Art has now imitated art. Gin and Daggers, as by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain, is the first of what promises or threatens to be a series of new mysteries (apparently not novelizations of show scripts) starring Fletcher as first-person narrator.
The setting of "Gin and Daggers" is London and the English country house. Jessica, abroad to address a mystery writer's conference, spends a weekend with a grande dame, an Agatha Christie-like figure who is found dead, and not by her own hand either. Her last book hadn't sounded like her at all.
Suspects include a sullen protege and the author's niece, among others. At its least successful, the book struggles to pay obeisance to the show by having Fletcher's pals, including the sheriff, from Cabot Cove, fly in unannounced to help her. The book is a cut above most novelizations but well shy of Ruth Rendell terrain: a tightly focused fan work.
Ian Fleming wrote as a hedonist who prospered by dramatizing a life's worth of fantasies--acquisitions, indulgences, guilt-free sex and violence. John Gardner writes in Win, Lose or Die as a military affairs reporter who describes the operations of a Harrier VTOL aircraft as lovingly as Fleming described Pussy Galore. Gardner is long on facts, short on feelings.
This is the eighth of the counterfeit James Bonds by Gardner, who is no kin stylistically or otherwise to the late American writer of the same name. Bond is back on Navy duty aboard a ship where Bush, Gorbachev and Thatcher are to hold arms-reduction talks. M, and possibly Q and R, know that there is to be a terrorist attack on the ship with the aim of holding the three world leaders for several zillion dollars in ransom. The terrorizing group, BAST, is a private enterprise of generally Middle Eastern persuasion but no known theological ties. Its leader, who intends to dispose of practically everyone, is as colorless a supervillain as ever Bond has faced. Call him Drabfinger.
Bond couples predictably if distractedly with three ladies, two of them are wiped out almost instantly. He does a commendable dogfight with one of the terrorist's minions in a matching Harrier. But it is all so unamusing and juicelessly programmatic. The persistence of the series, despite these pallid copyings, is the ultimate tribute to the richness of Fleming's original invention.
FINDERS KEEPERS by Barbara Nickolae (McGraw-Hill: $16.95; 200 pp.)
RULES OF PREY by John Sandford (G.W. Putnam's Sons: $18.95; 317 pp.)
MURDER AT THE KENNEDY CENTER by Margaret Truman (Random House: $17.95; 308 pp.)
GIN AND DAGGERS by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain (McGraw-Hill: $17.95; 265 pp.)
WIN, LOSE OR DIE by John Gardner (G.W. Putnam's Sons: $13.95; 319 pp.)