles? A Stowe Radishing? (don’t look it up). Did Bond use his VP70, which “was much larger than the Walther” and “felt good” and has “a longer butt” and “three-shot bursts”. Lovemaking “as though time was running out for both of them.” One, anyway. He’s so old. “After a slightly shaky start…” – DTs – Bond and Q’ute are lovers. Query how much shaking gets him started. It’s all about keeping wood. The combination of easy sex and a reminder of SPECTRE lends itself inevitably to reminiscing about “…the other women who had played such a decisive role in his service career”. One foot in the past, one in the present, pulling apart with each passing year, legs splitting until you hear the pelvis shatter. A curious run-through including Vesper, “moulded like a stone effigy” – surely carved? – and Gala Vivian, with whom he exchanges Christmas cards (a Bond thing to do? Seems mild. Seems Spoon). Mr Gardner has deliberately chosen these two. Anyone lured in knowing only the films to that date wouldn’t recognise either. Anyone coming to it from the books will recall both as appearing in the 1950s; Moonraker in particular is expressly of its time. Similarly, Domino’s surname is the one from the novel, not the film, when arguably it doesn’t need to be given at all. The tapestry collapses, no matter how many commando daggers you pin it up with. How can one screw decades-decayed characters into a contemporary tale? Mr Gardner warns us this is hopeless, by showing us its hopelessness, criticising from within. Along with ignoring his own fast-food analogies, did Mr Benson heed this warning? Did he bollocks sweetbreads.

     

    Tracy crunches into view for a character moment of a couple of lines, despite Sir James Molony’s efforts to fry her out, and then it’s back to the 1980s and Felix Leiter’s daughter. These clashes of timelines within few paragraphs loop a brain into spasm. Drop the SAAB; needs a DeLorean. Still, the films make merry with continuity so this might be, once more, Mr John telling us… something. Ah, the seedy Cedar issue. “Bond had known Felix was married, but… his old CIA friend… had never spoken of his wife or children.” You don’t say. Bet he removed that wedding ring of his, before buying you intricate drinks in camp goblets. Different ring on his mind. Excuse picking holes, but if Leiter never spoke of the wife (agreed), how did Bond know? Yes, yes, he’s a “spy” (stop giggling, John).

     

    Whilst Bond ages his hair – but not his face, already withered – Ms Leiter, as his wife, does not; unsettling suggestions worsen.  Cedar is a mess. One minute shrill about who sleeps on the sofa, the next a-flutter because 007’s shoved Dom Perignon ’69 (fnarr) down her throat, misty-eyed over “…the dark, clean-cut face which had always reminded her father of Hoagy Carmichael in his younger days…” a ) isn’t it Vesper reminded of same, in a conversation with Mathis, not Leiter, and b ) those days would have been the 1930s so who and how and what and uh? A twentysomething woman of 1982 contemplating Hoagy Carmichael? A Jaws-fed readership of 1982 invited to do the same? So Leiter fathered Cedar when – what? – fourteen? Is that normal, even for Texas? Questions circling a character do not a character build and, absent her weird background keeping one’s mind burning, she ectually does nothing. Another of Mr Gardner’s illusions. Divest her of “Leiter” clothing and, like Nena Blofeld, she’s only half-formed underneath. Perhaps that’s the parallel / the “joke” / reading way too much into it. Given Mr Gardner’s subsequent habit of killing off leading ladies, wouldn’t Cedar dying have engineered impact, provoking Leiter into bloodlust against Bond? Apologies for suggesting a more diverting plot than “reyt big snake”.

     

    One foot in Olde Worlde Bonde and one foot in the 80s, one hand in the books and the other in the films, the book’s on all fours playing Twister, collapsing in a contorted, giggly heap. Anyone still thinking this isn’t a piss-take needs to lay off the creosote. It’s murder on the spleen.

     

    The 007th Chapter – For Special Services: Invitation by Force

     

    We’re in a hotel room.

     

    Like this rot, up to now there’s been much farting about. Some adherence to Fleming via memories of women, and outright rejection in the refusal to refer to Morland correctly (Mr John calls it Morelands).  Like a SAAB, this tale takes ages to start; often the case with Bond films. Currently, Bond is in disguise trying to lure SPECTRE with “some art”, with “that pustule SPECTRE” at the same time trying to lure him (somehow, unclear) into “being eaten”. Circling each other for page upon page, timewasting foreplay of eunuchs. PUSTULE isn’t a bad name for a naughty club, though – Private Utility Syndicate for Terror, Upset, Lies and Egregiousness? Purposeless Updating of Some Tired and Unnecessary Light Entertainment? Profit-margins Undoubtedly Swollen but Totally Undermining Logic and Enjoyment?

     

    M has abandoned Bond without back-up (…deliberately) and we’ve been manhandled into thinking that Blofeld is bisexual neo-Nazi Willy Wonka Markus Bismaquer, character traits no dafter than being a nuclear physicist dressmaker titchybum. We’re told that one of Bismaquer’s wives died of natural causes in an automobile accident, but it’s unexplained how that’s a natural cause. So telegraphed is the conjurer’s misdirection that Bismaquer is Blofeld that it’s obvious he isn’t, not least due to studied avoidance of giving Blofeld a gender pronoun. This is either Mr Gardner suggesting that Blofeld is sexless, like its dad, or an in-a-corner decision that blabs the twist from the get-go, like an inadequate with a film’s call-sheet and undersupervised access to a computer.

     

    In seeking to infiltrate SPECTRE, Bond is disguised as Sir Hilary Bray Professor Joseph Penbrunner, and, just as all those years weeks ago, Bond is briefed about heraldry Hogarth prints, albeit skitted over because the audience would yawn. There’s nothing of the villain’s vices (art, sorbet and men, apparently) being used against him; it’s only a disguise, rather than an exposure of a hairy heel. As with Murik, Bismaquer possesses expedient plot-propelling characteristics that make no sense outwith the requirements of set pieces; no authorial opining (however odd) about degraded society can be illustrated via his proclivities, unlike how Blofeld’s daddy was doomed because of vulgarity. Bismaquer is a rich man who likes art; that’s it. The Penbrunner thing about a prissy art expert mixed up in espionage whiffs of the Anthony Blunts and that’s not a bad joke. Despite the potential for a highly personal tale here, fret not; all SPECTRE’s used for is momentary time-bursting reminiscing rather than anything significant. Might as well be called PUSTULE. Still – a damaged woman with daddy issues in league with an ineffectual berk we keep being told is deadly, and set pieces that make not one jot of sense: who’s to say The World is Not Enough isn’t a sly adaptation, after all?

     

    So, at Loew’s Drake Hotel (since demolished / fallen down), Bond and Cedar are frogmarched to their room to be menaced by stereotypes. They have apparently worked out signals for “a situation such as this” meaning Bond fiddles with his temple and coughs. “To Cedar this meant, ‘Go along with them, but watch for my lead’”. To anyone else it means the old puffin’s having a stroke. “Professional hoods, Bond thought, professional and experienced.” Doubly professional, then? My, you really are in trouble. “Cedar was treated in a similar fashion.” Given her plankness, I’m driven to think about creosote again. Overdressed in a maroon tuxedo (the 1980s; bless), we encounter Mike Mazzard, another alliterative name and one pleasingly in rhyme with Mark Hazard, possibly not deliberately. He has few if any characteristics – no Flemingfreak, he – whilst Bond’s briefcase is about to get a whole paragraph of its own. Something’s out of balance, here.

     

    “Bond, still in character, let out a pompous splutter…” Unclear where lies the line between Penbrunner and Bond (probably the point) given 007’s earlier pontificating about the best place for French food in New York. This is unfortunately emphasised with “’I was an officer in the Second World War’, Bond said with dignity”. Indeed James Bond was, as was Ian Fleming, such is the background to the character, his world-view, his prejudices and the resonance of the threats of Drax et al, the bloke “Gala Vivian” encountered. If James Bond needs a disguise to talk of a war record, then James Bond he is not. As one of the hoodlums observes, the War was long ago and if my perception of what Mr Gardner’s up to holds (it’s getting shaky) then he’s making a pointed observation on the person he disguised as James Bond. Why even mention the War? Not everyone of the ostensible age of this Professor ectually fought. Something’s being waved in our faces.

     

    All the business about the Hogarth prints – currently residing, of bloody course, in a “special compartment” – is to entice Bismaquer and now Bond blows his cover by rejecting his invitation; we need a fight, apparently, putting himself and Cedar at risk rather than taking an opportunity to infiltrate, which is what they’re meant to be doing. Screwy logic aside, this needs livening up; there’s a sod of a lot of chit-chat about where the prints are THEY’RE IN A SPECIAL COMPARTMENT and who’s going to fetch them and pitter-patter backchat. Startling end to the tedium, though. Joe Bellini “moved across to Cedar, and, with a casual flick of his hand, tore her dress from neck to waist, revealing the fact that she wore no brassiere.”

     

    Right, so… for the remainder of the chapter there’s a violent – and very looonng – fight, for the duration of which a young woman in peril has her wazzo jubblies on display. Try getting a PG certificate for that: ha! It’s most odd. Odder still where this leaves “Bond”. This is his pal’s child, yet “he too found it impossible to take his eyes from Cedar’s partially revealed breasts”. Mr Gardner has the decency to note that Bond is “disconcerted” by this, but tells us about them there breasts anyway. I would imagine Bond is disconcerted; not the only one. Surely he should insist she gets her clothes back on and he’ll buy her an ice-cream? Or a pie. Yes, there’s ear-slitting and a “karate shriek” and all that sort of crap to come, but this is the bit that’s really unsettling. Bond hadn’t prepared a body language signal for this eventuality, other than raising his eyebrows and leering.

     

    “At the same time, he gave a small cough and flicked an imaginary thread from his lapel – the body language for Cedar to be ready.” Alternatively, the body language for trying to draw attention to his chest, to signal something’s amiss with her embonpoint: doesn’t work. And now, the bag. “Its main features – a more effective device based on one of the hidden compartments (everything’s hidden compartments, innit?) in the Bond original – were two spring-loaded slim compartments sewn into the inner lining on the right-hand side. At a setting of treble three on the left tumblers, and… and on, and on, and on”. Mike Mazzard has a moustache. That’s it. This bag has its own friggin’ theme tune. Feel like I’m trapped in it. In his authorial note, Mr Gardner states that Fleming gave us the nuts and bolts of details; but every bloody stitch? Oh God, hasn’t it stopped? “…delivering the handles of Bond’s Sykes-Fairburn knives – SYKES-FAIRBURN KNIVES, EVERYONE – through the bottom of the case.” It’s a bag with some knives hidden in it, then.

     

    Meanwhile, Cedar’s got her tits out.

     

    “Bond assessed the situation.” Very slowly. Meanwhile, Cedar’s got her tits out. “But what then would happen to Cedar?” Oh, now he cares. “Could he rely on swift action from Cedar?” What, even with her jugs whackin’ about? “A glance in her direction, a fractional meeting of the eyes, told him she was ready.” Bet he wasn’t looking at her eyes. There’s all sorts of left-hand, right-hand stuff that loses me in its physical geography, all distracting from the fact that, sit-rep (…tit-rep), Cedar’s got her tits out. “Throwing knives are so finely balanced that even an expert has difficulty making the weapon behave as intended.” Useless, then. Over-engineered at least, like this relentless detail. “An agile throw, correctly performed, should always bring the point of the blade into a forward, horizontal position as it reaches its target.” So what you’re saying, John, is that it’s the pointy bit that does the damage? Fancy. Talking of points, Cedar’s got her tits out. Bond doesn’t want to injure anyone – why not? – and his throws have to be “…one beat off.” On the subject of beating off, Cedar’s got her tits out. Family viewing, this. Oh, FSS. Oh, FFS.

     

    Suggestion here is that Bond is so expert he can throw to hit his foes with the pommel, even though it’s just been suggested that this is likely anyway. Might as well throw a shoe, or invite Cedar to use one of hers, although God knows what’d happen if Bond saw her ankle. Tits update? Still out, and unfair to those interested in same that we had a pageworth of description of a bag but nothing about the trajectory of her udders as she upends a chair and sends a captor flying. The bit with the severed ear is nasty, although the image of Joe Bellini toppling against Cedar (yeah, right, didn’t know what to grab hold of, honest) is worse. Worstest of all is “Cedar and Louis as they struggled on the floor”. Time and a place, Cedar, time and a place. There’s a character called The Kid in this chapter and it takes a moment to remember this is not Cedar. Meanwhile, Cedar’s got her tits out.

     

    “[Bond] went for the weapon with a wild karate shriek…”; undignified for one of his advanced years, surely? Meanwhile, Cedar’s got her tits out. Now she breaks free, and her assailant will slump to the floor, more happy than injured, I suspect. “’Change your dress, Cedar,’ Bond said quietly: then, on second thoughts, ‘No, give me a hand with this lot first’”. Ahahahahaha. Oh, you dirty old man. Those second thoughts must have been absolute filth. She’s got her tits out! And she’s your best friend’s daughter! It’s so, so… uncomfortable. Cedar is “apparently unaware that her breasts were on full display.” Oh yeah? I’m not. And nor is “Uncle” James.

     

    “’Crude and not very effective, but it’s easier than trying to get tablets down them,’ Bond said”, referring (I hope) to the chloroform suddenly available (…from a secret compartment) rather than his habit of plying friends’ kids with champagne. “Old and tried methods are often best.” It is the champagne. Cradlesnatcher (working title). Cedar shows a deft hand in playing nurse, albeit one with her tits out. You don’t get that on the NHS. “At last she realised that she was half naked…” Only now? What did she think those were, wagglin’ about and slyly leered at by her dad’s elderly friend? I accept I’ve paid more attention to them than Mr Gardner, but that’s because they don’t come with a serial number (one hopes). This business with studying Mazzard’s card emphasises that this incident has been unnecessary, save for the display of gadgetry, tits and violence. The Eon series in a nutshell, then.

     

    “By car, I think… They won’t expect that.” Not in that car, certainly. “Have you got all your things?” If including dignity, then no. “I’ll leave some money and the key in an envelope in the laundry room.” Doing a flit, Mr Bond? Amazed you’re allowed to stay in so very many with that sort of habit. As the story meanders towards Amarillo, the dangers of hotels become plain. Sleep in your car! You were perfectly safe there, if cold and tragic. “’Time to go,’ he snapped. ‘We’ll take the back stairs.” Hopefully not a euphemism for a criminally unpleasant act he inflicts on the children of friends, but time to leave this weird couple to do whatever the hell it is they wander off to.

     

    What a curious chapter. Action that doesn’t move the story anywhere disguises – better than Bond’s – eye-popping criticism of the absurdity of both the literary reboot and the ingredients of the films, pushing the boundaries of each beyond what they can sustain; the literary timeline is trampled and the mildness of the films exposed. The relationship with the female lead is haywire and in questionable taste, Bond’s age-to-credible physicality ratio is all over the shop, there’s a lewdness that Eon would never dare show and I’m hoping that the hilariously overextended description of a briefcase is a hooting mockery of Fleming banging on about bitey fish. I might be wrong. It may simply be a culmination of rotten ideas and boring fixation with technical detail, but for the moment, I’m clinging on to the construct that this is all meant as a big joke.

     

    James Bond will return in the 007th Chapter of Icebreaker. Jacques Stewart welcomes your tender bids for product placement, especially from the following: Chateau Margaux. List stops there. Insert your sealed bids into his SPECIAL COMPARTMENT. Euphemism? P’raps.

    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-12-24
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