Wednesday, January 03, 2007

John Gardner's Understrike

As I promised, I'd say something about Understrike, a comic spy thriller by the English writer John Gardner. He's nowadays best known as a writer of James Bond sequels (one of which didn't impress me a bit), but earlier he was known first as the creator of the Boysie Oakes series which are spoofs, and then complex and serious spy novels. It seems to me, based on an conversation on an e-mail list I'm on, that Gardner's reputation was pretty much marred by the Bond books and his new books - which I've been told are quite good - don't gather much readers.

Understrike, from 1965, is the second of the Boysie Oakes books ("Poju" in Finnish) and, to me, it's a bit dated. There's too much interplay with beautiful women and not enough action. When there's action, in the climax, there's not much of it, even though it's expertly written. The parody and spoof elements don't seem as funny as they could be - someone like Richard S. Prather did this sort of thing much better. It never seems very convincing to me how a self-pitying coward like Boysie Oakes gets to be a spy, and I think Stephen Frances, of the Hank Janson fame, did more convincing job with his John Gail thrillers he wrote after abandoning Janson in the mid-sixties. John Gail, besides being a self-pitying coward, is also a Leftist and a pacifist...

If this were not my job, I'd give up, but as I'll have to write an entry for Gardner for the upcoming reference book on thriller writers, I'll have to read some more of his work.

Right now, I'm reading Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean. The opening has so many catches for the reader that it almost makes me want to say that MacLean is the master of the genre! ("I've seen the future of the thriller genre and his name is..." Well, not that.)


mybillcrider said...

Ice Station Zebra, has a great ending, too.

Juri said...

I'm looking forward to it. It must be over 20 years since I read the book and can't remember anything of it.