RARA-AVIS: RIP John Gardner

From: JIM DOHERTY ( jimdohertyjr@yahoo.com)
Date: 12 Aug 2007

I just heard that best-selling spy novelist John Gardner passed away on 7 August.

Best-known as the most prolific of the writers contracted to continue the adventures of James Bond after the death of Ian Fleming, Gardner, a former Anglican clergyman and recovering alcoholic, would eventually write 16 Bond novels, more than Fleming wrote himself, between 1981 and 1996.

Ironically, Gardner broke into spy fiction with a series about Boysie Oakes, a cowardly, selfish, and not particularly patriotic character who's dragooned into spy work pretty much against his will. Oakes was created to be more or less the antithesis of Bond, yet Oakes was an integral part of the resume that got Gardner the Bond gig.

Though his Bond novels are probably his best-known and most popular work, his reputation as a top-flight cloak-and-dagger writer would be secure if he'd never written a single word about 007. Two series in particular stand as his best work in the sub-genre.

His five novels featuring Herbie Kruger, a naturalized Brit of German birth who, after emigrating, has become the top agent of MI-6 are among the best series of British spy novels in the post-Le Carre era. Kruger debuted in THE NOSTRADAMUS TRATIOR. The penultimate novel in the Kruger series, MAESTRO, was reportedly Gardner's personal favorite of all his books.

Kruger also makes a few cameo appearances in Gardner's
"Secret" trilogy, featuring the British Railtons and the American Farthings, two families, related by marriage, who defend freedom by choosing careers in their respective countries' intelligence services. The trilogy effectively combined the multi-generational family saga, historical fiction, and espionage in an ambitious project that attempted, largely successfully, to show, in a fictional context, the history of the espionage profession from just before WW1 to the early '60's. The three books in the trilogy are THE SECRET GENERATIONS, THE SECRET HOUSES, and THE SECRET FAMILIES.

Between 1995 and 2001, Gardner abruptly stopped writing while he simultaneously fought cancer and the grief caused by his wife's death. Winning his battle with the disease and coming to terms with the death of his spouse, he returned to writing with a vengeance, turning out a top-notch international thriller, DAY OF ABSOLUTION, and starting a new historical police procedural series about Suzie Mountford, a London policewoman fighting crime in the years leading up to WW2. The latest Mountford novel, NO HUMAN ENEMIES, will appear in bookstories later this month.

He'll be missed.


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