Book Review: Moonraker by Ian Fleming


First published in 1955, Moonraker was the third of the original James Bond novels and it was also the first of the series to be totally set in Great Britain.  At no point does Bond leave his home country.  In fact, he spends a great deal of the book in his office.  (If you’ve ever wondered what Bond’s job entails when he’s not on a mission, this is the book to check.)  That said, it’s appropriate that Moonraker remains in Bond’s home country because it starts with a very British problem.

Hugo Drax is the most popular man in Britain.  Drax was horribly disfigured during the Second World War but, despite all of the scars and a somewhat boorish manner, he has managed to make himself into one of the most important industrialists in the world.  Drax is building an immensely powerful nuclear missile, the Moonraker.  His missile will keep Britain safe from both the USSR and the USA.  At the start of the novel, even Bond admires Drax.  Except…

…DRAX CHEATS AT CARDS!

It turns out that M and Drax both play cards at the same club and M is sure that Drax must be cheating.  Why would such a powerful man feel the need to cheat?  Even more importantly, how can a man be trusted with Britain’s security when he can’t even be trusted to play bridge?  Both to prevent a public scandal and to make sure that Drax really can be trusted, M bring Bond to the club so that Bond can beat Drax at his own game.

One bridge game later and suddenly, Bond has been assigned to work at Drax’s laboratory.  Already on the case and working as Drax’s secretary is Special Branch officer Gala Brand.  Bond being Bond, he discovers that Drax is at the head of a nefarious scheme.  He also tries to figure out why Gala Brand is apparently the only woman in the world who is not won over by his manly charm…

Moonraker is one of my favorite Bond novels.  Drax is an interesting villain and Fleming makes a good decision by having Bond initially admire the man.  Fleming takes a lot of joy in describing both Drax’s bad manners and grotesque appearance.  Drax started a tradition of Bond having to face physically unappealing bad guys.  After playing a minor role in the first two books, M takes a more central role in Moonraker and we also get a chance to explore his paternal but strict relationship with 007.  Gala is one of the few of the so-called Bond girls to be portrayed as being an equal to Bond and the book’s final scene between her and Bond is considerably more poignant than it has any right to be.  Finally, Fleming’s love of Britain is evident on every page.  If Fleming spent Casino Royale and Live and Let Die being snarky about the places that Bond visited, Moonraker finds both the author and his most famous creation in a surprisingly sentimental mood.

Moonraker came close to being the first James Bond novel to make it to the big screen.  In 1955, American actor John Payne pursued the rights to the book, hoping to star as Bond in the film version.  However, it would be another 24 years before Moonraker was adapted to film.  Other than featuring Drax as a villain, the film version would have little do with the original novel.

One response to “Book Review: Moonraker by Ian Fleming

  1. Pingback: Lisa’s Week in Review — 1/15/18 — 1/21/18 | Through the Shattered Lens

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