Gardner, John 1926-2007 (John Edmund Gardner, Edmund McCoy)
Gardner, John 1926-2007 (John Edmund Gardner, Edmund McCoy)
Born November 20, 1926, in Seaton Delaval, Northumberland, England; died of heart failure, August 3, 2007, in Basingstoke, Hampshire, England; son of Cyril John (a priest of the Church of England) and Lena Gardner; married Margaret Mercer, September 15, 1952 (died, 1997); children: (with Margaret Mercer) Alexis Mary, Simon Richard John; (with Susan Wright) Miranda. Education: St. John's College, Cambridge, B.A., 1950, M.A., 1951; attended St. Stephen's House, Oxford, 1951-52.
Writer. Magician with American Red Cross, Entertainments Department, 1943-44; curate in Evesham, England, 1952-58; ordained priest of Church of England, 1953, legally released from obligations of the priesthood, 1958; Herald, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, theater critic and arts editor, 1959-65. Lecturer in the United States and Soviet Union. Military service: Royal Navy, Fleet Air Arm, 1944-46; Royal Marines, Commandos, 1946; served in Hong Kong and Malta; became chaplain.
Crime Writers Association.
Spin the Bottle (autobiography), Muller (London, England), 1963.
Hideaway (stories), Corgi (London, England), 1968.
The Assassination File (stories), Corgi (London, England), 1972.
Also author of "Smiley at the Circus: Cold War Espionage," in Murder Ink: The Mystery Reader's Companion, edited by Dilys Winn, Workman (New York, NY), 1977.
A Complete State of Death (a "Derek Torry" novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1969.
The Censor, New English Library (London, England), 1970.
Every Night's a Festival, Morrow (New York, NY), 1971, published as Every Night's a Bullfight, M. Joseph (London, England), 1971.
The Corner Men (a "Derek Torry" novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1974.
The Return of Moriarty, Putnam (New York, NY), 1974, published as Moriarty, Pan Books (London, England), 1976.
The Revenge of Moriarty, Putnam (New York, NY), 1975.
To Run a Little Faster, M. Joseph (London, England), 1976.
The Werewolf Trace, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1977.
The Dancing Dodo, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1978.
The Last Trump, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1980, published as Golgotha, W.H. Allen (London, England), 1980.
Flamingo, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1983.
(As Edmund McCoy) Blood of the Fathers, Orion (London, England), 1992, published under name John Gardner as Unknown Fears, Severn House (Surrey, England), 2004.
Day of Absolution, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000.
"BOYSIE OAKES" NOVELS
The Liquidator, Viking (New York, NY), 1964, Black Dagger Crime (Bath, England), 2006.
Understrike, Viking (New York, NY), 1965, Black Dagger Crime (Bath, England), 2007.
Amber Nine, Viking (New York, NY), 1966.
Madrigal, Viking (New York, NY), 1968.
Founder Member, Muller (London, England), 1969.
Traitor's Exit, Muller (London, England), 1970.
Air Apparent, Putnam (New York, NY), 1970, published as The Airline Pirates, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1970.
A Killer for a Song, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1975.
"JAMES BOND" NOVELS
License Renewed, R. Marek (New York, NY), 1981.
For Special Services, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan (New York, NY), 1982.
Icebreaker, Putnam (New York, NY), 1983.
Role of Honor, Putnam (New York, NY), 1984.
Nobody Lives Forever, Putnam (New York, NY), 1986.
No Deals, Mr. Bond, Putnam (New York, NY), 1987.
Scorpius, Putnam (New York, NY), 1988.
Win, Lose, or Die, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.
License to Kill (based on the screenplay by Michael G. Wilson and Richard Maibaum), Diamond (New York, NY), 1989.
Brokenclaw, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.
The Man from Barbarossa, Putnam (New York, NY), 1991.
Death Is Forever, Putnam (New York, NY), 1992.
Never Send Flowers, Putnam (New York, NY), 1993.
Seafire, Putnam (New York, NY), 1994.
Goldeneye (novelization of film script), Isis, 1995.
Cold Fall, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.
"HERBIE KRUGER" NOVELS
The Nostradamus Traitor (first book of trilogy), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979.
The Garden of Weapons (second book of trilogy), Hodder & Stoughton (New York, NY), 1980.
The Quiet Dogs (third book of trilogy), Hodder & Stoughton (New York, NY), 1981.
Maestro (first book of second trilogy), Otto Penzler (New York, NY), 1993.
Confessor (second book of second trilogy), Otto Penzler (New York, NY), 1995.
The Secret Generations, Putnam (New York, NY), 1985.
The Secret Houses, Putnam (New York, NY), 1988.
The Secret Families, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.
"SUZIE MOUNTFORD" MYSTERY SERIES
Bottled Spider, Severn House (Surrey, England), 2002.
The Streets of Town, Severn House (Surrey, England), 2003.
Angels Dining at the Ritz, Severn House (Surrey, England), 2004.
Troubled Midnight, Allison & Busby (London, England), 2005, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2007.
No Human Enemy, Allison & Busby (London, England), 2007.
The Liquidator was released as a feature film by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1965; A Complete State of Death was released as The Stone Killer by Columbia, 1973.
British writer John Gardner was the author of dozens of crime and espionage novels, including the works in the "Herbie Kruger" and "Suzie Mountford" mystery series, but he is probably best remembered for his send-ups of the spy genre as well as his reinvention of the James Bond character during the 1980s. According to Mike Ripley, writing on the Guardian Web site, Gardner "was the consummate thriller writer, producing more than fifty novels. But he owed his reputation to James Bond."
Gardner's suspense novels enjoyed steady success since the early 1960s, but in 1981 he received international attention when his novel License Renewed became a major best seller. A reason for its immediate popularity: License Renewed was a new Bond adventure, the first to appear in sixteen years. Bond, a fictional agent for England's Secret Service, was created by the late Ian Fleming in 1951 and quickly gained a loyal following. Fans are familiar with the most trivial details concerning Bond, or Agent 007, as he is also known; therefore, any flaws in a re-creation of Fleming's hero were certain to be noticed. The public's eager reception of License Renewed attested to Gardner's skill in performing his difficult task.
Gardner was born November 20, 1926, in Seaton Delaval, England. His interest in writing began early in life; he was an avid reader from the age of three. At eight, as the author once stated, "I announced that I wanted to be a writer so my father gave me a notebook and some pencils that he'd probably liberated from the school where he was chaplain. I took them up to bed. The story goes that he came up an hour later and found me fast asleep while the notebook was still virgin white except for the first page on which I had written—The Complete Works of John Gardner." Before realizing that ambition, Gardner followed his father into the Anglican priesthood.
He had been in the ministry for five years when he realized that he had taken "the wrong turning." He explained to Fred Hauptfuhrer in People: "It came to me the way some others have a conversion … only mine was in reverse. I was preaching one Sunday and realized I didn't believe a word I was saying." Gardner left the priesthood in 1958. At that time, with the aid of hypnosis and aversion therapy, he was also able to overcome a heavy drinking habit. Gardner's first professional writing was done for the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, where he acted as theater critic and arts editor for six years. The experience was valuable, but, he later commented, "I realized I would not be happy forever acting as a critic of other people's work." Accordingly, in 1963, he published his first book, Spin the Bottle, an account of his struggle with alcohol. The next year he published The Liquidator, a book that established him in the suspense genre in which he was to become so successful.
Spy novels, including Ian Fleming's Bond series, were at the height of their popularity in the early 1960s. According to New York Times Book Review writer Anthony Boucher, Gardner had written "a deliberate (and skillful) parody of James Bond" in The Liquidator. That novel's protagonist was the cowardly, inept Boysie Oakes, who was faint-hearted enough to have to hire others to do his killing. Yet Boucher wrote that the book is more than a comedy: "Mr. Gardner succeeds in having it both ways; he has written a clever parody which is also a genuinely satisfactory thriller." Some years later Gardner created another spy quite unlike Bond.
The Nostradamus Traitor, The Garden of Weapons, and The Quiet Dogs all featured Big Herbie Kruger, a German-born British intelligence agent who sees himself as a failure in both his life and work. The Kruger trilogy found an enthusiastic audience and drew praise from reviewers for Gardner's fine workmanship. T.J. Binyon described The Garden of Weapons in the Times Literary Supplement as "a solid, finely detailed and intricately constructed piece of work," and Henry McDonald, writing in the Washington Post Book World, called the same book "a skillfully crafted novel which sustains a high level of suspense from start to finish."
Gardner returned to the Big Herbie Kruger character in a second trilogy beginning with Maestro, published in 1993. In Maestro, Kruger is recalled from retirement to investigate the alleged Nazi collaboration of Louis Passau, a renowned German-born American conductor. Before Kruger can reach Passau, the conductor's sordid past is revealed, followed by several unsuccessful attempts on his life. Kruger abducts Passau and brings him to a safe location. At this point the book assumes the character of biography as the distinguished conductor recounts his life and experiences for Kruger. In addition to his espionage work for the Nazis and Soviets, Passau recalls his upbringing as an Eastern European Jew, musical training in New York, and criminal involvement in Chicago during the days of Al Capone. Armchair Detective reviewer John F. Harvey concluded: "This story of a man who was at the same time a widely known symphony conductor and a spy for three different countries holds the reader's attention without release until he/she reaches the book's tragic ending." Gardner's incorporation of classical music is also praised. Commenting on the detail and effect of Gardner's musical references, Newgate Callendar wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "Here Mr. Gardner comes out in a triumphant fortissimo."
Following Maestro was Confessor in 1995. In this second installment of Gardner's second Kruger trilogy, the familiar protagonist is again brought out of retirement to investigate the car-bomb death of Gus Keene, a longtime friend and matchless interrogator for the British Secret Intelligence Service. As new terrorist attacks threaten Europe and America, Kruger learns of Keene's double life as a skilled magician and discovers mysterious links between his friend and Middle Eastern operatives, the IRA, and the wars in both the Falkland Islands and the Persian Gulf. The suspense heightens when Kruger begins to suspect that Keene may still be alive. Tribune Books reviewer Chris Petrakos approved of Gardner's plot and character development: "Gardner pulls off his complex tale in high style."
When the owners of the copyright to the James Bond character, Glidrose Publications, decided to hire an author to continue the Bond series some fourteen years after Fleming's last novel was published, Gardner's background made him a natural candidate for the job. His facility in imitating the style of other writers was noted by Derrick Murdoch in the Globe and Mail: "John Gardner is technically a highly competent thriller novelist who never seems to be quite at ease unless he is writing in the same vein as another writer…. It's what makes him so well-qualified to continue the James Bond Saga." Glidrose's board of directors agreed, finally selecting Gardner from a list of twelve authors. "My immediate reaction was ‘Thank you but no thank you,’" Gardner stated on his Web site. He added: "Apart from not really liking the Bond books very much … I considered that to write more of them was a no-win situation. Kingsley Amis had done one within a few years of Ian Fleming's death and the reviews had not been wildly enthusiastic. I remembered him saying that it was a thankless task." In addition, the Bond character held little appeal to Gardner. Recalling a discussion with his agent, Gardner commented: "Though I had started my career by writing comedy spy novels I had been working for a long time on books that tried to depict the real world of the Secret Intelligence and the Security Services. ‘Bond is fantasy,’ I said, ‘the kind of fantasy that's sometimes unpleasant.’" Despite his initial misgivings, Gardner agreed to the offer from Glidrose. "I was starting to think of it as more of a challenge," he recalled, "and I could never resist challenges even though I still had great reservations."
Gardner understood the difficulties inherent in the project. He explained to Hauptfuhrer, "[Bond is] a household name. Fans know how he cuts his fingernails, so the writer is a target for nitpickers. Mr. Fleming is a very difficult act to follow." Nevertheless, the author accepted the challenges of the assignment and began to write. He told Edwin McDowell in the New York Times Book Review: "I supplied [Glidrose] with four possible narrative outlines, and they picked one of them and asked me to do certain things. What they wanted was for me to think in terms of Bond having been on ice for a while, but being quite up to date about what's been going on in the world during the past two decades." He elaborated in People: "Then there's the matter of character. He's got to be the same man, but much more aware of women's position in society."
The result of these considerations was a Bond who drank less, drove a fuel-efficient Saab, and smoked low-tar cigarettes. Not unexpectedly, some critics reacted indignantly to this updating of the suave spy. Michael Malone's New York Times Book Review article stated, "Bond was so suited to his times, so right in [the 1950s,] that age of astronauts and Thunderbirds, perhaps he should have decided you only live once…. For Bond to be worrying about gas mileage is like shipping the Scarlet Pimpernel to Plymouth Colony." And, although praising Gardner's skill, T.J. Binyon and Stanley Ellin, writing respectively in the Times Literary Supplement and New York Times Book Review, both expressed the opinion that because Bond originated as Fleming's alter ego, no other author could satisfactorily re-create him. "Believe me when I say that unless I was going to slavishly reproduce Fleming's Bond I was always going to get knocked simply because I wasn't Fleming," Gardner once stated. "Many people did not take the point that all fictional characters have to grow and strengthen. To allow Bond to have remained static in a changing world—as some seem to desire—would, I still believe, have been death."
Gardner's third Bond book, Icebreaker, is, according to Binyon, "full of good action; his torture scenes are splendidly painful; his villain is adequately megalomaniac, though perhaps not sufficiently outré; his girls are pretty, sexy, and available, and the courting routines as embarrassingly obvious as anything in the original…. But in the end Gardner's Bond doesn't really measure up to Fleming's. There isn't that maniacal snobbery about trivial and useless detail which the original so endearingly manifests. And, furthermore, Gardner simply hasn't grasped Bond's most important trait: he only takes assignments where his creator would like to take a holiday. And who? Certainly not the luxurious Bond." Ellin wrote that Gardner is somewhat overqualified for the job of following Fleming: "Ian Fleming was a dreadful writer, a creator of books for grown-up boys, a practitioner of tin-eared prose. As evidenced by his writing, he was also by nature a ferocious and humorless snob, a political primitive, a chauvinist in every possible area." Gardner, continued Ellin, is "a writer of style and wit and a sharp-eyed, acidulous and yet appreciative view of humanity and its foibles. Fleming's shoes are simply too tight and misshapen for Mr. Gardner to wear comfortably."
But New York Times Book Review critic Anthony Watkins felt that Gardner's Bond is certainly equal to Fleming's original, and is perhaps superior, thanks to his more believable personality: "Although Mr. Gardner's Bond is less raffishly macho and arrogant than previously depicted," observed Watkins, "the spirit of the 007 series remains intact, and few Fleming admirers are likely to object. There is, in fact, something appealing about a James Bond who can react to women with some sympathy and confusion at a crucial moment." Bond fans, perhaps the sternest critics of all, made the final judgment: they bought and read the books eagerly. License Renewed sold more than 130,000 copies in hardcover alone, inspiring such confidence in its publishers that the sequel, For Special Services, enjoyed a first printing of 95,000 copies.
Gardner followed with additional Bond novels that proved popular but lacked critical affirmation. In Scorpius Bond infiltrates The Meek Ones, a mercenary terrorist group posing as a religious cult, to foil their plans to bomb British officials. Win, Lose, or Die, Gardner's eighth installment in the Bond canon, describes 007's effort to avert the terrorist seizure of a British aircraft carrier upon which George H.W. Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Margaret Thatcher have gathered for arms reduction negotiations. As Frederick Busch wrote in a Tribune Books review, "the novel is literate, hardworking, sexless, somehow, and dull." In Brokenclaw, Bond must prevent classified information about American submarines from falling into enemy hands. He matches wits with Chinese agent Brokenclaw Lee, a hulking figure with a disfigured hand.
The archetypical Cold War spy continued his adventures at the center of crises fit for the post-Cold War era. In Death Is Forever, Bond investigates the murders of British and American secret agents in the newly reunified Germany and undermines the plot of a Stalinist East German security agent to wreak havoc in Western Europe. Bond travels to Switzerland to investigate the murder of a British operative in Never Send Flowers, a "light, entertaining read," observed a critic in Publishers Weekly. After joining forces with Swiss agent Fredericka von Grusse, Bond discovers that the agent's death may be linked to four other assassinations. In Seafire, Bond and von Grusse attempt to locate a millionaire arms dealer who has vanished. "The outcome is never in doubt," noted Booklist contributor George Cohen, "but it's a rollicking ride the way." Cold Fall, published in 1996, follows Bond's mission to apprehend the perpetrators of an airline bomb, leading to the implication of Italian royalty, former mobsters, and American extremists in Idaho.
Outside of the Bond books, Gardner received favorable reviews for his "Generations" trilogy, the saga of a British and American family linked by marriage and connections to international espionage organizations. The first installment, The Secret Generations, published in 1985, traces the development of foreign intelligence agencies in the early decades of the twentieth-century. According to Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Nick Williams, with this book Gardner "emerges once more as a master of his craft." In The Secret Houses, the second volume in the series, the author describes cloak-and-dagger activity in occupied France during the Second World War, where a network of spies, including two family girls, operate under Nazi oppression. Volume three, The Secret Families, is set in the 1960s and involves KGB infiltration, British and American counterspies, and attempts to restore both personal and family honor. Busch welcomed the book in Chicago Tribune Books, concluding that it is "as compelling an espionage novel as we've had in some time."
After producing books at a steady pace for decades, Gardner was forced into hiatus following a diagnosis of esophageal cancer in 1995. But all was not lost. "To my great surprise, and against the odds [I] recovered, following complex and very unpleasant surgery," he once remarked. His health issues hadn't ended, however. Following successful surgery, the author told a Wales on Sunday interviewer, "after many dramas, including pneumonia, I fell and broke my right hip. There's always something." Sadly, the death of Gardner's wife, Margaret, in 1997 became yet another personal challenge to overcome. "When my life finally regained some equilibrium many people in publishing seemed to be astonished that I wanted to continue writing," he continued. "But what else to do? I have spent some forty years telling stories and delineating characters. I am not about to give it up now."
Thus Gardner's first book since 1996's Cold Fall was the 2000 novel Day of Absolution. The latter work centers on the May-September marriage of young anti-terrorist officer Bex Olesker and her husband, the retired-but-still-investigating detective Charlie Gauntlet. The newlyweds have their honeymoon interrupted to find what Lisa Moylett, writing in Publishers Weekly, called "a world-class assassin called Alchemist" whose target is a high-ranking Russian official. Moylett welcomed Gardner back into publishing, saying the espionage veteran continued to show himself as "a smooth, polished master of the form."
In Gardner's 2002 novel Bottled Spider, the author sets the action in World War II-era London and introduces new series detective Suzie Mountford. Unsuspecting young women are the prey of deformed madman Golly Goldfinch, who heeds the voices in his head to kill them in the most savage ways imaginable. Mountford's mission to track the killer is hampered by "seemingly insurmountable male opposition," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. The reviewer called Gardner's depiction of London during the Blitz the best part of Bottled Spider. A Kirkus Reviews writer, while acknowledging the book as somewhat "overlong," was also taken with Gardner's characterization of Suzie Mountford and her "all out pursuit of a sociopathic villain, a meaningful career, and someone to take her virginity."
Mountford returns in The Streets of Town, a "suspenseful foray into London's postwar underworld," remarked Booklist critic Emily Melton. At the request of Scotland Yard detective Tommy Livermore, Mountford begins an investigation of Tony "Big Toe" Harvey, a corrupt police official who has ties to the Balvak crime family. In Angels Dining at the Ritz, Detective Sergeant Mountford looks into the murders of an American senator's daughter, her British husband, and their son. According to a critic in Kirkus Reviews, the author "can still make you turn those pages." Troubled Midnight finds Mountford and Livermore investigating the brutal slaying of an air force colonel who may have revealed Allied plans to invade Normandy. The author's "narrative fairly burbles with period details," David Wright stated in Booklist. No Human Enemy, the final entry in the series, concerns the aftermath of a Nazi rocket attack on a British convent.
Gardner died on August 3, 2007. "In the field of espionage fiction," Ripley observed, "Gardner lacked the intellectual complexities of John le Carré or the stylistic innovations of Len Deighton or Anthony Price, but he was a prolific and reliable deliverer to a thrill-seeking audience."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Gardner, John, Spin the Bottle, Muller (London, England), 1963.
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Armchair Detective, fall, 1993, John F. Harvey, review of Maestro, p. 102.
Booklist, September 1, 1994, George Cohen, review of Seafire, p. 26; August, 2002, Candace Smith, review of Day of Absolution, p. 1985; September 15, 2002, Emily Melton, review of Bottled Spider, p. 209; May 1, 2003, Emily Melton, review of The Streets of Town, p. 1544; February 15, 2006, David Wright, review of Troubled Midnight, p. 50.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), December 24, 1983, Derrick Murdoch, profile of John Gardner.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2002, review of Bottled Spider, p. 919; June 1, 2004, review of Angels Dining at the Ritz, p. 519; January 1, 2005, review of Unknown Fears, p. 23.
Library Journal, September 1, 2002, Rex Klett, review of Bottled Spider, p. 218.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 19, 1986, Nick Williams, review of The Secret Generations, p. 9.
New York Times, April 9, 1983, Anatole Broyard, review of Icebreaker, p. 13.
New York Times Book Review, October 18, 1964, Anthony Boucher, review of The Liquidator; August 1, 1965, review of Understrike, p. 24; June 7, 1981, Edwin McDowell, "Behind the Bestsellers," interview with John Gardner, p. 30; June 14, 1981, Michael Malone, review of License Renewed, p. 14; May 30, 1982, Stanley Ellin, review of For Special Services, p. 19; April 24, 1983, Anthony Watkins, review of Icebreaker; October 31, 1993, Newgate Callendar, review of Maestro, p. 27.
People, June 21, 1982, Fred Hauptfuhrer, interview with John Gardner; May 2, 1983, review of Icebreaker, p. 26.
Publishers Weekly, May 25, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Brokenclaw, p. 51; March 1, 1993, review of Never Send Flowers, p. 38; August 21, 2000, Lisa Moylett review of Day of Absolution, p. 46; July 29, 2002, review of Bottled Spider, p. 57; June 30, 2003, review of The Streets of Town, p. 61; January 24, 2005, review of Unknown Fears, p. 225.
Times Literary Supplement, June 5, 1981, T.J. Binyon, review of The Garden of Weapons; July 22, 1983, T.J. Binyon, review of Icebreaker.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 5, 1988, Frederick Busch, review of The Secret Families, p. 6; April 16, 1989, Frederick Busch, review of Win, Lose, or Die, p. 6; April 16, 1995, Chris Petrakos, review of Confessor, p. 7.
Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 2001, review of Day of Absolution, p. 23.
Wales on Sunday (Cardiff, Wales), September 1, 2002, "Me and My Health," p. 8.
Washington Post Book World, April 5, 1981, Henry McDonald, review of The Garden of Weapons.
Guardian (London, England), November 2, 2007, Mike Ripley, "Prolific Thriller Writer behind the Revival of James Bond and Professor Moriarty."
New York Times, August 29, 2007, Margalit Fox, "John Gardner, Who Continued the James Bond Series, Dies at 80."
Lasting Tribute,http://www.lastingtribute.co.uk/ (February 1, 2008), "Tribute to John Gardner: Distinguished Writer Who Revived James Bond."
Mystery File,http://www.mysteryfile.com/ (August 23, 2007), Jim Doherty, "Obituary: John Gardner."
"Gardner, John 1926-2007 (John Edmund Gardner, Edmund McCoy)." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Apr. 2019 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.
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