'Death Is Forever' by John Gardner
I must start off by saying that I read this book simply because it has what I consider a truly brilliant title. One thing I must commend most of the Gardner books on is their superb titles. Aside from that I enjoyed the majority of the book. It definitely had an Ian Fleming touch to it, particularly with a Bond girl name Easy St. John, which is something I really appreciate in a Bond novel.
Bond’s mission in this novel is to try and sort out what is left of the super-spy network Cabal which once operated in Communist Germany and also discover what happened in the first place that caused the members of the group to disband and most of them eventually be killed off. Of course not everything is as it appears to be and the conspiracy surrounding Cabal leads Bond into a world of treachery. But that’s typical Gardner style.
I may gives bits of the story away in this review, so please if you want to be spoiler-free leave now.
Firstly I have no problem with James Bond killing people. In fact I implore it if it’s necessary. I also have no problem with people being killed in the novel, as long as it’s for a good reason and as long as it’s not too graphic. Can you imagine some of the death scenes from Se7en in a Bond novel fully described? How about the Hooker who gets it? That would be too much for me in graphic description I think. This leads to a point, Gardner has things thing where he just kills lead characters in five seconds flat. There’s no warning nothing. That I can accept, but some scenes towards the end of the novel make me think that Gardner wasn’t sure what to do with his characters so he just killed them. Literally, in one chapter three major characters die all the same death at the exact same time. I really believe Gardner had all these characters and realised they weren’t fully needed so he killed them.
Also the death of a Bond girl, sorry if I just spoiled it for you but I did warn you, really annoyed me. Her death was pointless, quick and lacked the dramatics that the death of a Bond girl should have. Especially if Bond has declared her as one of the few women he has ever loved.
The other thing that annoyed me majorly stemmed from this death. Obviously Bond is distraught yet a chapter or two later (literally a day in the novel) Bond is having coital thoughts about another woman. Gardner really brings him across as harsh and horny.
All that aside I really enjoyed the novel. I love twists and turns, even though the bit at the end I saw coming. I really thought this novel had a few things that just reminded me of classic movies such as The Usual Suspects. One thing I’ll say about John Gardner is that I really love his twist and turns.
This is a really good book to read, but expect to be infuriated by some needless deaths. But don’t let that stop you. This is definitely one of the better Gardner novels.
© Daniel Dykes, 2001