John Gardner's Nobody Lives Forever

'Someone wants James Bond's head on a silver platter, literally. All you have to do is deliver Bond to one of the most sinister criminals in the world, and earn ten million Swiss francs for your trouble. But there's stiff competition. And soon 007's motoring holiday turns into an odyssey of treachery as he becomes the target in a winner-take-all manhunt.' 

Nobody Lives For Ever is the fifth James Bond novel written by the late John Gardner and was first published in 1986. The book begins with James Bond on leave and driving across Europe in his Bentley to visit his beloved housekeeper May who is convalescing from a serious illness in an Austrian sanitarium. The journey is far from uneventful though as people start to die around Bond and he rescues wealthy Sukie Tempesta from a roadside robbery. They are joined by Sukie's bodyguard Nannie Norwich and Bond soon hears some very alarming news. May and Miss Moneypenny (who was visiting) have been kidnapped and if that wasn't enough, bedridden and ailing SPECTRE baddie Tamil Rahani has put a contract for ten million Swiss francs on Bond's head - which he wants served on a silver platter as his last dying wish. This macabre contest has enticed criminal organisations from around the world and James Bond will need all of his ingenuity if he is to survive this time... 
Nobody Lives For Ever is one of the better of the John Gardner Bond books and benefits I think from an exciting and more personal type of story which results in a Jason Bourne style chase across Europe with various criminal groups on the trail of Bond to collect the reward for this deadly contest from Tamil Rahani. The twisty plot soon has Bond suspecting that someone is even killing off the competition so they can claim him and the bounty for themselves. The idea of someone putting a contract out on James Bond is an incredibly simple one but it works very well here in what might be Gardner's tightest and most entertaining 007 story out of the books he contributed to the literary wing of the character. Amongst those competing in the 'game' for Bond's head are SPECTRE, SMERSH and the Union Corse who of course featured in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Marc-Ange Draco, the former leader of Union Corse and briefly Bond's father-in-law, is dead.    

The story pans out across Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and Key West and is very North By Northwest/From Russia With Love with Bond on the run and never quite sure who he can or cannot trust. The twist here I suppose is that Bond isn't completing a mission he been given but paying a price for the profession he is in. The female characters are quite well written in Nobody Lives For Ever and there are plenty of twists and turns. Gardner taps into some of Fleming's sadism here too with May and Moneypenny both having a tough time, some gruesome deaths and a bed ridden villain planning to have Bond face the guillotine while he watches it all from the comfort of his pillows. Tamil Rahani is dying as a result of a parachute fall at the end of Gardner's Role of Honour and is obsessed with having his revenge on Bond before he dies. There is also a character called Der Haken who is rather nasty too.  
After a couple of so-so early Bond novels, Nobody Lives For Ever is a distinct improvement from Gardner and while he had an impossible job replacing Ian Fleming the late author deserves some credit for valiantly picking up the baton and adding something to the Bond universe with some new literary adventures through the eighties and nineties. The more personal, almost low-key nature of the story works surprisingly well and there is a decent amount of tension as Bond fights for his life and tries to rescue May and Moneypenny. The central idea of trained killers all out for Bond's head is an excellent one and there are some memorable moments along the way - like someone trying to dispense with Bond by putting a vampire bat in his room!  

One of the strengths of the book is that it plunges the reader into the action and intrigue without too much padding, rapidly piling on incident and trouble for Bond in the first forty or fifty pages to set up a big third act. Apparently, the book was inspired by Gardner asking some of his friends what they would like to see happen to Bond and they suggested he eschew the standard spy mission and do something different for the next one. Therefore, Nobody Lives For Ever is a slightly different type of Bond novel but a good one nonetheless with lashings of double-crosses and close shaves and a good villain pulling the strings at the heart of it all.  

Some felt this entry veered a little into Robert Ludlum territory but it is mildly refreshing for attempting to shake things up a little as Gardner attempted to get to grips with his Bond continuation task. Gardner's Bond books often seem a little dry and functional to me but at least this has the virtue of an interesting central conceit and a breakneck pace. The story moves at a fair clip from the Tyrolean Alps to a shark-defended island and you do feel like you are rushing around with Bond and experience some of the tension generated as events unfold. 'One squeeze of the trigger and it would be obliterated, and, with luck and cunning, he could be away - hiding up in the grounds - until he found a method of getting off the island. He began to squeeze the trigger, and as he did so thought he felt a small gust of air on the back of his head.' 

I'm not a huge fan of the John Gardner Bond books but Nobody Lives For Ever - perhaps because of its atypical nature - is one of the better ones and not bad at all.   

- Jake


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