Well, I hope you really enjoyed No Deals, Mr. Bond, because we’re back into dodgy territory with this one. There was a cult scare in the 1980s, similar to the Satanic Panic of the 1970s (umm, and also the 1980s again; we panicked a lot in the 1980s), which is probably why Gardner decided to turn in a story in which Bond goes up against a mesmerizing cult leader who, as is always the case, is using the religious fervor of his converts for more materialistic gains. Pretty much every spy novel franchise inspired by James Bond had at least one story where the main character went up against some robe-clad Moonie stand-ins, so I guess Gardner figured why the hell not? The resulting book isn’t particularly good. It’s another in the increasingly large pile of Gardner plots with a simple solution that everyone refuses to take for reasons no better than, “it’s what he’d expect us to do.”
Bond is in the middle of a refresher course when M calls him back to headquarters. Not long after, people start harassing 007. He discovers that he’s to investigate a nutty religious cult called the Meek Ones, led by Father Valentine, who plans to use his deluded followers—many of them from well-connect families—as assassins and suicide bombers. Valentine is really Vladimir Scorpius, a former Soviet agent turned freelance arms dealer. Despite the duplicitous nature of the villain’s identity, almost every assassination scheme he hatches is telegraphed well ahead of time and proves exceedingly easy to foil. So Gardner just has Bond and all of the other characters do a bunch of dumb time-wasting stuff so that action happens for enough pages to satisfy the publisher.
Bond is paired with, a woman from the IRS, since they too are investigating Valentine and the phony credit card company he’s established as a front. Not the most thrilling of cases, but I suppose it beats all that guano farming we got in Doctor No. Mostly though, what sinks this book is it’s the insistence against all evidence on the page to the contrary that Scorpius is a dangerous, charismatic leader who can inspire unquestioning fanaticism in anyone. Even Bond falls under the hypnotic sway of Scorpius dime-store new age philosophy, and Gardner expects us to swallow it. It’s simply too much to buy, and the more Gardner writes scenes about 007 staring deeply into the persuasive eyes of Scorpius, the more comical it becomes.
Throw in a finale at a Hilton Head resort—Hilton Head!—and you have a real clunker of an adventure. There is a long history of Bond having his adventure wherever the author last took a vacation, but when it’s Jamaica or Greece or Finland, it’s one thing. When it’s a resort for middle-aged bankers in flip-flops and gaudy golf shirts…come on, Bond! What’s next? 007 going out for Kahlua Mudslides at a Bahama Breeze restaurant (actually, we’d get close to that once Raymond Benson took over the series, but one thing at a time)?
During the finale, Bond accomplish nothing. The one thing he does causes the death of a supporting good guy, and in the end, Bond’s presence on the scene contributes absolutely nothing to the take down of Scorpius. In fact, the entire plot of the book, which sends Bond undercover in Scorpius’ sham cult, is superfluous to the wrap-up. If 007 had sat in his room ordering pay-per-view, exactly the same amount would have been accomplished.
Speaking of pay-per-view, there’s a scene where Bond watched The Untouchables on his flight to the United States and ruminates on how this Sean Connery chap is a pretty good actor. Good gravy, Charlie Brown.