All the elements are in place to make John Gardner’s 14th James Bond book a saucy spyfest: There’s a passenger airplane blown up at Dulles; a promising bad-guy organization, COLD, which plans to infiltrate the U.S. government; a lavish Italian villa; a midget-size mobster and his sex-crazed wife; narrow escapes via Jet Skis and helicopter; a beautiful principessa (a Bond beloved, naturally); and even the kidnapping of Bond’s longtime boss, M. But make no mistake: Cold Fall sinks. The plot ricochets randomly among a whole alphabet of acronyms (NTSB, ALPA, ALPH, BALPA, FBI, etc.), and Bond himself behaves in embarrassingly Ken-doll fashion. There’s little of the signature shaken-but-not-stirred masculine kitsch that Ian Fleming spun into a franchise and that the usually capable Gardner has maintained. When, at the finale, Bond sputters, ”Heard it all before: seen it; done it,” you couldn’t agree more. C-
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