I recently read the 40th anniversary edition of John Gardner's first James Bond novel - Licence Renewed
. The book is an enjoyable read and the 1980s setting gives it a different feel to Fleming's cold war Bond world. However, the book has two poor plot developments. One is just lazy writing and the second is, quite frankly, unforgivable.
The following is major spoilers so if you haven't read Licence Renewed and wish to do so in the future, please don't read the following.
Plot development #1:
The plot is about the villain Anton Murik wanting to set off six nuclear plants if his ransom is not paid. He wants cut gem diamonds. The book charts Bond's attempt to stop Murik. He convinces Murik he's a mercenary. We get to the last few chapters and Gardner tells us the terrorists will not surrender. They will commit to the plan. Bond fights Murik in his plane and Bond gives the abort mission code to the terrorists. They surrender. There's no big battle with MI5 agents or other security forces. We don't switch to any scene at a nuclear plant to see the terrorists in action. It's all told in the past tense in a debriefing scene. M tells Bond what happened. It's such an anti-climax. 8-|
Over 200 pages of lead-up and the terrorists don't even make a stand! It would be like Largo seeing the troops parachuting into the sea in Thunderball and he says to the men on the Disco Volante, "I think I'll surrender. Forget we have the atomic bomb on board. Let's give up."
Plot development #2:
So after the anti-climax of the terrorists giving up with zero fight, zero resistance, we have Bond telling M he thinks he knows what Murik is going to do next. Bond believes Murik will return to his Scottish castle to retrieve the paperwork that shows Lavender Peacock is the rightful heir to Murick castle and the Murick lineage. Bond want to go the castle, wait until Murik shows and capture him. This seems to make perfect sense. Murik tried to threaten the world with nuclear oblivion so Murik has to be found and brought to justice. However, for some inexplicable reason M says on page 250:
"You do not go armed. In all conscience I cannot, at this stage, allow you to move into Duggan's area of operation using arms."
So M, the leader of the secret service, will not allow James Bond 007 the right to carry any arms to apprehend Murik. That's James Bond, a man given the 00 prefix meaning he has a state sanctioned licence to kill
The idea a 00 agent can't go into the field without any weapon is ludicrous. Gardner tries to get round this absurd plot development by mentioning Murik castle has lots of old weapons. There's the clear suggestion M is prepared to let Bond use the weapons to apprehend or kill Murik. But the fact remains John Gardner was hired to bring Bond back as a literary character, and in his first book M says "you do not go armed."
Richard Duggan is the director-general of MI5. What makes this 'no arms allowed' statement even more silly is Duggan doesn't go with Bond to the castle. He doesn't appear at the end of the story so it's not as if Bond was moving in on Duggan's area of operations. It made no sense to have M mention it.
How did Gardner get away with this nonsense? The publishers should have said "John, we like the story but this Bond not armed idea of yours is a non-starter. Bond is a 00 agent so there is no way he would confront any enemy without having his gun."
Bond and Tanner go to the castle, unarmed of course (!) and Murik conveniently arrives. Bond tells Murik to surrender but he's a Bond villain, they don't do surrender, and he fires at Bond with a portable rocket launcher. Tanner narrowly avoids death. Bond uses a crossbow from the castle's weapons room. He fires the bow and injures Murik. Murik makes a dash to his helicopter and Bond uses Murik's own portable rocket launcher against him. Murik is killed.
Overall Licence Renewed is a decent enough read, well written, but sadly the terrorists giving up without any fight was pathetic (lol) and M telling Bond he can't use his weapon was just as lame. With a decent rewrite of the last few chapters it could have been a great story but the ending is somewhat of a flat note.