Sunday, January 23, 2011
Remembering James Bond. A Parody That Lead To Further Bond Books. Book Review The Liquidator 1964
Reading John Gardner's first foray into fiction one can understand what the Ian Fleming folks saw that made them decide he was the man to handle the job of bring the literary James Bond into the 80's. Gardner's Bond books are a roller coaster affair some are quite good and some simply are not. Gardner himself was never a fan of the Bond novels and his opinion of their silliness led him to write The Liquidator whose hero is ultimate the anti-James Bond Brian (Boysie) Oakes. Years after (mistakenly) saving the life of the man who would become the head of British secret service in World War 2 Oakes is hired to become an assassin for the British Government. Just one problem. Oakes is a coward who can not stand
killing...of any kind even the smallest bug. Not being a man of great talent Oakes hasn't had much financial success since the war so in-spite of his cowardliness and his aversion to killing he takes the job simply for the pay. When Oakes has to carry out a killing he contracts the job to a gangster.
The Book opens with Oakes getting ready to go on holiday with his boss's secretary Iris to the South of France. This is leads to the first problem of Oakes profession he is afraid of flying. While on vacation he gets a call to come back to London and carry out a killing panicking Oakes because he doesnt have the time to get a hold of his hired killer. It turns out that the call was a fake and Oakes himself is being used to kill a member of British royalty. With the help of his boss Oakes figures out the plan in time and again becomes the hero again quite by accident thus making the British Secret Service continue to believe he is a brave killer.
The book is a product of the mid 1960's spy craze even if it's intent was to poke some fun at it's leader James Bond. It does stand as proof that given his own creation and some incentive Gardner could turn out a fine spy novel even if it was a parody. Not that Gardner's Bond books were bad. Several were quite good in fact, but this is better than any of his Bond creations. Garners characterization of Boysie Oakes succeeds for the same reason his characterization of James Bond often did not. Gardner makes Oakes the common man. You or I could be Boysie Oakes. In the subtext of a book who's hero is not invincible this works marvelously in the world of James Bond it does not. One often reads a Gardner Bond novel and says "wow I could have pulled this off" killing the escapism that is essential in a Bond novel. Here knowing that you or I could do what Boysie does only to have others believe he is a super human killing machine only adds to the fun of the book.
As is to be expected the book is outdated and the story isn't exactly fresh. There were a few 1960's British slang terms I needed some schooling on. The book is 46 years old and certainly wouldn't work in 2011 which may say more about 2011 than 1964. It was, as I said earlier, made in the beginning of the spy craze. Between 1964 and 1968 most everything was about spies and the quality was always variable. The Liquidator never pretends to be anything other than a quick comical read and succeeds as such. Gardner himself towards the end of his lfe said at the time he thought they were fun but now considered them rubbish which is more than a little harsh. It may not be War and Peace but at least people who claim to have read and liked The Liquidator have actually read and like it.
There would be 7 more Boysie Oakes novels by John Gardner I have them all and will review them in time. Only one The Liquidator was turned into a movie. It was made in 1965 and starred Rod Taylor and Trevor Howard. The movie is not available on DVD and does not have a quality reputation though some find it amusing for what it is. The film was on youtube and I of course decided not to watch it until I had the book read. Once I finally read the book the film was gone.
Amongst James Bond fans, even ones who aren't crazy about Gardner's Bond output, the Boysie Oakes novels are very highly thought of and considered worth the time to track them down. I finally have one down and I can say the first The Liquidator certainly was.
The Liquidator John Gardner ****/*****