In October of 1984 that John Gardner’s fourth James Bond 007 novel, Role Of Honour, was published. Continuing on after his previous James Bond novels Licence Renewed, For Special Services and Icebreaker, this fourth Bond adventure continued the SPECTRE returns trilogy, but is a less talked about novel. CBn looks back at this fourth of ultimately 16 novels in total written by Gardner in the ’80s and ’90s. Included are trivia notes about the book and CBn forum fan reactions.
In John Gardner’s most exciting adventure yet, James Bond abandons his 007 status, resigns from the Service, and heads south for Monte Carlo in his new Bentley Mulsanne Turbo, in search of a new role of honor.
So begins the most ingenious and deadly mission James Bond has ever undertaken in his illustrious career. For whatever M and Bond know, in private, the world intelligence agencies soon know it too: James Bond is for hire, to the highest bidder. So does a man, long presumed dead, who was once America’s foremost military computer expert. So does an American war hero, also presumed dead, General Rolling Joe Zwingli. And one Tamil Rahani, an Arab electronics millionaire of shadowy background. And last, like a hideous phoenix rising from the infernal ashes, a criminal organization known only by its initials…
Is it conceivable? James Bond in the employ of SPECTRE?
In the service of his new masters Bond must pass a series of diabolical tests, some computerized and some (when has it been otherwise for our hero?) in the form of the most beguiling group of sirens he has encountered since the halcyon days of Pussy Galore and Honeychile Rider. Finally, in the unlikely setting of a Goodyear blimp drifting over the city of Geneva, Switzerland, where a world-powers conference unwittingly holds the fate of humanity in its grasp, James Bond and his dread foes meet at last in their deadliest confrontation.
A high-tech, high-tension thriller, Role of Honor fully lives up to the standard John Gardner has set in his previous James Bond titles: License Renewed, For Special Services, and Icebreaker.
US First Edition Hardback
- Gardner was originally promised a year’s break between Icebreaker and his next Bond novel. But the break never materialized and Gardner, ill at the time, was forced to write Role of Honour before he expected. “I think it’s the weakest so far,” Gardner said of the book at the time of release.
- A pivotal chapter in Role of Honour was replaced at the last minute. Gardner originally had Bond and the villain play a lengthy computer game against each other, The Battle of Waterloo. “I thought I had gotten the modern equivalent of the famous golf game, or the bridge game with Drax,” says Gardner. Gildrose forced him to rewrite it when they learned a similar sequence was in the upcoming James Bond film, Never Say Never Again. Gardner replaced the chapter with one in which Bond and the villain play a role playing game, Bunker Hill.
- As Gardner set out to write Role of Honour, one of his main contacts at Saab left the company for Bentley. One day the man phoned Gardner and said he thought Bond should be driving the new Bentley Mulsanne Turbo and invited Gardner to Bentley headquarters for a test drive. To help seal the deal, Bentley gave Gardner the use of a Mulsanne Turbo for one year.
- Bentley stipulationed was that Gardner not outfit the Mulsanne Turbo with any “gadgets” other than a long-range telephone.
- 1984: 1st British Jonathan Cape Hardback Edition
- 1984: 1st American Putnam Hardback Edition
- 1984: 1st American Book Club Hardback Edition
- 1985: 1st British Coronet Paperback Edition
- 1985: 1st American G.K. Hall Large Print Edition
- 1985: 1st American Berkley Paperback Edition
- 1993: Reprint British Coronet Paperback Edition
Relationship to the film series
- Role of Honour: Villain Jay Autem Holy is obsessed with computers and the criminal applications of computers.
- A View to a Kill (1985): Villain Max Zorin is obsessed with computers and the criminal applications of computers.
- Role of Honour: Bond “resigns” from the secret service and poses as a free agent in order to attract the attention of villain.
- Licence To Kill (1989): Bond resigns from the secret service and poses as a free agent in order to attract the attention of villain.
- Role of Honour: Bond is instructed by secret service envoy Percy Proud while on leave in Monte Carlo.
- GoldenEye (1995): Bond is evaluated by secret service envoy Caroline while on leave in Monte Carlo.
- Role of Honour: Armed with only his ASP handgun, Bond battles a collection of heavily-armed masked terrorists room to room in a secret SPECTRE training simulator where 007 discovers several of his team dead.
- Die Another Day (2002): Armed with only his P99 handgun, Bond battles a collection of heavily-armed masked terrorists room to room in a MI6 training simulator where Bond discovers several of his colleagues dead.
- Role of Honour: The villain has an elaborate game room in his home where he role plays the Battle of Bunker Hill with toy soldiers.
- The Living Daylights (1987): The villain has an elaborate game room in his home where he role plays the Battle of Gettysburg with toy soldiers.
- Role of Honour: The climax takes place aboard an airship over Geneva.
- A View to a Kill (1985): The climax takes place aboard an airship over San Francisco.
I always thought Role Of Honour was one of the most overlooked of the Gardner books, possibly because it was followed by fan favorite Nobody Lives Forever.
It was great to see SPECTRE back again and with an intriguing plot – using computers to knock out America’s nuclear power. This novel arrived on the shelves in the same decade as the three-mile island incident and the Chernobyl disaster (which happened two years after the publication of the book) so computers and nuclear power were both “hot topics” at that time.
I thought Rahani was a great well-drawn villain (it was good to see him return in Nobody Lives Forever) and liked both the airship climax and the training camp sequences in Switzerland.
CBn Forum member DLibrasnow
Bond learns to be a computer nerd. Now I start liking the Harrier lessons. And what does Bond do? Does he reprogramme a malevolent computer? No. He talks nerd-stuff with the villain. Why not just be interested in something less taxing on one’s intellect to gain friendship of JA Holy? Like war. Liked the end, though.
CBn Forum member General Koskov
Read it again a couple of weeks ago: seems pretty ancient (but oddly endearing) in its attitude to computers; quite fun as a historical document. John’s pretty rude about Oxfordshire (I live in Oxfordshire, yer sod), the airship bit is fun, and contains a decent twist (bit of a rarity). Few too many villains doing not a huge amount and I’m not sure the new SPECTRE thing works that well, but it’s decent enough. Definitely readable, but it’s aged worse than many.
CBn Forum member Jim
Thought it started out a bit too much like License Renewed, (Bond is thought to have left Service in disgrace, to infiltrate bad guys, etc.) but overall, not bad. I also thought that it seemed like a bit of a desperate attempt to get SPECTRE into the mix, again. But I liked the plot and the characters were good, although Gardner’s Bond seems to be getting a bit sloppier, certainly more than Fleming’s.
CBn Forum member Jriv71
Tamal Rahani was a interesting villian. I really loved the shoot out in the house between Bond and some of the SPECTRE people. More so than the computer game. It could make a great film.
CBn Forum member kevrichardson
I didn’t really like Role Of Honour when it first came out. I just didn’t get into it the way I did with the first 3 Gardner books, and I was sorry to see the Saab go. But I recently re-read it and liked it quite a bit. Despite the fact that it’s painfully dated. Personal computers are called “micros”? Oh well, it was 1984.
CBn Forum member zencat
The Looking Back at John Gardner Series:
- Licence Renewed
- For Special Services
- Role Of Honour
- Nobody Lives Forever
- No Deals, Mr. Bond
- Licence To Kill
- Win, Lose Or Die
- The Man From Barbarossa
- Death Is Forever
- Never Send Flowers