John Gardner is something of a forgotten man in the overall picture of the James Bond phenomenon.
Everybody knows who Ian Fleming was, but how many non-Bond fans know Gardner's name? Of course, it's not fair to compare a continuation author with the man who created the character and every aspect of his world, but Gardner's contribution was nonetheless significant and, I believe, he deserves more credit.
Over a period of 15 years (1981-1996) he wrote 14 original Bond novels, plus novelisations of the movies Licence to Kill and Goldeneye. Fleming wrote the same number of books (counting For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy & The Living Daylights as two books) over an 11-year period, with his last two Bond books being published posthumously.
It was widely assumed that the producers of the Bond movies would turn to Gardner's books once they had exhausted the supply of Fleming's original material, but, to date, this has not happened.
Gardner wrote the novelisation of Licence to Kill to accompany the release of the film in 1989, but the story contained major elements from Fleming's Live and Let Die (Felix disagreeing with something that eats him) and the Milton Krest storyline from the short story The Hildebrand Rarity. The bulk of the story was written by Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson.
Gardner was also commissioned to write a novelisation of Goldeneye (1995), which became the first movie not to include any of Fleming's storylines. Although Gardner inserted one of two small scenes, his novel essentially followed the screenplay written by American screenwriter Michael France.
There was every opportunity to use Gardner’s books for the later Pierce Brosnan films, but they were overlooked in favour of new stories by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. When you consider the dreadful storyline for Die Another Day, it seems almost perverse that Gardner’s work was not used.
The influence of the films is evident throughout Gardner's books. You get the feeling from the pace, plots, characters and action sequences that he was writing with a big screen adaptation in mind, rather than crafting a literary thriller in its own right, as Fleming had done. This makes it all the more ironic than none of his novels have made it to the screen as yet.
Admittedly, Gardner lacks the colourful turn of phrase, journalistic detail, and the casual snobbery of Fleming’s work, but that is irrelevant in adapting his work for the screen. The 1980s/1990s settings can easily be updated, as can the political and social elements that many of his novels cover.
You could reasonably argue that Raymond Benson’s Bond novels should be used (or even the more recent books by Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver, William Boyd and Anthony Horowitz), but Gardner devoted such a large part of his career to Bond that adapting his books into films would introduce a whole new generation to his work, and give him the credit he deserves.
In returning to Casino Royale for Daniel Craig’s debut, the producers understandably created a new story arc, which will presumably conclude with No Time to Die. With Craig now expected to hang up his Walther PPK, there is time for a re-boot of the franchise, and I think John Gardner’s books are worthy of consideration.