Last Book Read...



  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,393MI6 Agent
    edited December 2022

    THE CONDUCT OF MAJOR MAXIM by Gavin Lyall (1982)

    Not quite as entertaining as The Secret Servant, Gavin Lyall’s second novel to feature his SAS operative on loan to Number 10 Downing Street, covers a fair crack of the whip but suffers from a similar structure to the first. Major Harry Maxim is investigating a war time incident which comes to light through a seemingly unrelated double murder in West Germany. Are the secret services involved? Are a group of East German defectors involved? Is there a traitor in the midst of MI6? Will Maxim solve the case and save the UK government from international embarrassment?

    That the answer to these questions is relatively obvious will come as no surprise. The usual components are all in place. The characters are well drawn. Lyall introduces a potential attraction between Maxim and the MI5 section head, Agnes Alder. He keeps it on the periphery of the action. The scenes at Maxim’s grandparents and his son’s school don’t really work very well; he’s not adept at developing child characters and homely situations. These soap opera style scenes could easily have been jettisoned. As it stands, there’s a few moments of violence and a lot of chat. I got very confused as to who was who as the plot involves death certificates, name changes and incest [I think]. A lot of code and slang names were used which doesn’t aid the telling.

    I enjoyed it without ever understanding why the secret service was bothering to blackmail such a low-ranking administrator. It was somehow wrapped up with a more senior ranking East German, but I’m damned if I could pick out the reasoning.  

  • Napoleon PluralNapoleon Plural LondonPosts: 10,363MI6 Agent

    Following my comment on the Anthony Horowitz Bond book on the relevant thread, I decided to take my own advice and read a novel with a more immersive prose style, rather than a better than average airport novel. I am reading Robert Harris' Act of Oblivion, which today's Times has as its book of the year.

    I got this out of the library because I liked Harris' Selling Hitler which is about the Hitler Hoax diaries in the 1980s - I thoroughly recommend that. It's not a novel, that one, it's a stellar bit of journalistic writing. Even though it's hardly a spoiler to say that the diaries serialised by Stern magazine and the Sunday Times were a hoax, what makes it a great read is not just the research and the prose but that it's a great yarn. It's like a car crash in slow motion - just how on earth did so many people fall for it? Or rather, not so many people but key people - the need for secrecy to avoid being scooped meant certain sceptical voices were kept in the dark. It's also great on what happened in the chaos of the closing months of World War II in Germany, and how the fall of the Iron Curtain led many to believe that many Nazi artefacts and trophies were secreted away in the East.

    Anyway, Act of Oblivion is a historical novel set after the English Civil War, when King Charles II was imposed on the throne after over a decade of the UK being a republic. So, 1660.

    Generally, an amnesty on supporters of the republic was allowed, save for those select group numbering about 50 I think who signed Charles I's death warrant. They were to be brought to justice.

    Among those who escaped the initial round-up were Colonel Edward Walley and his son-in-law Colonel William Coffe who flee to America and hide out in Massachusetts. Hot on the trail is the vengeful officer of the law Richard Naylor who we learn has a personal reason for hunting them down. The story outlines how it felt for the fugitives to be in an unfamiliar foreign land, which is contrasted with the seedy cesspit claustrophobia of London.

    The author's sympathies appear to be with the exiled. He writes in a sparse style, as if mimicking the newfound puritan-style Protestant attitudes (it's not my area of history really, though I've read CJ Samson's Shardlake books). It's odd isn't it - Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church to marry another woman and produce a male heir yet others genuinely deplored the perceived excesses of the Catholic Church, almost a bit like Brexit, where different motives can be ascribed to it.

    It takes a while to build interest. The protagonists are not that interesting, they don't have much personality, but their predicament is. Their pursuer is like that guy out of Les Miserables, and is depicted as obsessive and unpleasant. As if to address a lack of interest, the author dwells on the grisly and sick fate that awaits them if they're caught - hanged, drawn and quartered, and plays upon one's dislike of Naylor, it plays upon baser emotions. Naylor is the sort of character who pops up in the Shardlake 'detective' novels which are page turners but that said I've gone off them a bit five books in. The prose in Harris' book is very good, in particular describing the change of seasons on the American east coast and how it would feel to cross the Atlantic, taking many weeks, via ship (Cromwell barred transatlantic flights during his rule, citing them wasteful excess and it took a time for King Charles II to reinstate them.)

    I'm now half-way through and it's good stuff, like Harris' other historical novels it's based on fact, the characters actually existed which I guess reins in his flights of fancy, but it is very well done, too grisly to lend to my sister who is a Shardlake fan, the deaths in his books are horrible but generally imaginative along the lines of Midsomer Murders, they have a Gothic creativity to them, here they actually happened that way - the depiction of how Oliver Cromwell's corpse is disinterred so - get this - he can be hanged several months after his death, well it's pretty horrible.

    Generally the theme of the book is how our fugitives have to stay one step ahead of the law and cannot rely on local Americans not to hand them over to collect the bounty offered, while negotiating the vast and raw terrain.

    "This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

    Roger Moore 1927-2017
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,393MI6 Agent

    THE CROCUS LIST - Gavin Lyall (1985)

    Major Harry Maxim is no longer at No. 10. There’s a new Prime Minister and Harry’s brand of security is out, He’s been shuffled back to an SAS liaison role and wallowing in boring lectures and procedural duties. When the US President visits London to attend the funeral of an aristocratic war hero, Maxim is placed in charge of surveillance. Not surprisingly there’s an assassination plot afoot and the President narrowly escapes with his life. Maxim’s quick thinking eliminates the shooter but sets in motion a plethora of questions and actions which all need investigation, answer and resolution. At first it appears to be a lone gunman, but Maxim spies a photograph of the assassin pinned on the wall of a Dorothy Tuckey’s cottage and his suspicions are aroused. Returning surreptitiously to steal it, he finds the military historian dead from torture and an enemy agent searching the house. But who is attempting to kill the President: the Russian KGB, a disparate unnamed terrorist group, the CIA or is it the members of the Crocus List, a shady antiauthoritarian organisation dedicated to upholding the capitalist free world?

    Starting in London and the Home Counties, but jetting to New York, Washington and Manston, Missouri, before reaching its heart-stopping climax in East Berlin, Gavin Lyall conjures a believably convoluted thriller with plenty of Cold War intrigue. Enemies lurk at every corner, country and in every committee room. Small clues deliver much importance. The network of spies and spymasters feels genuine and a little but frightening. You do wonder if the security services are so devious and underhand.

    Strong characters abound although there may be a touch too many of them. It’s difficult for the author to create interest and tension with desk bound committees, but he just about succeeds. The forays beyond Whitehall and the US Treasury make the novel more buoyant. You do feel it needs a lift. Lyall seems to have drifted into sub-Le Carre territory where the machinations of the craft seem to mean more than the physical action. There is an awful lot of dialogue which fills pages but doesn’t spur the plot on any faster. Repetitions abound.

    Overall, a good read, if a tad longwinded.


  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,393MI6 Agent

    ON LEOPARD ROCK by Wilbur Smith (2018)

    I used to read a lot of Wilbur Smith when I was younger. I preferred his early period, from his debut When the Lion Feeds up to Hungry As The Sea. The Sunbird in particular was an excellent novel, blending the modern day with an imagined, but still startlingly realistic ancient past. After 1979, he became bogged down with regurgitations of his original Courtney Trilogy, first its reinvention as the Ballantyne Quadrology, then endless spin offs. I stopped reading anything after The Leopard Hunts in Darkness – a modern day starkly violent yet beautifully tinged bush thriller set in Zimbabwe. My last attempt, after many years, was the Hector Cross debut Those in Peril. I found it distasteful and wondered if I would feel the same way about Mr Smith’s earlier output. I have dared not pick up a novel of his since lest is spoil my adolescent memories.

    This is Smith’s biography. He writes his own story with the same flair and relative economy he uses in his prose. I enjoyed it. It’s a very swift read. He certainly has had some adventures and has experienced many activities I have either tried and failed at – skiing and scuba diving, for instance – or find distasteful, big game hunting being the obvious one. Like most globally successful authors, he is well travelled and become very well connected. Some of his anecdotes were brilliant. I particularly liked the one about book signings. He doesn’t concentrate much on the personal; a few minor infringements, plenty of youthful memories, lots of eulogising about his Pa and Grandpa, both of whom he idolises before changing tack as an older man and recognising it was his peerless and almost unseen Mother who was the real artistic influence on his life. Smith seems welded to the veldt like his characters and, much like them, he’s also not able to fully comprehend his actions and attitudes. He seems bitter about his books being banned from publication is various countries, and I get they were banned on spurious grounds, but he does hark on about it. Similarly, he is at pains to stress his inclusive writing and his non-racist views; views which don’t always surface in his books, or are disguised by the location and historical time frame of his stories. Except a passing reference to not being good at relationships, he barely mentions his marriages or children, all of whom he is estranged from. This might be so as not to offend his current spouse.

    As a writer his sage advice – or rather that of his publisher / agent Charles Pick – is to “write what you know.” This crops up a lot in Creative Writing teaching. It is fine for Smith to do that, with his father’s money, the huge ranch, the safaris, the foreign holidays, the public school, etc, which formed his early life. Spells as an accountant and businessman didn’t excite him, but he was never poor, he was never short of funds and he always had a stream of life experiences that many of us could never claim to. His stories are bold and after a fashion slightly comic-book, boy’s own stuff, much like his major influences H. Rider Haggard and W.E. Johns. Opportunities to experience what Smith has in his life only start from a point of privilege and he misses that needle in the authorial haystack. He also never mentions imagination.

    Later in life, Smith launched an annual prize for adventure fiction which promised the winner an agent’s contract, a publication deal and his personal oversight of the novel. He doesn’t mention this at all. I don’t know who won these competitions, but the list of co-authors who helped Smith produce twelve novels in seven years before Smith passed away in late 2021 suggests that maybe they were the winners. Steve Cole, who authored four Young Bond novels, features as co-author of a Young Ballantyne novel Prey Zone, released this year and based on Smith’s own writings about his teenage adventures, some of which feature in this autobiography.

    An easy read. The final appendix is the short story On Flinder’s Face, which was submitted to the Argosy Magazine and was Smith’s first published work. Rough at the edges, it shows his potential and much of what made him a prolific and exciting author for the majority of his career.          

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,597MI6 Agent


    It must be at least 30 years since I’ve read this and I’ve never enjoyed it so much as this time around. I had forgotten how much of the book that they managed to squeeze into the movie, albeit some of it a bit tenuously. It’s a pity that the Spangs were not used as the villains in the movie as they are drawn rather well and Bond suffers greatly at their hands. Fleming’s personal experience of the USA is expertly written and it was great to see Felix return as an employee of Pinkerton’s.

    Bond is sent to infiltrate a diamond smuggling gang and his initial disparaging views of American gangsters are sorely put to the test as he encounters a ruthless organisation where violence is an everyday occurrence.

    Excellent, certainly one of the best Bond novels.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,393MI6 Agent

    Yes @CoolHandBond a much under appreciated Bond novel. Tiffany Case is probably the best of Fleming's early heroines, being more complete an individual than Vesper - who, like Le Chiffre, is more a cipher. I enjoy her flirtatious relationship with Bond. The dynamic between the pair isn't as obvious as some other Bond girls and the romance develops in a realistic and affecting fashion. She's a prototype Tracy and you understand why Bond falls for her. Plenty of tough gut spewing action too, I recall. A believable plot. A good and less fantastical first attempt at the 'secret villain's lair' - a format Fleming would reuse in Dr No, OHMSS and YOLT. Very accessible to read.

  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 21,964MI6 Agent

    I haven't finished it yet, but I'm reading Antony Beevor's "Russia: revolution and civil war 1971-21". Beevor can make the 10th century come alive like few other historians can, and this book is no exception. It's particularly interesting to read about Ukraine's short period of independence after the Russian Revolution.

  • 007Downunder007Downunder Hobart, Australia Posts: 373MI6 Agent

    Anyone else into Mick Herron’s Slow Horses series? I just finished the 4th Spook Street. Quite addictive and rv series with Garry Oldman great. Very unBond of course

  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 4,002MI6 Agent
    edited January 2023

    The Manchurian Candidate

    Richard Condon, 1959

    you've all seen the film right? if not, watch the film! its one of the finest spy films ever made, with a great performance by Frank Sinatra

    and just to make it easy for you, its up on

    and if you don't want to watch a good film and just want to read my report, its about a Korean war vet who's been brainwashed and set up to commit a political assassination.

    The book turns out to be quite good too. It focuses on Raymond Shaw (the Laurence Harvey character) rather than Major Marco (Sinatra's character), and a pathetic spectacle he is. We know right from the beginning what's been done to him, though he doesn't suspect, We just don't know his ultimate purpose. We meet all the enemy conspirators and watch how the Americans are captured and all that is done to them, for the amusement of their captors.

    Once back in America we meet Raymond's Mother (as played by Angela Lansbury in the film), and much of the book is about her origins, her relationship with her own father (no other man could ever satisfy her), and the way she has twisted her husbands, her own son, and every other jerk that crosses her path to reach her ultimate goal. A truly foul and evil villain.

    A bit of research on Condon tells me he isn't otherwise a spy novelist, he is usually considered a satirist, and The Manchurian Candidate is great satire. Written just a few years after Joseph McCarthy, much of the content is an instruction manual of how easy it is too cynically manipulate the population ("the jerks") with populist rabble rousing, confidently waving before the cameras unseen lists of known communists within various government departments, overwhelming all civilised political debate and monopolising media attention. If the numbers of known communists keep changing so much the better, as that means "the jerks" are asking what the real number is, not whether its true at all. And of course the message is still valid today, perhaps moreso than ever.

    Only thing is, I don't see when Raymond's Mother ever found time to collaborate with the communists, she seems to have led a very busy, highly public life.

  • Napoleon PluralNapoleon Plural LondonPosts: 10,363MI6 Agent

    I am reading Anna Keay's The Restless Republic - Britain Without A Crown. It's about Britain in the decade following the Civil War, when Oliver Cromwell reigned. It got great reviews in the Christmas round-up of the year, as did the historical fiction Age of Oblivion by Robert Harris, which dealt with chasing down the 50-odd regicides who'd signed King Charles I's death warrant and who were on the Most Wanted list after Charles II was placed on the throne.

    Reading up history in reverse order is not a bad way to do it, and I may read Diane Purkiss' book on the Civil War itself after this. In Keay's book, it's hard to avoid parallel's with Brexit though the word is never mentioned. One surprise was that neither the Royalists nor the Parliamentarians who were pitted against each other actually wanted abdication or a beheading, the latter simply wanted to rein in the King's powers. Events overtook them however as the New Model Army seized the King and set in motion his execution, and the King's attitude of aloof non-compliance didn't help his cause, he began to bargain too late.

    As a result there was a situation where despite a victory, a good many didn't get the outcome they sought. It all started to feel a bit bitter - and the Scots were not at all pleased at the outcome of the King's execution. It feels like Brexit because there's a sense of not knowing quite how to proceed and latterly there are befuddling votes on the nature of the Protectorate that put one in mind of May's frustrated stint in office. I suppose you could say that Johnson like Cromwell was caterpalted from the back of the scrum to attain power due only to this particular cause, and even Johnson's deliberate dress down look is not unlike Cromwell's 'warts and all' portrayal. Comparing the Irish backstop to what Cromwell carried out would be beyond the pale however - the man initiated a mass slaughter that resonated through the decades.

    It's a good read though I expected more on the light entertainments that cropped up in London during this time - to circumvent the ban on theatre and other revelry; they got round it via stuff like opera. Coffee shops with long wooden benches outside sprung up, we're told.

    Sudden death seems to be a thing in this book and not just due to executions. People seem to become ill due to some unspecified plague type thing and die within a few days or weeks, so that is another parallel with today. Interesting to read that Cromwell holed up in Nonesuch for the hunting as that's near me. What he did was very close to succeeding but he chose as a successor his eldest son who was ill-prepared for the role while his other son did make a success of his time ruling Ireland, albeit on their terms.

    The book has interesting chapters on the movers and shakers of the day, in particular one incident surely inspired Shelley's Frankenstein.

    "This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

    Roger Moore 1927-2017
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,393MI6 Agent

    That's interesting about Cromwell living at Nonsuch. I never heard that. I remember reading the palace was given to one of Charles II's mistresses, and one of her descendants moved out and sold it off brick-by-brick enabling other houses in the local area to be built. Was the 'new' Manor built from it? Jeff Beck's wake was held there recently, I heard.

  • Napoleon PluralNapoleon Plural LondonPosts: 10,363MI6 Agent

    Sorry @chrisno1 it may be interesting but it's also rubbish - I had misgivings as I was typing that but let it go... it was actually Hampton Court that Cromwell holed up in, not Nonsuch. Sorry!

    "This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

    Roger Moore 1927-2017
  • Silhouette ManSilhouette Man The last refuge of a scoundrelPosts: 8,747MI6 Agent

    It seems that Oliver Cromwell was in Nonsuch place. 😆

    "The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette." - Ian Fleming, Moonraker (1955).
  • Number24Number24 NorwayPosts: 21,964MI6 Agent
    edited February 2023

    There's been some scandals in the British Royal Family since ..... since ................... there's been some scandals in the British royal family. But based on "The restless republic" would NP recommend a Republic? 🤔😁

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,393MI6 Agent

    That's okay @Napoleon Plural - we all love our local history

  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,289MI6 Agent

    Doctor Sleep - Stephen King delivers a sequel to The Shining, one of his most renowned and scariest books.

    Dan Torrance, the little boy from the original novel, is all grown up and while he still possesses his telepathic abilities he has also become, like his father, a struggling alcoholic. Drifting aimlessly across the northeast he eventually ends up in New Hampshire, where he finds purpose working at a hospice center, using his unique powers to help terminally ill people pass on. He also befriends Abra, a little girl who also has the Shine and is incredibly powerful. Together the confront the True Knot, a group of ancient beings who feed of people with the Shine, slowly torturing them to death and then absorbing their essence to extend their lives.

    Whereas The Shining was very much a horror story, Doctor Sleep is more character drama that explores themes of redemption and family. There is really only one gruesome passage in the novel (though it has plenty of scares along the way) and unlike King's earlier works where he would indiscriminately off characters for maximum shock value, here the antagonists are scary but also kind of stupid, lulled into a false sense of superiority thanks to their longevity which ultimately ends up contributing to their undoing. Like many of King's longer novels, this one takes its time putting all the pieces in place and gives us a chance to really get to know all the players before ramping up the action for a high stakes conclusion as Dan and Abra come face to face with the True Knot and their leader Rose the Hat.

    Despite its length (around 550 pages), I found Doctor Sleep to be a fast read that I got thru in three sittings. King's engaging prose is in full effect and I was always engaged and eager to turn the page and see what happened next. Definitely worth a read for King's constant readers or anyone looking for an engaging story.

    Just as an FYI, this book is a sequel to the novel, not Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation. King famously loathes Kubrick's movie, largely because of all the changes it made to his story, the main one being the characterization of Jack Torrance, Dan's father, who Kubrick changed from a well meaning person who is ultimately consumed by the evil forces in the Overlook hotel to a mentally unstable psycho who is pretty much borderline unhinged right from the start. The recent film adaptation of Doctor Sleep with Ewan McGregor works as a sequel to both the original book and the Kubrick's movie and the final act has some significant deviations from the novel in terms of what happens to certain characters. Overall, I think the book is superior to the movie and also more satisfying.

  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,393MI6 Agent

    UNCLE TARGET by Gavin Lyall (1988)

    I was distinctly unimpressed with Harry Maxim’s final adventure, written in Gavin Lyall’s studied hand. This time our Harry is back in the SAS, but still seconded to the MOD or the SIS or some such Whitehall organisation. He’s finally hitched up with Agnes Algar, but he’s still married to the army. When a terrorist kidnapping goes wrong, Harry is called in because he once had dealings with the victim, the Jordanian Colonel Khalid. Harry’s attempt to break the siege results in the Colonel’s death. Meanwhile, in the Colonel's homeland, a military coup is rising in the south and Khalid held the secret location of a new British tank, loaned for manoeuvres, a vehicle which may just redraw the battlelines of combat. Did he reveal it under torture? Maxim is dispatched to Jordan in a botched attempt to find out.

    There is too much happening in this dull adventure which is part committee room drama, part low-key espionage, part reimagining of the old Humphrey Bogart film Sahara, as Harry Maxim tries to escape the rebel troops by driving a tank through the Jordanian desert. The action passes in brief sentences. People get shot. Things blow up. Things break down. Meanwhile the bigwigs in London prick a map with multi-coloured pins and drink whisky. Agnes does the most ingenious stuff all on her own, but not a single page of it merited any kind of joy. A very formulated piece which includes much technical detail but forgets to include any excitement, tension or terror. There are subthemes aplenty and that doesn’t help the telling which needs to be slimmed down. By splitting the narrative locations, Lyall fails to concentrate on either the London backstabbing or the Jordanian scrambles, so neither succeeds. Even the final pages lack any sense of an ending. The novel just stops.

    An inauspicious exit for Major Harry Maxim.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    Being one of King's Constant Readers I read and enjoyed this when it was released, though I've yet to see the film. At present I'm reading his more recent "If It Bleeds", which took me a while to get round to. 4 novellas - the first is the very good "Mr Harrigan's Phone" which has been filmed starring Donald Sutherland, the second the strange "The Life Of Chuck", and I'm at the third which is the title story at the moment.

  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,289MI6 Agent

    Hey Barbel, I'm not familiar with If It Bleeds; would you say the stories have a supernatural element or are the more grounded?

    After finishing Dr. Sleep, I've gone back to Stephen King's short fiction and started catching up on some short stories I'd never gotten around to. Mrs. Todd's shortcut, about a woman who is obsessed with finding the shortest route between any two points and comes across some pretty hard to find roads was a particularly good read. A lot of his sci-fi efforts like The Jaunt and Beachworld have also been interesting reads and really took me back to the 70s and 80s when I used always run across those kinds of stories in publications like Omni.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    I'm reading the 3rd of the 4 stories in the book, and so far so supernatural.

    I loved "Mrs Todd's Shortcut", must read his early short stories again.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,597MI6 Agent

    I’ve been rereading the Fleming novels recently for the first time in many years. I’d forgotten how much of the novels had been incorporated into the movies.

    DR. NO (1958)

    Tense, exciting and violent. What should have been a simple investigation turns into a nightmare adventure for Bond he encounters the enigmatic Dr. No and the secrets of his island hideaway. Fleming’’s writing really flows in this one. Top notch stuff.

    GOLDFINGER (1959)

    Fleming was really on a roll at this point and Goldfinger was another great villain for Bond to tackle. The scenic descriptions are superb and the food is so deliciously written it made me hungry! The plot is over the top, but who cares when it is so entertainingly brilliantly told.

    I’m just finishing For Your Eyes Only so will review that soon

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • chrisno1chrisno1 LondonPosts: 3,393MI6 Agent

    @CoolHandBond I agree with you on DR NO. For ne, one of Fleming's most pulse-wrecking adventures. Over the top, sure, but based on some solid fact. A great villain and heroine and tremendous set pieces and head-to-heads.

    Not so sure about GF. It lurches too much from mundane to excellent. The opening few pages are magnificent, then it's all games, travelogue and food. We don't even witness Jill's death scene, it is told second hand and its the most terrifying scene in the book. Had Fleming drawn back from horror after DR NO? The heist is implausible and the preamble to it very dull. The climax on the plane doesn't save it. Middling for me.

  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    I don't think plausibility was what Fleming was going for with GF. He was experimenting a little, giving the reader much more of Bond's thoughts and "interior monologue" than usual. There are no scenes outside of Bond's physical presence, unlike in DN and (especially) FRWL before it- indeed, it could have been done as a first person narrative from Bond's POV. I wonder if writing it that way ever crossed Fleming's mind?

  • Napoleon PluralNapoleon Plural LondonPosts: 10,363MI6 Agent
    edited March 2023

    Don't you cover the writing of GF in your Imaginary Conversations thread, Barbel?

    Finished reading Restless Republic about the English Civil War - it drags a bit at the end, Peters out really, no fault of the author, you can't alter history. Like a fair bit of English history it seems a bit one step forward two steps back, though the whole process did bring about more Parliamentary democracy, and coffee shops. And opera. Massively messed up Ireland though, for centuries. I'll watch the accompanying doc by Simon Schama on iPlayer if it's there.

    Re-reading Flashman and the Redskins by G Macdonald Fraser. It's great but this is the one that killed Flashman to me as he does something more sociopathic than simply roguish. There's been talk of sensitivity readers for books - if you took this to the Flashman series you'd have nothing left! For all that I possibly love the first Flashman best because of the paragraph describing the calamitous British retreat from Kabul, Afghanistan, which sounds suspiciously prescient of the US evacuation under the doddery looking Joe Biden. I gave up on Redskins not least because it flashes forward several decades I think and I realised I should have been reading the series in publication rather than chronological order. Maybe I'll finish it this time. Mostly one's admiration jostles between being Impressed at the research, the prose, the comedy.

    It's writing of a higher calibre altogether to anything modern, it seems to me.

    Edit: I thought of getting the audio book for my Dad, who is 94 and not one to hold a book these days. But there's no getting away with it, the prose has a lot of the 'n' word in it. Now, it's one thing to have that sort of language in a book where you know the lead character is a cad and a rotter and a certain amount of nuance is allowed but it's one thing to read that stuff in your mind and hear it coming from the Roberts cassette radio, it's too much.

    Secondly, with all the talk of Flashman's sexual exploits - talk of heaving busts and so on, and various kinks and vague references to all manner of positions - at no point does our titular hero ever receive, not to put too fine a point on it, a blow job. Now in today's porn, that is the staple ingredient and given all the other unPC outrageous stuff that goes on in the books, this seems an odd omission... I suppose it echoes the poet Philip Larkin's poem of how 'Sexual intercouse began in 1963 / Which was rather too late for me...' likewise when did this sexual act become the mainstay of popular literature? An essay could be written on the matter. In the Flashman series, our 'hero' never quite lies back and enjoys his sex, there always seems to be some threat hanging over him, or he is put through his bedroom paces by an amorous and exhausting taskmaster. Yet the writing never gets pornographic, the same goes for the Bond novels, be they Fleming or the continuation novels. Of course, this means many an average lad might feel he has the edge over Flashman or Bond.

    "This is where we leave you Mr Bond."

    Roger Moore 1927-2017
  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,597MI6 Agent

    Maybe he did consider it at one point, but the comparison to Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer by those critics who routinely dismissed his writing probably put him off. He did try it of course in TSWLM a few years later, but from the heroine’s viewpoint, to much disdain.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • BarbelBarbel ScotlandPosts: 36,890Chief of Staff

    Yes, I recently did just that. 😇😇😇

    @CoolHandBond, I'm sure you're right in that's what the critics would have said though he's more likely to have been thinking of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Still, it never happened.

    Currently reading Stephen King's "The Institute". I'll be there for a while, I think, it's a long one.

  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,597MI6 Agent

    The Institute is one of King’s best novels - it even has a decent ending which a lot of his books don’t have in my opinion - he seems to struggle with that aspect whereas everything else is usually wonderful.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • CoolHandBondCoolHandBond Mactan IslandPosts: 6,597MI6 Agent


    A collection of five short stories which is a departure from the normal full length novel.

    From A View To A Kill is a pedestrian affair of Bond tracking down an assassin. Interesting in that it shows that Bond does routine work outside of the usual glamorous adventures we are used to reading about.

    For Your Eyes Only mirrors the Tilly Masterson revenge plot from Goldfinger. There are some terrific scenic descriptions. A lot of the plot works itself into the movie. Good stuff.

    Quantum Of Solace reads like a short story that Jeffrey Archer would become famous for. Bond attends a seemingly boring dinner in Nassau where afterwards when he is alone with the governor, Bond is told of a story involving a civil servant and an air hostess. Surprisingly excellent.

    Risico is an excellent story of drug smuggling and double crossings. Most of this went into the movie.

    The Hildebrand Rarity concerns a loathsome man who abuses his wife and everyone around him, he ends up dead, but who has killed him? Some of this ends up in License To Kill.

    Overall, I enjoyed this book, and Fleming’s ability to keep inventing villains like Milton Krest is marvellous. A great read.

    Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
  • caractacus pottscaractacus potts Orbital communicator, level 10Posts: 4,002MI6 Agent
    edited March 2023

    CoolHand said:

    From A View To A Kill is a pedestrian affair of Bond tracking down an assassin. Interesting in that it shows that Bond does routine work outside of the usual glamorous adventures we are used to reading about.


    I'd agree From A View To A Kill is a pedestrian Bond adventure. I think the opening pages are the best part, as we learn a bit more about Bond's past, then as he fantasizes about the French girls in the street, a hot babe walks right up to him and... turns out to be a coworker telling him to get back to work! then we get another crazy woman driver sequence which is a recurring theme with Fleming. But the adventure itself is substandard. Maybe it was placed first because the opening is strong and more Bond-centric than the other stories?

    the title is from a poem about hunting, and the villains hideout resembles a Hunting Blind (ie a camouflaged hiding place from which to shoot prey without the prey seeing theres a human right there). I didnt get that til I moved to a small town and started hanging out with hunters. So theres two stories in a row with hunting imagery!

  • TonyDPTonyDP Inside the MonolithPosts: 4,289MI6 Agent

    I decided to pick If It Bleeds after reading your comments on it. I'm almost finished with the last story, "Rat", and have really enjoyed the book. Mr. Harrigan's Phone was a great read and the titular entry was my first introduction to Holly Dibney and King's Outsider stories so color me interested on exploring those further. I've since discovered there was even a TV show (3 seasons) based on Mr. Mercedes that I'll be checking out at some point. Even seen any of those?

    Thanks again for turning me on to this one; much appreciated.

    BTW: I tried to post this once and it disappeared when I tried to edit it; apologies in advance if it ends up showing up again.

Sign In or Register to comment.