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Gardner, John (Edmund) 1926-

GARDNER, John (Edmund) 1926-

PERSONAL: Born November 20, 1926, in Seaton Delaval, Northumberland, England; son of Cyril John (a priest of the Church of England) and Lena (Henderson) Gardner; married Margaret Mercer, September 15, 1952 (died, 1997); children: Alexis Mary, Simon Richard John, Miranda. Education: St. John's College, Cambridge, B.A., 1950, M.A., 1951; attended St. Stephen's House, Oxford, 1951-52.

ADDRESSES: Home—Hampshire, England. Agent—Lisa Moylett, Coombes Moylett Agency, 3 Askew Rd., London W12 9AA, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Writer. Ordained priest of Church of England, 1953, legally released from obligations of the priesthood, 1958; magician with American Red Cross, Entertainments Department, 1943-44; curate in Evesham, England, 1952-58; Herald, Stratford-upon-Avon, England, theatre 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.

MEMBER: 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.

Ian Fleming's James Bond in John Gardner's Seafire, Chivers Press (Thorndike, ME), 1994.


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.

Day of Absolution: A Novel, Scribner (New York, NY), 2000.

Bottled Spider, Severn House (Surrey, England), 2002.

The Streets of Town, Severn House (Surrey, England), 2003.


The Liquidator, Viking (New York, NY), 1964.

Understrike, Viking (New York, NY), 1965.

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.


License Renewed, R. Marek (New York, NY), 1981.

For Special Services, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan (New York, NY), 1982.

Ice-breaker, 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.

Coldfall, Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.


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.

Also author of Goldeneye, and "Smiley at the Circus: Cold War Espionage," in Murder Ink: The Mystery Reader's Companion, edited by Dilys Winn, Workman (New York, NY), 1977.

ADAPTATIONS: 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.

SIDELIGHTS: John Gardner's suspense novels have enjoyed steady success since the early 1960s, but in 1981 he received international attention when his novel License Renewed became a major bestseller. A reason for its immediate popularity: License Renewed was a new James 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 attests to Gardner's skill in performing his difficult task.

Gardner's interest in writing began early in life; he was an avid reader from the age of three. At eight, the author stated on his Web site, "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 theatre 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 where 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 long-time 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. Chicago 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, Gildrose 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 Toronto 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." Gildrose's board of directors agreed, finally selecting Gardner from a list of twelve authors. Peter Janson-Smith, one of Gildrose's directors and formerly Ian Fleming's agent, told People, "We wanted someone with a respect for Fleming, not someone who'd start saying where Ian had gone wrong and threaten to walk out if we altered a word."

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 [Gildrose] 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 mile age 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.

Gardner's third Bond book, Ice-breaker, 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 Mel 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 Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Margaret Thatcher have gathered for arms reduction negotiations. As Frederick Busch wrote in a Chicago Tribune Books review, "the novel is literate, hard-working, sexless, somehow, and dull."

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. 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. Books reviewer Maureen Rissik wrote, "Faultless construction and a good deal of narrative pace combine to make this a thoroughly enjoyable read." 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," as he remarked on his Web site. 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 Coldfall 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 of 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."

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. 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. Her mission to track the killer is hampered by "seemingly insurmountable male opposition," according to a PublishersWeekly 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."

"In recent years," Gardner was quoted in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers: "I have sought to combine the classic suspense story, together with espionage and detection of a different kind. The future? I think that, after one more attempt to recreate a classic suspense style from the past . . . it is probably ripe for the suspense story to take off into the future: not in terms of science fiction, but in political, military, and espionographical content."



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, winter, 1989, p. 22; fall, 1993, John F. Harvey, review of Maestro, p. 102.

Booklist, April 15, 1992, p. 1483; September 1, 1993, p. 3; September 1, 1994, p. 26; June 1, 1996, pp. 1674, 1686; August, 2002, Candace Smith, review of Day of Absolution: A Novel, p. 1985; September 15, 2002, Emily Melton, review of Bottled Spider, p. 209.

Books, February, 1988, p. 21; April, 1988, p. 17; July-August, 1990, p. 14.

English Journal, March 24, 1994, p. 96.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), December 24, 1983.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1992, p. 414; April 15, 1996, p. 549; July 1, 2002, review of Bottled Spider, p. 919.

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; June 12, 1988, p. 8; July 16, 1989, p. 13.

New York Times, April 9, 1983.

New York Times Book Review, October 18, 1964, Anthony Boucher, review of The Liquidator; August 1, 1965; June 7, 1981; June 14, 1981; May 30, 1982; April 24, 1983, Stanley Ellin, review of Ice-Breaker; October 31, 1993, Newgate Callendar, review of Maestro, p. p. 27; March 27, 1994, p. 26.

Observer (London, England), July 3, 1988.

People, June 21, 1982.

Playboy, June, 1987, p. 27; July, 1988, p. 32.

Publishers Weekly, March 6, 1987, p. 102; October 23, 1987, pp. 45-46; May 4, 1992, p. 41; March 13, 1995, p. 60; April 29, 1996, p. 53; August 21, 2000, 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.

Punch, May 20, 1981; July 27, 1983.

Time, July 6, 1981; July 5, 1982.

Times Literary Supplement, December 26, 1980; June 5, 1981, T. J. Binyon, review of The Garden of Weapons; September 17, 1982; July 22, 1983, T. J. Binyon, review of Ice-Breaker.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), June 5, 1988, Frederick Busch, review of The Secret Families, p. 6; April 16, 1989, 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; January 5, 1996, p. 11.


John Gardner Web site, (March 13, 2003).

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