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Topic: Bond Novel Reviews

Having reviewed the movies last year and having submitted a review of DMC recently, I thought I would follow up with a full set of reviews for the novels in published order. I have a lot of spare time at the moment as I am unemployed, but even so, there are a lot of novels! I don't envisage any trouble with the Fleming titles, but I will struggle by the time I get to Gardner's output (I don't have them all, and frankly most of them are dull).

Anyway not to keep you waiting, Casino Royale follows straight away!

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Re: Bond Novel Reviews

CASINO ROYALE
4/7/2009

Casino Royale was first published in 1953 to mixed reviews. It sold enough hardback copies to allow a paperback publication, which is when Ian Fleming’s success became assured. CR isn’t quite ahead of its time, but it’s close. Fleming’s take on the world he inhabited is clear from the opening line: “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.” It’s unglamorous, downbeat and realistic. Fleming, you feel, is writing from experience. If CR isn’t his best novel, it certainly points the way ahead, delivering espionage, guns, chases, villains, torture, murder, beautiful women and a showdown over the green baize of the baccarat table.

CR is a surprisingly quick read. I digested it in about three hours. I was struck by the brutality of the novel. The casino scenes have an air of menace, the love affair is an awkward painful one and the violence is of the short-sharp-shock variety. Curiously James Bond doesn’t actually kill anyone in CR, but Fleming fleshes out enough of his hero for us to believe he can. He also writes wonderfully descriptive passages which drew me in and kept me turning the pages.

The novel is written with a lot of economy. Fleming doesn’t spend long on intricate details, concentrating instead on short, snappy dialogue and sentences that let the reader experience the emotions of the central character. When he does describe the violence, it’s with a detachment that gives the action an unearthly feel. An exploding bomb shatters a window which “shivered into confetti,” a dying man is described as having “grown an eye” and two pools of blood are reflected as “pink patches marching slowly across the wall.” Everything abnormal begins to sound common place in Fleming’s world.

It’s a clever technique and it doesn’t distract from the simple story. James Bond is a new double-O agent, while Le Chiffre is a Russian agent, based in France, who has been profligate with Soviet funds. They meet over the baccarat table at the Casino Royale where Le Chiffre plans to recoup his losses through gambling. Bond has been ordered to publicly embarrass him. Fleming draws us into the slight story, one that for the most part occupies just a day in Bond’s life, with his colourful passages and an atmospheric card game.

The success of the novel isn’t in the people, but the places, the romance and the fear of life and death, the tension of the turning cards, the deception of a lover and Bond’s perception and affirmation of his role as a double-O. The characters are almost irrelevant; Fleming sketches rather than paints his protagonists and the novel is all the better for it.

Only three characters are described in any detail. Fleming dwells on Bond’s psyche, but not his looks; there is a passing mention of Hoagy Carmichael and blue-grey eyes. The villain Le Chiffre says nothing until the well described torture scene, but is vividly stamped as being “18 stones... with the silence and economy of movement of a big fish... the thick bust of a black-fleeced minotaur.” Vesper Lynd becomes Bond’s lover because he finds her “enigmatic... thoughtful... full of consideration” but not “slavish.” Somewhat worryingly, Fleming’s hero enjoys her “arrogant spirit” and describes making love to her as a “conquest... with the sweet tang of rape.” This possibly tells us more about Fleming’s foibles than Bond’s. The other character’s – M, Leiter and Mathis – are passing shadows in comparison.

At times CR is a little dull. Early on Fleming spends a whole chapter explaining the game of baccarat, which feels like an editorial suggestion – after all, not every one plays baccarat. Later on, Bond ponders resignation and discusses the nature of evil with Mathis. The latter rather prophetically likens evil to a woman and ends the conversation suggesting Bond is a man among strangers: “Surround yourself with human beings,” he says, “They are easier to fight for than principles.”

This second rather tiresome chapter is disappointing because it’s central to the final twist in the novel and to the development of Bond’s persona. He learns of his lover’s betrayal and resolves to hunt down SMERSH, to get at the “cold weapon of death” and destroy “the real enemy... working quietly... by his elbow.” At that moment Bond cares nothing for his lover, despite her dying wishes. Bond, agent 007, has become as much of a cipher as Le Chiffre and just as cold-hearted. “The bitch is dead now” is Vesper’s only epitaph.

CR is a very fine novel, short, concise and a good read. Every page left me panting for more and I enjoyed it almost from start to finish. Fleming set himself a very high standard with his debut work and while it isn’t quite the very best, it certainly reflects the nature of Fleming’s future output, for like Bond’s fear, the novel is able to crawl up this reader’s spine and get under his skin. Excellent. 

8 from 10



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Last edited by chrisno1 (9th Aug 2009 00:49)

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Re: Bond Novel Reviews

L IVE AND LET DIE
09/07/2009
   

Three quarters of the way through Live and Let Die, James Bond takes a turbulent flight from Florida to Jamaica. During it, he ponders on life’s inevitables: “You start to die the moment you are born. The whole of life is cutting through the pack with death.” This sits well with Bond’s devil may care attitude, but it doesn’t help explain his peculiar motto, and title of the book, “live and let die.” It’s a motto better suited to the giant Negro gangster Mr Big, who has no qualms about killing errant fishermen or spies, although his elaborate methods suggest he gets a distinct thrill from eliminating his protagonists.

Like CR before it, LALD is a vicious novel, peppered with hulking villains, flesh eating sharks, voodoo mysticism and one beautiful girl. For the most part it reads like an American crime novel: Bond visits the seedy underbelly of New York’s Harlem, he has an early face to face confrontation with his enemy, he narrowly escapes a machine gunning on a train and shoots it up in an aquarium warehouse.

Throughout this first part of the novel Fleming is at pains to demonstrate Mr Big’s hold over the black population, be it the Whisper’s big switchboard, a frightened railroad chef or the eyes that follow Bond all around East coast America. Most haunting is Mr Big’s use of the scarecrow effigy Baron Samedi, the king-spirit of the dead. His fallow skin, brought on by chronic heart disease, has allowed him to proffer the belief he is the zombie of Baron Samedi.

What Fleming doesn’t do is give this angle the time it deserves. He writes a few passages about Haitian voodoo rituals, uses voodoo drums to symbolise impending death and his heroine reads cards and minds, but generally the bad guys are just a bunch of rather nasty hoodlums. This is all the more peculiar as, at the start of the book, Mr Big is reffered to as the head of the Black Widow Voodoo Cult. It has no further mention and isn’t central to Fleming’s plot, which is nominally something to do with selling Bloody Morgan’s treasure on the black market.

So the novel really turns out to be about guns, bad guys and a girl. Bond kills gangsters in Harlem and in Florida and Fleming describes the action with the same economy noticeable in CR: “One short scream came out of the depths” is enough to tell us The Robber is dead while even more bleakly Bond earlier “shoots straight into the screaming mouth.”

Fleming brightens up considerably when Bond reaches Jamaica and meets Quarrel, a Cayman Islander who is the antithesis of the brooding Mr Big, a fisherman “straight forward and candid” but with “no room for servility.” It’s a dignified description that reflects many an Englishman’s attitude to black people in the 1950s. Mr Big is a monster not just because he’s a gangster, but because he is into strange magic, diseased, makes love to white women and is rich and successful. Horror of horrors, he’s even plundering British treasure! The fact he’s an agent of SMERSH hardly registers in the tale and seems to be more of an after-thought.

Fleming delights in the sights and sounds and atmosphere of the tropics. And he revels in the sea, describing not the water itself, but its inhabitants in all their glory: “bejewelled butterfly fish... phosphorescent scribbles of minute underwater night life.” Bond likens a coral reef he has to traverse as “a forest of mystery.” Best of all are a fearsomely chilling description of a shark’s mouth like a “wide sickle slit... a puckered scar” and the numerous barracuda “whirling and snapping... like hysterical dogs” with “angry tiger’s eyes... and teeth glinting like a wolf’s.” There’s a lot of danger in the sea and Fleming let’s us know it; Mr Big’s demise is suitable primeval.

Amongst all the mayhem Fleming has forgotten about his central characters. Bond gets his perfunctory chapter to mull over life, and Felix Leiter reappears and raps about the joys of jazz music before being mutilated by a shark. Meanwhile Solitaire, the heroine, is merely a damsel in distress. She has a background story, but it barely matters, in fact her relationship with Bond puts him into ever more danger. She’s a curious character, a mixture of innocence and worldliness, and her situation seems highly unlikely. Luckily, there is too much nasty stuff going on for Solitaire's plight to be a distraction.

LALD is a good follow up to CR. It has more action and if it drags in places, especially the early chapters, this is probably due to story padding and filling in irrelevant background details. It’s the last quarter where LALD is at its best and the climatic keel hauling sequence is riveting stuff, aided by a slow increase in tension through the previous two chapters. None the less, Fleming has done more than enough to justify James Bond’s literary existence. I can’t fault the nature of the beast and the violence is graphic and exciting. It’s a hard book to put down.

7 from 10



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Last edited by chrisno1 (9th Aug 2009 00:50)

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Re: Bond Novel Reviews

very thourough reviews, nice to see what other fans think of these grand novels, that we all hold so close to heart.

"I take a ridiculous pleasure in what I eat and drink."                                   

~ Casino Royale, Ian Fleming

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Re: Bond Novel Reviews

MOONRAKER
13/07/09

Moonraker is an interesting novel for two reasons. Firstly, it takes place entirely in England. That’s a change for Fleming and his writing style; there is nothing particularly exotic or different about Ebury Street, Blades and the Dover Coast. Secondly the danger Bond faces is not just his own: should he fail, millions are in jeopardy. This is the first of only three instances when Fleming raises the stakes for his hero. Along with TBs nuclear threat and OHMSSs bio-chemical plot, MR and its atomic missile is as close as the original novels get to the fantastical elements of the film series.

In many other respects however, MR is a disappointment. The story takes place over five days in the life of James Bond. The earliest and most rewarding section revolves around a game of bridge at the London club Blades, during which Bond uncovers the protagonist of the tale, Sir Hugo Drax, as a card cheat. The machinations of the game are well described and, as the stakes mount, Fleming is at pains to highlight the reactions of the players, one of whom, Meyer, looks like “a man caught in a cage with a couple of tigers.”

While Fleming exposes Drax’s lack of sportsmanship, he also (indirectly) exposes the latent snobbery of both Blades (representing the British establishment) and Bond (the establishment’s lackey). So, the word “cheat” is banned; Drax “unforgivably” asks M to guarantee the stakes; Bond’s impression of Drax is that he’s not a gentleman, “I was rather surprised you tolerate him,” he muses; at Blades you don’t read the menu, newspapers are ironed, old money is replaced with new and a blind eye is turned when a member seduces any of the pretty waitresses. Bond revels in the champagne and brandy and cigars.

But there’s nothing exotic about Blades, it’s a gentleman’s club with its own rules and its own little shut off world. James Bond seems to carry the nostalgia and prejudices of this closet society with him throughout the story. He distrusts the German’s at the missile station because they all have moustaches. He is uncertain of Gala Brand, his assistant, because she refuses to warm to him. And his love of money, success and achievement blinds him to Drax’s shortcomings. At one point it seems only the man’s red hair, buck teeth and scarred face mark him out as suspicious. Bond does remarkably little that is sensible in this tale, even after a cliff fall buries him alive he remains docile. 

The latter scene, one of the few of genuine terror in the novel, is well described, but what follows is a moment of farce at the dinner table as Bond’s reappearance stuns Drax into silence. Fleming juxtaposes this with his clinching, chilling line that the dinner table “had been laid for only three people.” Yet even then Bond doesn’t assert himself. A car chase later and he’s a prisoner along with the non-entity of a heroine, Gala Brand.

Fleming picks up the pace a bit here, but it’s all come too late. As in CR he tries to create tension by writing the launch countdown from ten to zero, but this only serves to highlight how little real excitement is going on. Ultimately, Fleming describes the finale through the eyes of a radio broadcaster and this also is an unsatisfactory approach. He clearly based the sequence on the famous Hindenburg transmission, but Fleming’s piece lacks all of the drama of that real life tragedy.

Overall Fleming falls short in MR, a bit like the rocket itself. The flowing descriptions have disappeared and in its place is an ordinary detective story with an extraordinary premise. MR might be about the “terrible beauty of the greatest weapon on earth,” but Fleming hasn’t constructed a worthwhile story around it and, even worse, the cast of caricatures behave in stereotypical fashion throughout.

At its end, Fleming is sensible enough to ensure Bond doesn’t get the girl. Gala implausibly laughs off his indecent suggestion of sex, “the scream of a rose.” This distasteful episode summarises MR perfectly, as it’s full of prejudice and misogyny and class. One word sums it up even better: unrefined. A disappointing novel.

4 from 10.



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Last edited by chrisno1 (9th Aug 2009 00:51)

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Re: Bond Novel Reviews

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
28/07/2009

Diamonds Are Forever has little to do with the world of secret agents. It’s a gangster thriller, more in the mould of Mickey Spillane or Elmore Leonard. It doesn’t have the refinements and weariness of Raymond Chandler, but it does score highly with action and character, the two things missing in Bond’s previous adventure, the less than exciting MR.

Bond is back in America dealing with a contraband diamond operation run by the Jewish Mafia. The story is peppered with odd ball people and this adds considerable flavour to what is essentially a pot boiler thriller. Fleming spends much time fleshing out the devils of this underworld, each one peculiar, damaged or macabre.

Serrafino Spang is the owner of the Tiara hotel and a collector of Wild West memorabilia. This man’s opulent lifestyle even makes Bond see “the point of being a millionaire.” His mysterious brother Jack, aka Rufus B. Saye, aka ABC, runs the London end of the operation and is wonderfully described as “a large compact man with the hardness of a chunk of quartz.” Their partner is the pimp Shady Tree, an evil, tough little man who shows a wicked sense of humour (the first for a Fleming character) and has a voice that “squeals” yet remains “precise and businesslike.”

The gruesome cast continues with two hooded killers. The fat one, Wint, is terrified of flying, perceiving a plane as “nothing but a giant tube – full of anonymous dead weight, supported in the air by a handful of sparking plugs and... a scrap of electricity.” In Fleming’s world, even an aeroplane is sinister. Kidd, meanwhile, is just that, giggling and girlish and constantly chewing on a tooth pick in his “empty letterbox smile.”

Their mud boiling of the “miserable” jockey Tingaling Bell is the books highlight, evoking the tales of Poe, the true life history of gangsters and even the world of the Klu Klux Klan. It’s a horrific piece, all “strait jackets... coffins” and “steaming buckets of mud.” The action of the killers is cold among the heavy mud. Fleming doesn’t describe the full details, letting our imagination run riot while “the black stuff steamed as it poured sluggishly out of the bucket.”

He similarly spares us the horrors of Bond’s Brooklyn Stomping, a beating which while it doesn’t disable 007, it leaves him “like a wounded animal” with just enough energy to finish his mission.

Overall the whole novel is rather breathless and Fleming fairly races along as he presents us with a series of set pieces that feel as it they have jumped out of the movies of the 30s, 40s and 50s. There are crooked card games from “Casablanca,” saloon fights from “Shane,” train wrecks from “Wells Fargo,” dodgy horse races, car chases, luxury liners and a femme fatale as good as any from a film noir.

In fact Tiffany Case, the books heroine, comes across as the most believable of Fleming’s female creations yet. While Vesper was enigmatic and uncommunicative, Solitaire sensual and mysterious and Gala Brand a chaste, honourable perfectionist, Tiffany is a rounded, wounded, realistic woman. When Bond first meets her she’s half naked with “arrogance in the set of her head and shoulders" and he is struck by her “scornful grey eyes” and “sinful mouth.” Tiffany Case can take care of herself and isn’t about to sleep with just anybody.

As if to satisfy Fleming’s preoccupation with damaged women, Tiffany’s history is laced with broken homes, drink, drugs and gang rape. Bond, of course, is here to rescue her from all this, but not before she displays “the glint of fear for him” and realises “you can’t be complete by yourself.” Fleming offers us a confused woman; capable and assertive, funny and angry, a woman who drinks hard and kisses “with a fierce tenderness... almost without sex.”

She seems the perfect match for Bond, who isn’t unlike the hoodlums she’s been working for. He meanwhile is fascinated by her “brazen sexiness, the rough tang of her manner and the poignancy in her eyes.” Later on, Bond touches her thigh and “there is a long minute of silence during which the blood sings.” It isn’t clear whether it’s Tiffany who is in love or James Bond. I favour the former; this is Fleming’s most complete and satisfying portrait of a lady to date.

Either way, Fleming’s treatment of his heroine is more rewarding than his interpretation of Bond, who in DAF is a fairly callous brute. He kills indiscriminately, irks all the villains with ease, finds something to dislike about everywhere he travels and is even heartless enough to question Tiffany’s honour and chastity. He comes across as a distinctly middle class stuck up Englishman surrounded by utter chaos.

Fleming’s eye for detail is never in doubt here and he writes some brilliant passages, but although he has spent time imbibing his people with real characteristics, he’s tended to make everyone, except Bond and Tiffany, faintly ridiculous.
Serrafino Spang dresses like a cowboy and owns a real western town complete with an 1870s steam locomotive. Shady Tree is a hunchback. Wint and Kidd wear hoods to disguise themselves – but everyone recognises the traits of their trade. This includes Felix Leiter the most obvious private investigator of all time with his wooden leg and hook hand; he’s the font of all knowledge here, provider of so much information you wonder why he hasn’t taken on the Spangled Mob himself. Even a minor player like the cabbie Ernie Cureo drives a Chevrolet easily identified by the “racoon tail tied to its chrome naked lady mascot.” Great touches all, and there are more, but it’s all a little far fetched.

Generally, though, DAF is a good novel. It succeeds where MR failed. It’s got great action, some insight into the world of crime, strong central characters, fine observational descriptions and not one, but three satisfying climaxes.

After the second of these, Wint’s dead eyes tell Bond that “nothing is forever...only death is permanent.” Diamonds last forever too and it’s a solemn ending that even Fleming acknowledges “reads better than it lives.”

6 from 10



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Last edited by chrisno1 (9th Aug 2009 00:52)

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Re: Bond Novel Reviews

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE
6/8/2009

From Russia With Love is one of Ian Fleming’s crowning achievements. It’s sexy, violent, fast and wonderfully atmospheric. Fleming excels with in depth descriptions of people and places; he breathes life into his protagonists in a way he only hinted at before; and he gives a satisfying, wholly rounded and believable portrait of James Bond.

This James Bond is a lonely, troubled man. Cut adrift from his previous love affair “the blueberry arms of the soft life... were slowly strangling him.” He’s eating the same fastidious breakfast every day and exchanging pleasantries with his mother-hen Scots housekeeper. He’s not been on a mission for a year and is stunted by paperwork and in-house committees. He’s a superstitious man, preferring to travel on the 13th and taking note of a gypsy chieftain’s warning that he “must beware of a man who is owned by the moon.” Bond is also, for the first time, an unsqueamish killer: despatching a few Bulgars during a battle at an open air cafe, accepting the fate of Krilencu and Kerim with a cold blooded heart and lastly disposing of the assassin Grant in a suitably grotesque finale.

Fleming even allows us to share a physical description of Bond through the medium of a Russian General’s files. He’s six foot one, eleven and a half stone, with blue eyes, black hair, scars and surgery. He has long black eyebrows, a straightish nose and a “wide and finely drawn but cruel mouth.” His jaw is straight and firm. Bond has a “decisive look... as if he was making quickly for something bad that was happening.”

Later on Fleming describes Bond through the eyes and mind of his heroine, Tatiana Romanova. “He made it easy, made it fun, with a spice of danger... He was terribly handsome and he looked very clean.” She quickly falls in love with him, wanting to “reassure him that this was a harmless konspiratsia,” but when things go array, she recognises the “coldness in his face” and the “tall figure... straight and hard and cold like a butcher’s knife.”

Fleming also develops Tatiana; he spends almost two chapters describing her looks and her life, first from Tatiana’s point of view, then again objectively and lastly through the mouth of Rosa Klebb. The latter sees none of her attributes, only “a beautiful, guileless, innocent girl” who is more than suitable for the “simple, delightful duty” of seduction. Tatiana’s questions to herself, and later about her superiors, frame our interpretation of who this woman is, how she is being used and how expendable her services are – to both the Russians and Bond. It’s the most in depth analysis of a woman Fleming gives us (until possibly TSWLM) and is close to, if not the, best. Tatiana isn’t the secretive woman with a past, she is a spy too (albeit an unwitting pawn in Kronsteen’s complicated game of chess) and, to boot, she is the most classically beautiful of Bond’s women.

It’s easy to understand how Bond falls for her story and for her. As such, the seduction scene features some of Fleming’s most mature sexual byplay. There’s no “my darlings” or “don’t be a goose” or “all the time in the world” here. Instead it’s a fun, sensual, racily exciting scene, like a game that young lovers would play in the throes of romance.

If the passion is central to the plot, Fleming hasn’t forgotten to enrich this masterpiece with a host of colourful characters and sensational set pieces. In Istanbul, Bond is united with Kerim Bey, “a vagabond soldier of fortune... startlingly dramatic... vital, cruel and debauched.” Kerim’s love of life, indeed his passion for it, is infectious and his even more pronounced love of language allows Fleming to paint wonderful canvasses of Turkish life and Kerim’s philosophy. “Life is full of death, my friend,” he says, “and sometimes one is made the instrument of that death.”

Bond himself has “a moment of resentment against the life that made him witness these things” and his humanity is unusual in a particularly hard portrayal. It is also at odds with the host of unfeeling enemies from the East.

Foremost among them is Donovan Grant, an Irish defector, Executioner Number One for SMERSH, a “lump of inanimate meat” who possesses a “splendid body” and who revels in “all he heard about the Russians, their brutality, their carelessness of human life.” Grant is a psychopath, a lunatic whose urges to kill materialise strongly during a full moon and Fleming spares us little of his cruelty. Interestingly however, it is the nature of British eccentricity that is his downfall as, with Bond at his mercy, Grant’s own vanity insists he explains the konspiratsia to Bond, ultimately leading to his death.

The three Russians, General G, Klebb and Kronsteen are also given depth of character. There is a healthy dose of realism in the General’s world weariness, his suspicions and apathy towards his underlings. Kronsteen, the planner, is wily and “as malevolently inscrutable as a parrot.” His mind works in boxes, like the chess master he is, and we learn more about him from his thoughts about others, for Fleming only allows a few short paragraphs about Kronsteen’s psyche. Like Grant before him though, his vanity is his Achilles heel; unlike Grant, Kronsteen has the authority to execute his defence.

Klebb meanwhile is a woman whose “urge for power demanded that she should be a wolf and not a sheep.” Fleming likens her to the tricoteuses who “sat and knitted and chatted while the guillotine clanged down.” And she isn’t just ruthless; she is ugly with “chicken skin... peasant’s ears... fists like knobkerries” and a “ghastly prattle” emanating from her mouth, which is compared to “the boxlike jabber of a puppet.” Tatiana is horrified and calls her “the Klebb woman” and is subjected to a grimy lesbian initiation that doesn’t titillate but makes one rather nauseous.

Amongst all these clever, incisive descriptions, it’s possible to forget there is a spy thriller to worry about. Fleming’s story is ever so slight, but he enriches it with his by now expected attention to the detail of food and drink and local culture. There’s even a MacGuffin, in the guise of the Spektor cipher machine. Hitchcock would be proud!

Fleming orchestrates an exceedingly erotic fight between two naked gypsy girls, a grim walk through a tunnel of rats, a vicious gun battle, a cat-and-mouse chase on the Orient Express and two life and death struggles at the book’s climax.

While the Orient Express episodes do have something of “The Lady Vanishes” about them, Fleming builds the suspense nicely, mixing Bond and Tatiana’s frantic love making with the laboured progress of the train across enemy frontiers. When he reaches the denouement, it’s in the darkness of Bond's cabin where “for a hundred yards on both sides of the little death cell rows of people were sleeping.” Bond’s isolation is highlighted and his desperation coined by the “one violent corkscrew of motion” that propels him to kill.

There isn’t a lot wrong with FRWL. It is an experiment of sorts and this does put some readers off. The first third of the novel doesn’t feature 007 at all, but this does allow the reader to inhabit the minds of the villain’s. Fleming has taken the time and the care to make them three dimensional, unlike the slight caricatures seen in previous adventures. If the reader sticks with it, he’s rewarded with a second section that continues this forte, imbibing Bond and Kerim with believable personas. It’s only in the final third that the action takes over and the violence picks up. But Fleming’s drawn out, suspenseful prologue allows us to revel in the final gory agonies. FRWL is a stunning, brilliant read. Highly recommended.

10 from 10


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Last edited by chrisno1 (9th Aug 2009 00:53)

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Re: Bond Novel Reviews

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ajb007/smile

"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

9

Re: Bond Novel Reviews

Thanks Napoleon

I've added some images in especially for you! Sorry the last ones a bit ropey, I only found an image half size, had to blow it up a bit....

I actually have copies of of all of these, and (before I learnt the meaning of the word value!) I also had a 1961 version of FRWL and the 1969 version of LALD. They were badly dog eared which was why I disposed of them. Ho hum, careless.


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Found it Napoleon! Thanks for the help!

Last edited by chrisno1 (15th Aug 2009 10:37)

10

Re: Bond Novel Reviews

DR NO
14/08/2009

What Ian Fleming’s sixth novel Dr No lacks in plot, it makes up for in spades with action. Of all Fleming’s gruesomely fierce tales, DN packs a punch that outlasts all of his other adventures. One of his climatic chapters is titled “The Long Scream” and at times the torture our hero suffers reflects that terminal agony.

Bond is shot at, hunted by dogs, assaulted by a flame throwing marsh buggy, preyed on by centipedes and tarantulas, almost poisoned and finally battles a giant squid to the death. Doctor No’s plan to topple U.S. missile tests is almost an irrelevance. Fleming drops it into a long conversation the villain has with Bond over canapés and a five star dinner. It hardly matters. There are much more exciting and unpleasant things for us, and the author, to worry about.

Throughout the thrills and spills Fleming is always at pains to remind us that 007 is a human agent. The whole novel, in fact, seems to be an allegory of human endurance: before the story begins, Bond recovers from a lethal poison ( “A miracle.” ); he regrets having to replace his beloved, long serving Beretta revolver ( “Ladies gun, sir” ); the new routine assignment in Jamaica seems dull ( “a bit of a holiday...the soft life” ) compared even to the London weather ( “worse than a PQ convoy” ); the hard line attentions from press photographers and Doctor No’s Kingston based Chigroe Mafia; the poverty row upbringing of the heroine who dresses “like a principal girl playing Man Friday”; the survival of Doctor No from a Tong assassination squad; and finally Bond’s own destiny in the tunnel of death.

In this respect, Fleming is in his element as he cranks up the suspense and the fear. This hardly better demonstrated when the marauding poisonous centipede stops ambling over Bond’s torso and face and begins “drinking the beads of sweat” on his brow. There is an undercurrent of menace and survival of the fittest to DN that Fleming hasn’t touched on before, or after. Doctor No’s peculiar obstacle course which Bond follows to is bitter climax and Honey’s night-time stake out with the hermit crabs are the ultimate feats of endurance. Fleming tells the latter in a simple flashback, but Bond’s experience is documented with a desperate will to survive. Each sentence and paragraph is tense, taut and economical with language. Fleming wants us to experience Bond’s pain: “Don’t worry about your screaming muscles or the swelling bruises on your shoulders... take the silver inches as they come, one by one, and conquer them.” Such is Bond’s body battered and burned that he compares it to “a survivor from a crash... be thankful... measure what hurts most.” Nobody writes like Fleming at times like these!

DN also provides us with two sterling characters, the titular villain and Honey Rider. Doctor No (I am writing his name fully because that is how Fleming presents it, although the novel’s title is written “Dr. No”) only appears for a three chapters, during which he relates his story to Bond and they challenge each other about “the illusion of power” how, as Bond puts it, “any man with a revolver has the power of life and death over his neighbour.” Doctor No will not be swayed; intellectually superior, he believes “facts are more interesting than theories” and wishes to prove it to the “man with only a few hours to live.” Doctor No is Fleming’s most dastardly creation yet; he has much of the oddities we have come to expect of his villains; he has no hands only mechanical pincers, he is 6’6” tall, his heart is on the right side of his chest. But equally he has no love of life, a benign nothing of a person with “cavernous indrawn cheeks... slanting jet black eyes...like the mouths of two small revolvers, direct and unblinking” and a neck that hardly moves “giving the impression the head and vertebra were in one piece.” Wrapped in a silver kimono and with his echoing voice, Bond compares him to a “giant venomous worm... trailing slimily along the carpet.”

While Doctor No is an updated and horrified version of Fu Manchu, Honey Rider is a breath of fresh air into the world of Bond-babes. Taking his cue from the sexily playful seduction scene of the previous FRWL, Fleming inhabits his heroine with more of the same. Honey may be inexperienced, but she isn’t a complete innocent. Fleming may paint her like Botticelli’s Venus, but she has a child’s fascination for life and love. She is at once a sensual available young woman with the mannerisms of a coquettish teenager. She hasn’t really lived in the real world. Bond’s first meeting with Honey is exceeding erotic as she stands naked on the beach “in the classical relaxed pose of the nude” and she generally seems unconcerned about her nakedness. Rather than cover “the beautiful firm breasts that jutted towards him” she hides her broken nose. Once she gets the measure of Bond she “reached up and stripped off the diving mask and stood swinging it” like an ingenuous school girl would twirl a skipping rope. Later on Bond and Honey share some saucy banter as she tries to seduce him. Bond is quite the gentleman throughout these times and it recalls his earlier tact when dealing with the virgin Solitaire. He was less adroit with Tiffany Case. Unlike many of Fleming’s women, Honey, while being something of a caricature, does possess huge amounts of sex appeal as Bond reflects on the “questing blue eyes” of a girl who fends for herself in the world but is “swept her out of her rock pool into dirty waters.” The horrors of Crab Key are quite natural to her and her determination is born from her desire for Bond. At the tales end, it is Honey who seduces Bond in her candle lit Alice in Wonderland cellar, “a very large tidy cigar-box... with highly polished cedar and wide bamboo.” She cooks a meal, but all she wants is to “talk love.”

There are other characters in DN. Quarrel returns from LALD and provides some good natured humour, although he meets an untimely death, while Bond has meeting with a series of uninterested colonial office boys. But the story is essentially only a three hander: Bond, Honey and Doctor No. The added bonus of DN is in Fleming’s return to the Caribbean and once again he describes the beauty of the land and the wildlife with panache and verve. Fleming really feels at home with the nature here, much more than he did among the bricks and mortar of Las Vegas and Istanbul: “Bond watched the big green turtle–backed island grow on the horizon and the water below him turn from the dark blue of the Cuba Deep to the azure and milk of the inland shoals.” Later on, when confronted with Doctor No’s million dollars worth of huge underwater window, Bond and Fleming describe the wonders of the sea “the twenty foot tendrils of a Portuguese man-o-war... glinting violet as it caught the light... a ruby red moonlight snapper nudging and rubbing against the glass... the dull grey torpedo of a twenty foot shark” swims by with “an elegant disdainful swirl... with a lightning quiver.” There’s a fascination that Fleming seems to have with the creatures of the deep and it’s great to read those passages and dwell “under the sea, looking straight into its heart.”

DN is a very swift novel. Like his opening gambit CR, Fleming doesn’t wait long to get us into the action, Strangways is killed off after only five pages, his secretary by seven and Bond is presented with the case in chapter three. The rest of the tale is has almost a thrill or an intrigue on every page. Fleming never lets the tension drop. Even the long conversations between Bond and Doctor No can’t slow down the story as the madman’s grand designs and amazing back story have a power, character shaping nature of their own.

Also, unlike some of its predecessors, you can sense the cinematic potential in the story. It was around the time of DNs writing that Fleming first came into contact with serious movie men and he appears to have upped the ante, with a slightly more international flavoured plot and a definite switch to grandiose violence. Bond is usually in pursuit of his prey, one step behind; here, much more so than even FRWL, he is the pursued and the element of real danger, of life and death and survival against the odds, is wonderfully narrated. It’s nasty and cruel, it’s inhumane, it’s abundantly, provocatively sexy, it’s a beautiful landscape of love and death; it’s simply brilliant.

10 from10

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oops forgot he cover art
The first Bond novel I ever read... borrowed from the library when I was 11.




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Great review; I do enjoy reading your takes on the novels.

My Top 10 Bonds: Octopussy, Goldeneye, From Russia With Love, Tomorrow Never Dies, Licence to Kill, For Your Eyes Only, The Living Daylights, Moonraker, Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me.

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Thanks David. I do my best.....

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chrisno1 wrote:

oops forgot he cover art
The first Bond novel I ever read... borrowed from the library when I was 11.




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My favorite cover of them all. ajb007/biggrin

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GOLDFINGER
24/08/2009

Goldfinger is something of a disappointment. After two wonderfully atmospheric and rivetingly violent adventures, Ian Fleming takes his foot off the accelerator and James Bond becomes something of a bore.

GF is the longest Bond adventure to date and while it certainly has much to recommend it, the signs are that Fleming was a little short of ideas. The story is split into three parts and in that respect it resembles Fleming’s other disappointing work, MR.

The first part involves Bond and the millionaire Mr. Du Pont, who over many games of canasta has been cheated out of thousands of dollars by the titular villain. Bond rumbles the scheme and sets his adversary up for the fall. This is a blatant re-imagining of the bridge game in MR. Fleming enlivens the piece with a seductive good time girl, who isn’t around long enough to keep us or Bond interested. The next section repeats the exact same scenario, but transposes golf and Sussex for cards and Miami. There then follows a longwinded and unnecessary pursuit through France, before the adventure climaxes with a raid on Fort Knox and a fight in a depressurised aeroplane.

There isn’t much blood and thunder in GF. This has often been highlighted as one of the novel’s better aspects; that Fleming is trying to show the day-to-day life of a secret agent, the routine and the ordinary. But when placed next to the fantastic and extraordinary, these passages are hopelessly dull.

Fleming describes at length the tour of a night duty officer, the workings of the CID Gold Squad, a long drive to Sandwich, an even longer tepid two day trip to Switzerland and lastly a very boring explanation of a bank robbery to a bunch of goons who read like a cast of Lon Chaney characters. Despite pieces of the plot being dropped into these descriptions, there’s no excitement here and precious little tension.

At no point in the early part of the proceedings do we ever get the impression Bond is in any severe trouble. He’s positively revelling in unveiling the card scam and taking a beautiful woman as his prize. He enjoys watching Goldfinger implode over a well described game of golf which wins him £10,000. He even traipses around his antagonist’s mansion and idly uses a cat to spoil the cine-film which has recorded his misdemeanours.

Fleming has only provided two really worthwhile characters. Firstly the title character, Auric Goldfinger, a man “put together with bits of other people’s bodies” who Bond notes “wasted no effort... there was something coiled, compressed, in the immobility of the man.” Once again, Fleming's baddie has red hair. He also employs Koreans, and Fleming allows his prejudices to surface as he refers to them as having “no respect for human life... the cruellest people in the world... all they ask is to submit the white race to the grossest indignities.”

His Korean’s are not alone. Tilly tells us Goldfinger has “a woman once a month... who he hypnotizes and paints gold.” The power of mesmerism is touched on several times, but only via the “x-ray gaze pierced through the back of Bond’s skull.” This is disappointing as it is one of the character’s more notable talents. Goldfinger is associated with SMERSH, but that angle isn’t particularly exploited either. Fleming is more interested in the hideousness of the ghastly “red brown camouflage” of his skin and his affable but dry dialogue.

The other character is the peculiar strong man Oddjob armed with his bowler hat and a black belt in karate. Oddjob doesn’t say much but he is a formidable presence who lurks over almost every scene. Early on we learn he likes to eat cats; later we are told that, like his underlings, he abuses and kills white women. Oddjob is one of Fleming’s great creations, an almost mute bully with “a wild, mad glare in dramatically slanting eyes... a snout-like upper lip... he was not a figure to make one smile.” Bond takes an instant dislike to Oddjob, wishing to “stamp on his neat black feet or hit him very hard” and that is unusual for Bond, who nearly always admires his adversaries, even in their full grotesqueness.

Oddjob at the very least is provided with a spectacular death scene and carries a mountainous image for the reader to visualise. He get’s better treatment from Fleming than the heroines. There’s never been more than one girl for Bond to deal with, but here Fleming gives us three. It’s disappointing that the most interesting female is the one who is given the least to do or say. Jill Masterson is a fine creation, a woman whose face spells “misery and fear but also a look of submissiveness, of longing.” She’s introduced in a similar fashion to Honey from the previous DN; Bond sees her from behind and Fleming supplies a subtly erotic description, but it’s all a little familiar.

The other two women are closet lesbians. Jill’s sister, Tilly, has none of the former’s sexiness and Fleming describes her as having “something faintly mannish and open-air about her behaviour and appearance... the kind who leaves her beauty alone.” Fleming’s good enough to recognise the reams of male fantasy regarding same sex couplings and suggests Tilly is a “mixture of provocation and challenge.”

Later on, when the gangster queen Pussy Galore is introduced, he’s equally charged: “the mouth was a decisive slash of deep vermillion...Bond thought she was superb.” Nor does he fail to inject spice in the suggested relationship between the two women: “Tilly was gazing... with worshipping eyes and lips that yearned.” Fleming’s trouble with the lesbian angle is it doesn’t leave his hero with any romantic involvement. The ultimate revelation is that Pussy has “never met a man before” and was raped when she twelve. It does not make her seduction any more likely.

So what do we have with GF? More fun with playing cards, a game of golf, a few brief moments of fisticuffs and a half hearted torture scene. Everything feels a little unpolished in GF, as if the author gave up on the project. It actually feels what it is: three separate events joined together by a flimsy storyline.

Perhaps the most revealing chapter of the novel is actually the very first one, which is possibly one of Fleming’s finest pieces of writing. Bond considers life and death in the departure lounge at Miami Airport. He’s just killed a man, a bandit who had “been the instrument of pain and misery all his life... it had certainly been time for him to die.” Bond re-imagines the moment of the man’s death when “life had gone out of the body so quickly, so utterly, that Bond had almost seen it.” He muses on the difference between the body and soul of the living and the dead: “Now there is no one... something had gone out of him, out of the envelope of flesh and cheap clothes, and had left him an empty paper bag waiting for the dustcart.”

Bond reflects on the mission he has just accomplished and the death of the Mexican that “had been the finishing touch to a bad assignment, one of the worst, squalid dangerous and without any redeeming feature.” Bond decides to get stinking drunk to forget about it; he may have killed one man with his hands that day, but “people were killing other people all the time all over the world... was there any person who wasn’t somehow involved in the killing of his neighbour?”

The opening of GF is a beautiful, haunting, downbeat introduction, showing Bond in a light we’ve seldom seen, almost in a depression about his career. “You’re stale, tired of having to be tough. You want a change. You’ve seen too much death. You want a slice of life – easy, soft and high.”

The problem with GF is that we get to see the relative merits of the easy life as Bond swans about Europe and America on the trail of a millionaire bullion smuggler. But the reader is swept up in the dirty business of death from the start and it’s frustrating that we don’t see enough of it; in fact, a lot of the spectacular stuff takes place in flashback.

Fleming has not disgraced himself here, he still shows a remarkable turn of phrase and, when it comes, the action is cut-throat, but GF is unfortunately a step back from the high points of the last two novels.

6 from 10.




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FOR YOUR EYES ONLY
26/08/2009

On the face of it, five short stories in the life of James Bond does not sound like a thrilling read. That the compilation just about succeeds is a tribute to Ian Fleming’s ability to craft a tale with an intriguing and sometimes dangerous premise. Three of the tales are full blown missions for 007 and he deals with them in his usual calm and efficient manner. The remaining two episodes are, if you like, flights of fancy; Fleming is taking a look at the nether world of Bond, the times when he has to play the civil servant, although Bond offers none of the “civility and servitude” people might expect.

In the first two stories, From a View to a Kill and For Your Eyes Only, Fleming provides us with the murder and violence we associate with the novels and two updates of his previous heroines. Mary Ann Russell, the resourceful girl who had “absolutely everything that belonged in his fantasy” is a grade two assistant whose role is similar to Gala Brand from MR, albeit she is much more active and becomes the first heroine to save Bond’s life. She has the modern air of a sixties girl, driving fast, talking fast, even playing fast as she readily accepts Bond’s offer of dinner, preferring his brand of boredom to the French, who make the business of seduction so tedious. Judy Havelock meanwhile is a reworking of Honey Rider, a beautiful girl “wild and rather animal, with a wide sensuous mouth... who knew wild country and forests and was not afraid of them.” Judy is out for revenge and Bond helps her achieve her goal. At the end of both stories it is more than a little suggested that Bond will end up sleeping with these strong wilful women.

The villians in these stories are peripheral. FAVTAK features Russian agents hiding in an underground bunker and killing dispatch riders for secrets; FYEO is about Cuban hit men living it up in Vermont. Fleming attaches passages of ebullient prose, describing Paris as a town whose “heart was gone – pawned to the tourists, the Russians, the Romanians and Bulgars, the scum of the earth who had gradually taken over” and the new Comet aeroplane as “too high... too fast... and too many passengers.” Bond shares no attraction to any of his surroundings and seems weary of his career. Indeed, as in GF, FAVTAK starts with Bond having completed a dismally bad operation and wanting to forget it. Sadly, there is none of GFs evocative writing to match it.

The fourth tale, Risico, is much more like a full blown Bond tale, featuring two supporting characters and a central villain. Fleming does well here and it’s probably the best of the stories. Bond is experiencing the seedy side of Rome, Venice and Albania as he chases the big men at the end of a narcotics trail. Once again, there are two references to GF. The mission is not a welcome one for M, he complains bitterly that Bond had to perform a nasty operation in Mexico (this is the one referred to at the start of GF) and later on we are introduced to Lisl Baum, an updating of Jill Masterson. Lisl is the companion of Colombo, a whore by any other name, and Bond’s initial view of her is as “a plump fair-haired girl with a dramatic mouth.” Later on she toys with Bond in a taxi, only welcoming his advances when proffered with a Van Cleef diamond.

Lisl is the closest interpretation to the “married women” that Fleming, and by association Bond, apparently preferred. She is available, not particularly young and not particularly scrupulous. Colombo offers her to Bond as a reward for saving his life. She has already given him the key to her hotel room and Colombo has no regrets: “I give it you from my heart; perhaps also from hers.”

Colombo, the jovial compadre, and Kristatos, the devious villain, are brought to life with equal measure. Both men come across as being larger than life. Colombo is a boisterous, big man, who is reminiscent of Kerim Bey from FRWL. Kristatos chews endlessly on tooth picks, manicures his finger nails and is suspicious of Bond and his motives. He has “black, hard eyes that glanced restlessly at everything... except Bond.” He understands the “the game” and there is “no fumbling.” Bond is pleased, finding most rendezvous with foreign contacts fraught with danger and “the smell of burning... the sign that the fringe of his cover had already started to smoulder.”

Indeed his cover has been blown. In a beautifully orchestrated and described scene, a chair containing a tape recorder is manoeuvred from Bond and Kristatos’ table into the office of the restaurant patron, Enrico Colombo. This is a wonderful little ruse and sits well with the underworld theme of the novel. There is cross and double cross and everyone appears to be friends and enemies and lovers. Bond is caught in the spider's web of one man, but escapes via the fishing net of another. The characters are Mafiaesque and in that respect they are better drawn than the hoods in GF and DAF, despite the slimness of the tale.

The remaining two stories have the least memorable titles and are less interesting adventures. In Quantum of Solace, Bond has attended a sticky dinner party in Nassau. He’s only there to keep up appearances, having just destroyed two Cuban ships laden with arms, and is stuck having brandy with the Governor, who begins to narrate a tale of love and despair. It reads like a story Fleming may have heard or overheard at a dinner party of his own and while it isn’t without merit, it’s very slight and the resolution is unsatisfactory. QOS does have the distinction however of providing the timely revelation at its climax which all short stories should aspire to.

The Hildebrand Rarity is another character study, this time of the hulking obnoxious American hotel owner Milton Krest and his “too soft, too malleable” wife, Liz. Krest is a bully who Bond dislikes from the start. He has a “weather beaten face” and a “gaze... sleepy and contemptuous... the mouth had a downward twist that might be humorous or disdainful.” With his soft voice, tattoos and “naked leathery feet” Bond likens him to Ernest Hemingway. Krest is a gruesome man, rude, drunk and intimidating. Of course he, like the earlier Von Hammerstein in FYEO, is of German abstraction. I almost expected him to have red hair! Krest’s obsessive hunt for a rare pink and black dorsal fish is the back story to a tale of murder that Bond becomes complicit in, although even at the end of the story, it isn’t entirely clear who’s responsible for the demise of the millionaire.

THR does allow Fleming to wallow in the nature of the Seychelles, the beauty of the exotic fish juxtaposed with the hideousness of Krest and his unseemly behaviour. But it is hardly a spy thriller. At the story’s end there is, once again, the suggestion Bond will sleep with the newly widowed Liz, a reward for his secret disposal of the bad man’s body.

More than anything, it is the final story that outlines the problems with the FYEO collection. Fleming had been working on scripts for a prospective James Bond television series throughout 1958 and 1959. The results of that labour are featured here. Each tale, with the exception of QOS, introduces us to Bond, a girl, a villain and a supporting character, often an official of some kind. There are different locations. There are sudden climaxes. Bond, inevitably, gets the girl. The stories can all be read in about 45-minutes, approximately the length of a TV show. So here Fleming is merely transposing his screen treatments into prose. While he certainly elaborates and breathes life into places and people a script can only hint at, the format doesn’t allow time for the reader to get under the skin of the characters. They are gone as soon as they arrive.

There is much of interest in THR, but Fleming just hasn’t the space or the time to exploit it; the story feels what it is: short and half-baked. The tension and nervousness that the author normally creates so well is missing throughout the collection. Fleming shows occasional flashes of his descriptive brilliance, but when he is at his most interesting, he’s rehashing themes and characters from his previous seven novels. The two most affecting stories (QOS and THR) are the freshest in terms of ideas, but lack the taut, riveting excitement we’ve come to expect. While the other three adventures (FAVTAK, FYEO and R) have most of the latter, they lack much of the former. It’s a bold effort, but I fear it’s also a rather lazy one.

6 from 10   

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Had trouble with imagepost last night

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THUNDERBALL
01/09/2009

Ian Fleming based his ninth novel on the unfinished screen treatment for a James Bond film he’d been working on in collaboration with the produced Kevin McClory and the writer Jack Whittingham. Fleming was excited about the prospect of a film venture, but the writing process dragged on for over a year and, as when his television projects floundered, Fleming returned to novel writing. It’s quite possible he was also coming under pressure to present a new Bond novel quickly to full fill his publishing commitments. Hence Thunderball, like the short stories of FYEO and the episodic GF before it, is a lazy novel.

TB lacks even the refinements of style and content that make his best novels (CR, DN & FRWL) stand out. It hasn’t got any interesting characters. It has a hackneyed plot. There is hardly any action and what there is, other than a couple of untidy underwater confrontations, passes tamely by. Worst of all, the novel is torn between beasts. Fleming has utilized so much of the screenplay that there are two distinct fashions of prose: the authors own and that inspired by Whittingham and McClory. Curiously it’s the non-Fleming elements that read most easily.

Also TB is a long book and it cries out for the services of a good literary editor. Several passages could have been ditched without affecting the flow of the narrative. For instance, a whole chapter is given to the heroine’s girlish fantasy, another to M’s “hunch” regarding the location of the lost atomic weapons and a third to a pointless visit to the villain’s luxury yacht. Other pages deal tiresomely with the practices of cocktail waiters, the working life of a nuclear submarine, the career of the pilot Petacchi and the machinations of the Bahaman police, the CIA and MI6. These sections, while dull in themselves, serve little purpose to the story. It is interesting to note that when the novel was eventually translated to the screen, all of these scenes were dispensed with.

It is sections like these where Fleming had tried to inject something of his own style on the proceedings - and he falls woefully short. Not only do they sit awkwardly next to the swift, snappy dialogue and fast scene changes provided by the screenplay, but they don’t add anything new. If anything they slow the novel down.

The result is entirely different when Fleming is embellishing the screenplay with his more effusive prose. Particularly in the first third of the novel, he adds flair touches to mundane occurrences. The episodes in Shrublands Health Clinic are amusing, the hijacking of the Vindicator plane creditable and the introduction to the main villains intriguing. Many of the familiar recurring situations from the films make their first novelised appearance in TB: a grumpy M, a flirtatious Moneypenny, double entendres over cards or drinks and an early irrelevant sexual conquest. It feels distinctly un-Fleming and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It’s almost a shock to find 007 openly fraternising with the boss’s secretary or making love to a nurse on the back seat of a car. He doesn’t talk like 007 either and there is unseemliness in his sentences. When shuffled off to Shrublands Bond exclaims: “Now what the hell? Has the old man gone off his rocker? He’s absolutely nuts!” This isn’t the public school educated Englishman we expect. A few pages later he’s swapping tales with a youthful taxi driver about Polly Grace, the local sort, who “wakes the old goats up, makes them want to start cutting the mustard again.” It’s rather unsophisticated and not very Flemingesque. He’s always had a tendency to make Bond (and others) sound posh and conceited. What we have here is common and unappealing, but it does feel realistic and down to earth. My belief is these lines are from another's mouth.

The central heroine fares equally badly. Here Fleming is at his misogynist worst. Domino is described as “a wilful, high tempered, sensual girl – a beautiful Arab mare who would only allow herself to be ridden by a horseman with steel thighs and velvet hands... and then only when he had broken her.” It’s a distasteful analogy, made worse by Bond’s knowledge she is Largo’s kept woman; “another man was in the saddle” strikes me as rather heartless. Bond accepts her for the low class courtesan she is. No amount of compliments about her driving can correct this.

Domino is one of Fleming’s least interesting heroines. Her most obvious assets are her body and her sex appeal and at times the author writes lasciviously on them both, but her persona is minimal. She is an extension of Jill Masterson and Lisl Baum. She has more to say, but even when her role becomes central to the plot, she stays at the periphery and is sidelined. Her ultimate revenge killing comes as a welcome surprise, although it is remarkably similar to the ending of the short story FAVTAK and its execution is ridiculously flawed.

The two central villains also suffer a personality loss. Emilo Largo with his Olympic physique and Roman face reads like a Steve Reeves or a Gordon Scott or any other sword-and-sandal muscle man. He’s “the epitome of the gentleman crook” but has a ruthless streak befitting a Mafioso not a playboy adventurer. His ears are “pointed, almost animal like” and his hands are huge. He’s resembles a very dangerous ape. We learn about his background, but not his psychology. There is none of the detail associated with the portraits of Dr No, Goldfinger or General G. We are told he is “a predator... a great womaniser, a high liver... a man like Blackbeard, a blood stained cut throat.” His motives are only money and greed.

Equally Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the brains behind SPECTRE, is given a thorough physical description and a lengthy detailed back story, but we don’t learn much else. He’s likened to Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Alexander and Adolf Hitler, but there is nothing more to him than ingenuity and a lust for wealth. It’s a disappointing debut for Bond’s future nemesis.

Unusually for Fleming several chapters concentrate on the actions of the villains rather than the focus remaining solely on his hero. While this gives us an insight into the bad guy’s world and we understand how ruthless they all are, it doesn’t help build suspense. The chapters are spliced out of sequence and we already know the outcome of what we are reading. It’s a disappointing variation of the opening chapters of FRWL, being overtly influenced by the original screenplay and lacking that novel’s emotional and physical depth.

We may be missing Fleming’s (and by extension Bond’s) psychobabble, but in exchange we are left with a wearisome series of descriptions of people and places and events. Fleming hasn’t even bothered to join the dots of his plot. The death of Lippe, the discovery of the scientist Kotze and the sibling relationship between Domino and Petacchi are all connections Bond should be following, but he isn’t. His suspicions are aroused by Largo’s fake treasure hunt, which is fair enough, but M’s reasons for sending 007 to Nassau defy belief. It’s a lame story of coincidence and serendipity.

Certainly at times there are flashes of Fleming’s descriptive genius. The midnight swim to inspect the hull of the Disco Volante is particularly gripping and the final battle is suitably tough. Yet two scenes alone cannot impress. TB stands in the James Bond canon more as template for the movies than as a quality representation of Fleming’s work. For all the sex and occasional brutal violence, TB falls very flat and is rather unmemorable.

4 from 10



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Re: Bond Novel Reviews

chrisno1 wrote:

The central heroine fares equally badly. Here Fleming is at his misogynist worst. Domino is described as “a wilful, high tempered, sensual girl – a beautiful Arab mare who would only allow herself to be ridden by a horseman with steel thighs and velvet hands... and then only when he had broken her.”

"You called?"

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"This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

Roger Moore 1927-2017

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Regarding GF, I enjoyed it when I read it, although I found the golf scene to be wofeully mundane. I actually skipped most ot if, but then again, I don't play golf. The Tilly character, I sort of thought, didn't know she was a lesbian. It was as if Ms Galore was the first woman she was attracted to. Bond's thoughts on this were interesting, and he realised quite quickly.

And as a round about link to Thunderball, I'm reading Battle for Bond at the moment. It's a riveting insight.

Great reviews, as always!

My Top 10 Bonds: Octopussy, Goldeneye, From Russia With Love, Tomorrow Never Dies, Licence to Kill, For Your Eyes Only, The Living Daylights, Moonraker, Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me.

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Tnx for the feedback, David; I think the Tilly character could well be a latent lesbian, but at the time I reviewed GF, that wasn't my interpretation. Either angle sits well I think.
There are elements of GF which are exceptional, but as I wrote, I think it's a slightly episodic book. I recently read in Chancellor's "J.B : The Man And His World" that the both the opening card scam and the golf game were garnered from defunct ideas Fleming had for the 007 t.v. series, which I explains the 3-part structure of the novel
Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy reading it!
I must track down "Battle for Bond" I've heard it mentioned a few times on AJB and it sounds an interesting read.

22

Re: Bond Novel Reviews

chrisno1,

Just read all your reviews. Good work!

Looking forward to your opinions on the final thrillers!

ajb007/martini

23

Re: Bond Novel Reviews

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME
09/09/2009

In the early 1930s the playwright Robert E. Sherwood wrote “The Petrified Forest.” In it Gabby, a waitress with artistic pretentions, and Alan Squire, a pacifist writer, form a doomed friendship, interrupted by the appearance of the killer Duke Mantee, whose gang hold them hostage. There is a climatic gun battle in which Squire ensures he is killed, having signed over his life assurance policy to the idealistic Gabby. It’s a slight melodrama which was made into a film and launched Humphrey Bogart to stardom. It has some wonderfully quotable lines but was dated even in 1936.

Fleming’s The Spy Who Loved Me follows a similar plot and suffers a similar fate. It is a hopelessly out of date melodrama, which doesn’t even have a particularly interesting narrative, told as it is from the heroine’s point of view. That TSWLM is the weakest of the 007 adventures comes as little surprise, but there are three underlying reasons why Fleming chose to digress so far from his established formula.

First, Fleming was always criticised for his portrayal of his female characters. By concentrating on Vivienne Michell, he hoped to prove he could write equally well about women. Secondly, the Bond formula was boring him (not for the first time) and this was his attempt to produce something radically different. Lastly, he wanted to show his audience (who were starting to idolize Bond and his antics) that this agent is a solitary violent man, not much better than the villains he faces. Unfortunately Fleming has failed on all accounts.

Vivienne Michell is Fleming’s most in-depth portrait of a heroine, indeed of anyone. He gives us a good physical description, and attempts to get under the skin and into the mind of this damaged young woman. We know she’s had it hard because Fleming tells us from the outset: “I was running away from England, from my childhood, from the winter, from a sequence of untidy, unattractive love-affairs... from my inability, although I am quite an attractive rat, to make headway in the rat-race.” It isn’t that we don’t believe in Vivienne’s motives or her story; the problem is the voice isn’t hers: it is Ian Fleming’s life story.

Vivienne is a journalist; she speaks three languages; she was bullied at finishing school; she has a series of unfulfilling affairs; she loses (or almost loses) he virginity in a cinema box; she wants to escape “drabness, fustiness, snobbery, the claustrophobia of near horizons.” This is Fleming’s experience and his wishes. While Vivienne finds solace and affirmation in the arms of James Bond, the secret agent who comes to her rescue, so did Fleming as he typed out the adventures year after year at Golden Eye.

Because he isn’t essentially writing about Vivienne, but himself, the central character of TSWLM, has an odd turn of phrase and opinions and pleasures that sound distinctly old fashioned. She likes the Ink Spots; she falls in love with the first dashing man who pays her attention; the loss of her virginity is less upsetting than being branded a “filthy little swine.” She falls for a German (of course!) and at first wallows in the “single flower after each time, the room tidied after each passionate ecstasy... never a rough or dirty word” but later is shocked by when the same straightforwardness finishes the relationship. It is a thousand miles from Bond’s love making: “when the moment came she screamed... a chasm of piercing sweetness suddenly opened.” These are the same conflicts and emotions Fleming experienced in his relationships.

Vivienne idolises Bond, who has saved her from the attentions of two nasty thugs, Sluggsy Morant and Sol Horowitz, and she likens him to “the prince in the fairy tales.” Despite this romantic notion, she understands Bond would be an individual, a man not to be tied down and recognises she is dreaming ideas from women’s magazines: “Can you be nice? Can you be kind?” This is how Fleming wants to be seen by his girlfriends.

There is a curious paragraph which begins “All women love semi-rape” where Fleming, through Vivienne, tries to explain the behaviour of all his heroines: “the sweet brutality... a woman’s natural feeling of falling for a hero... there would be countless other women, but I wouldn’t care, because none of them would own any larger piece of him than I did.” Again Fleming seems to be misinterpreting his own pleasures for that of all women. I think he is well wide of the mark.   

While Fleming is drawing this portrait, he is also attempting to frame a hardly relevant story about an insurance scam at the Dreamy Pines Motel. The action is as per normal, with the odd flash of brilliance, but it takes up a lesser part of the novel and is a huge failure, harking back to the two odd looking hoods in DAF. He does add something to the SPECTRE story in a flashback chapter, but even this seems contrived.

The James Bond we see here may be a fighter and a lover, but even he admits to “losing my touch.” Earlier, following an operation in Toronto, he just wants to get away: “I’ve seen enough of this sort of thing.” He is unable to kill in cold blood and makes a series of poor decisions which almost cost him and the girl their lives. Bond is as weary as his creator. At the end of the novel Vivienne wakes up alone with only a cursory note from Bond. The policeman Captain Stoner compares her life with Bond’s as “hawks and doves” and she has momentarily strayed from one to the other: “These men belong to a private jungle... don’t go and get sweet dreams about the one and nightmares from the other. They’re just different people – a different species.”

If Fleming is trying to justify Bond’s behaviour and warn his readers not to take him too seriously, it doesn’t work. If he is trying to give Vivienne an excuse to forget him, he doesn’t use it. Even at the end she knows “everything, every smallest detail” and we know she is talking about sex and passion, but it feels half-baked; one night of love and a brief farewell note surely cannot eradicate all of her dreadful past. Like Alan Squire, Bond offers all he can and then retreats; Vivienne’s and Gabby’s life have to go on without them. But could Ian Fleming live without James Bond?

2 from 10   


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Re: Bond Novel Reviews

chrisno1,

Very original take ..... I like your review, and even though I feel you are a little too tough on the novel. I agree that this is the weakest and weirdist Bond Thriller.

Your observation regards the Fleming/Vivienne voice is very original and helps clarify why parts of  TSWLM made me feel as if I were reading a bad porn novel. Having a female charecter with what is clearly a male ego is disconcerting.

Good Job!

25

Re: Bond Novel Reviews

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE
11/09/2009

Ian Fleming’s previous novels (FYEO, TB & TSWLM) had all been experiments of one sort or another. With On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he sets his feet firmly on solid ground and finally provides an adventure worthy of his creation, James Bond.

OHMSS is a brilliant read. Like the best Bond novels, it has a strong central story laced with dramatic contretemps, spurious sex and lively action. It also has a worthy adversary, a likable heroine and a well drawn supporting cast. There are even a few sentences of humour. The world of 007 has all at once suddenly become frightening and fun again.

This story involves Bond’s infiltration of SPECTRE. To do this he poses as an emissary of the Royal College of Arms, researching the genealogy of the mastermind Ernst Stavro Blofeld. It’s a brilliant conceit and it’s sustained by Bond’s belief – in effect, Fleming’s – that snobbery is king. Blofeld “wants to change his name... wants to become a respectable personality... he wants to become a Count” and when Bond blandly offers to forge documents in his favour, he replies: “You only have to say the word or name the figure.”

Blofeld is better drawn here than in TB. When Bond first meets his nemesis, he is stretched out in the mountain air and everything about him is unlike his previous incarnation. He is a heliotrope, his voice is “light and full of animation,” his hair “longish... a fine silvery white” and he’s lost weight. He’s had his ear lobes cut off and, to disguise his eyes, wears green tinted contact lenses, like “dark pools... the muzzles of guns.” He shows no emotion when Bond’s cover starts to unravel; he remains casual and polite and wears an “unwavering smile.”

Blofeld is a villain in control and well aware of the remoteness of his surroundings. He has none of the foibles of the flesh of Mr Big or Largo, the ogress of Drax and Krest or an ego like Le Chiffre and Goldfinger. He shares most similarities with Doctor No, shut away in his private retreat, safe, secure and, quite probably, deadly.

Bond hasn’t been this deep behind enemy territory since MR and DAF and Fleming makes great work in heightening the tension. Almost abandoned atop an Alpine mountain, Bond prowls the Piz Gloria research clinic and obtains the barest of useful information by seducing one of its patient’s, Ruby Windsor. She is one of ten gorgeous girls, “a sea of beautiful, sunburned faces and a succession of splendid, sweatered young bosoms” watched over by Fraulein Irma Bunt.

Bunt resembles the infamous Rosa Klebb. She has “a square, brutal face” and a grim smile like “an oblong hole without humour or welcome.” She dresses unbecomingly and her manner is brusque, cold and efficient. Bond coins her “Irma La not so Douce.” Fleming doesn’t create many villainesses, but Irma Bunt is a memorable addition to Bond’s canon of adversaries. When, over a ghastly lunch, Bond realises his disguise is slipping, Fleming shows the evidence of Bunt’s iron rule through the reaction of the girls: “eyes followed him discreetly... replies were muted... Violet looked nervously at Fraulein Bunt to see if she had said too much to the pariah.”

This bevy of beauties is, of course, easily susceptible and perfect fodder for Blofeld’s deep hypnosis treatment, “an inbuilt mechanism of obedience to the voice that would be... as compelling as hunger.” Ruby is by far the dumbest of all Bond’s conquests, though she is not without physical charms and demure social skills. But she is chalk to the cheese of Tracy, the main love interest and, by the conclusion of the novel, James Bond’s bride.

Fleming’s heroine doesn’t say much. She is a grave, private, moody girl. Bond is struck by “golden arms, a beautiful golden face and the brilliant blue eyes.” She makes love like a whore and drives cars like a man. She cries when she is happy and is stern when upset. A mass of contradictions, she’s “adventurous, brave, resourceful. She’s exciting always... she’s a lone girl, not cluttered up with friends.” Very much like James Bond, then.

Tracy is a woman with a whole host of troubles. As Bond puts it she’s “a bird with a wing down” and “he was no doctor for wounded birds.” It’s entirely perceivable for Bond to fall in love with Tracy. He recognises that his usual harshness will not work with her and “for the first time in his life [he’s] totally inadequate.” But she clings to Bond, first after he saves her from humiliation at the baccarat table and later when she fortuitously follows him to Switzerland.

It’s significant that Fleming allows Tracy to inhabit the same places as Vesper Lynd, Bond’s first great love. They initially meet speeding along the N1 through France. Bond immediately believes they are destined to meet again; and they do, at the very scene of his earliest adventure, CR.

Fleming is telling us that nothing changes in the world. The opening chapter of the novel echoes the sentiment. Bond sits on the promenade at Royale-Les-Eaux and reflects on “one of those beautiful, naive seaside panoramas... there was something poignant about it all. It reminded him almost too vividly of childhood, of the velvet feel of the hot powder sand... of the small crabs scuttling away from nervous fingers... it was all here, his own childhood.” As Bond’s melancholy deepens and the shadows lengthen, he follows Tracy, who appears to be about to commit suicide, before they are both apprehended by two Corsican hoodlums.

This mini-prologue is one of Fleming’s best, comparable with the opening salvos of CR and GF. He sets the scene, builds our interest, increases the tension and then leaves us begging for more. He’s then brave enough to flashback twenty four hours and fill in the blanks of the chapter. This time, unlike the half-hearted, forced efforts in TB and TSWLM, he weaves the spell appropriately and we too are intrigued by the beautiful Comtesse Teresa di Vicenzo. When she tells Bond “you can make the most expensive love of your life” we also want to know if she is worth forty million francs.

Into this pot the author mixes Tracy’s father, Marc-Ange Draco, the Capu of the Union Corse, who is as ebullient and affable as Colombo or Kerim Bey and as powerful as Blofeld. It is Draco who provides Bond with his lead into SPECTRE. For once Fleming has rounded all the circles of his plot and the only unlikely occurrence is Tracy’s rendezvous with Bond in Samaden.

It’s somewhat disappointing however that after Bond’s hectic escape from Piz Gloria, by ski, avalanche and car, Fleming drops the suspense to zero with two long winded chapters about biological warfare. It is a mirror of two earlier equally long, but more amusing, chapters set in the College of Arms. Indeed OHMSS is by far Fleming’s longest opus and it’s a pleasure to report that even these slow moments do not detract from the overall sensation of the piece. At times the writing feels a little strained. There is an over reliance on the exclamation mark and a profusion of sentences encased in brackets. (A bit like this!) But overall, despite the “greatest hits and bits” familiarity, it is Fleming’s surest work since GF.

OHMSS is at its best during Bond’s midnight mountaintop escape and if it lacks a little of his more extravagant prose, Fleming has substituted some wit, some good characters and a believable storyline. There is less action, but a lot more menace and intrigue. Fleming almost seems to be anticipating the movie series, which was already under production as he wrote the novel.

Finally, we have the death of Tracy Bond, assassinated by a vengeful Blofeld. Fleming had toyed with retiring his hero several times and, although I cannot be certain of this, the final chapter feels like an add-on. The novel ends perfectly well with Draco gloomily reflecting 007 has bested him ( “It is the first fight I have ever lost” ) and Bond and Tracy blissfully anticipating marriage. Perhaps the fledgling film franchise spurred the author to continue writing fresh adventures. Whatever the cause, the finale of OHMSS is a swift, downbeat coda. Fleming doesn’t put Bond’s emotions on the page. He merely speaks “in a clear voice as if explaining something to a child.” I wonder, is Bond trying to convince himself her death is not real?

Tracy, of course, had to die. James Bond must be a man alone. Fleming knows it and his audience expects it. He recognised it as early as his first novel; Vesper Lynd says: “People are islands. They don’t really touch. However close they are, they’re really quite separate; even if they’ve been married for fifty years” – or a few hours. There isn’t a happy heart to OHMSS. Bond once again is left with “all the time in the world” but has no-one, except us and Ian Fleming, to share it with.

9 from 10



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Another fantastic Pan Cover from the 1964-66 series!
One of my favourites!