“The World Is Not Enough”
— The Bond Family Motto, as revealed in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming
First published in 1963, Ian Fleming’s 10th James Bond novel opens with Bond in a familiar situation. He is back at the Casino Royale, both to gamble and to visit Vesper Lynd’s grave. Much as he did after being tortured by Le Chiffre, Bond is considering resigning from Her Majesty’s Secret Service. However, in this case, Bond’s desire to quit is not motivated by petulance or wounded pride.
Instead, it’s due to frustration. Bond has spent the past year searching for any evidence that SPECTRE and Blofeld survived the events of Thunderball. Bond is convinced that SPECTRE no longer exists but M disagrees. Feeling that he’s wasting his time, Bond has even written out an official resignation letter. From the minute that we read Bond’s self-satisfactory resignation letter (along with Bond’s thoughts as to how M would react to each passage), we realize that, after two novels in which Ian Fleming seemed to be bored with his most famous creation, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is going to be a return to form for both Bond and Fleming.
As opposed to continuing to search for Blofeld, Bond is much more interested in getting to know Contessa Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo. When Bond first sees Tracy, she’s boldly racing past him in her car. The second time, he rescues her from the social embarrassment of revealing that she doesn’t have the money to cover her gambling debts. The third time, he prevents her from committing suicide in the ocean. It’s only after all of this that Bond learns that Tracy is the daughter of Marc-Ange Draco, Europe’s biggest crime lord. Draco and Bond discover they have a lot in common. They both operate in the shadows and they both want to protect Tracy.
That’s right, James Bond is in love! Over the course of Fleming’s novels, James Bond falls in love three times. The first time was with Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale and it ended with Vesper’s suicide. The second time was with Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever and it ended when Tiffany left him for an American. The third, and final time, is with Tracy. Just as he did with Vesper, Bond eventually asks Tracy to marry him. This time, Bond and Tracy actually do get married but the marriage only lasts an hour before ending in tragedy. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service features Fleming’s darkest ending since From Russia With Love concluded with Bond seemingly dropping dead in a hotel room.
What makes the ending so shocking is that, up until those final few passages, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is such an enjoyable and almost carefree adventure story, a throwback to Dr. No and Goldfinger. With the help of Draco, Bond discovers that Blofeld is currently hiding out in Switzerland. However, ultimately, it’s Blofeld’s own vanity that exposes him. Blofeld writes to the College of Arms, asking for confirmation that he is actually descended from royalty. Assuming the identity of genealogist Sir Hilary Bray, Bond travels to Switzerland and uncovers Blofeld’s latest plot. It’s actually a pretty silly scheme, one that involves brainwashing British girls to return home and destroy Britain’s agricultural economy.
But it doesn’t matter how silly Blofeld’s plot may be. Indeed, the plot is so over the top that it’s impossible not to enjoy it. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Fleming seems to have rediscovered his passion for not the character of Bond but also for M. (One of the book’s best scenes occurs when Bond visits M on Christmas morning.) This is a fun read, without any of the slow spots that were present in Thunderball and The Spy Who Loved Me. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that, while Fleming was writing his book in Jamaica, Dr. No was being filmed nearby. Not only does Fleming work a winking reference to Ursula Andress into On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but he also revealed that, like Sean Connery, Bond was Scottish.
All in all, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the best of Fleming’s original novels.