For those of us who like a good late summer read, there are some halfway decent possibilities, although one potential rouser is a decided disappointment.
When John Gardner took over the James Bond mantle from the late Ian Fleming, there was a thrill of anticipation among Bond aficionados over ''007's'' return. Unfortunately readers of For Special Services who remember the Bond of 15 years ago will be disheartened at his transformation. The once-ruthless superspy who could get out of countless dire situations while romancing a bevy of beautiful women has become an introspective, socially relevant creature. Gardner goes out of his way to prove that his Bond respects beautiful women coworkers for their professionalism, and even goes to great pains to have his hero come up with the line, ''Still, I don't see why women should be treated any differently . . .'' Admirable sentiments, but not what one expects from James Bond.
The old trappings are there - a hair-raising car race, an out-of-control falling elevator, disposals of decidedly not nice thugs, an attack by voracious ants, and even Bond's old nemesis, SPECTRA and its head, the notorious Blofeld - all linked to a plot to take control of the United States Army's fleet of weapons satellites. But somehow it all never quite jells, and one can't help but remember, with a touch of longing, the original creations of Ian Fleming.
Now for the good part.
The Amindra Gamble, concerns a top-secret attempt by Winston Churchill to smuggle Britain's gold reserves to Canada for safety during World War II. The Amindra is rigged with dynamite scuttling charges to be detonated if the ship is in danger of capture. Also on board: 37 schoolboys escaping the London blitz, and an enemy agent determined to sabotage the daring plan, while nearby a German submarine commander waits. Mildly suspenseful with several moments of high excitement, it makes for a not half-bad read.
James Carroll's latest offering, Family Trade, is another more than passable suspense novel, despite several sexual references that may put off some readers.
Set in Washington and Berlin in the 1960s, '40s and '80s, it deals with the defection of a British diplomat to the Soviet Union and his nephew's subsequent attempt, after a lapse of 20 years, to retrieve him. It is also a story of a young man's growth in maturity and understanding.
An East-West setting is again the key to Level Five. Deep-sea diver Martin Newman is hired by a covert organization to supervise the excavation of what is believed to be Nazi treasure from a flooded salt mine somewhere in Europe. During a dive, at 250 feet, contact is broken with the surface crew, and after barely escaping with his life, Newman finds himself in an East German political prison. Escaping from the prison, he makes his way across the country with the help of an underground group, then determines to make another attempt to find the loot before the East Germans do. Fast-paced, and somewhat predictable, it provides some intriguing reading.
The best book of the bunch, however, has got to be The Peking Agent. It's rare to find a suspense thriller that provides virtually nonstop taut excitement with little gore or ''sexploitation.'' But James D. Horan provides just that. There is violence, but in most cases it is understated.
The basic plot begins in 1962, when an investigative reporter learns that a respected American film director may, in fact, be a spy for the People's Republic of China. One by one, those who have reason to suspect are being killed , and it remains for the reporter to find out the truth and expose it - if he survives long enough. In all, it's a first-rate book.