Book Review: The Man With The Golden Gun by Ian Fleming


On August 12th, 1964, Ian Fleming died in Canterbury.  He was 56 years old.

Like his famous creation, James Bond, Ian Fleming was both a heavy drinker and a chainsmoker.  Unlike Bond, he suffered from heart disease.  In 1961, he had his first known heart attack and his health was always precarious afterward.  It is said that his last words were to the ambulance drivers: “I am sorry to trouble you chaps. I don’t know how you get along so fast with the traffic on the roads these days.”

Eight months after Fleming’s death, his final James Bond novel, The Man With The Golden Gun, was published.  (One more collection of short stories, Octopussy and The Living Daylights, would follow in 1966.)

The Man With The Golden Gun opens with a brainwashed Bond attempting to assassinate M and ends with Bond turning down a knighthood and again declaring his loyalty to Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  In between, Bond is tasked with tracking down and killing the notorious assassin, Pistols Scaramanga.  (Scaramanga is known for using a golden gun.)  Bond once again goes undercover, assuming the name Mark Hazzard and working his way into Scaramanga’s operation.  Felix Leiter makes another appearance and, by the end of the book, it looks like Bond might even find happiness with his secretary, Mary Goodnight.

It’s an unfortunate book.  Apparently, Fleming had finished his first draft but was still in the process of editing when he died.  As a result, The Man With The Golden Gun has all the flaws that you would associate with an early draft.  The plot is thin.  There’s little nuance or subtlety to the dialogue.  Bond comes across as being rather dull, showing little of the wit or personality that was present in both On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice.  Scaramanga is a bit more interesting but he can’t compare to the great Bond villains like Blofeld or Goldfinger.  There’s really not much else to say about The Man With The Golden Gun.  It’s a sad way to end Fleming’s Bond series but, at the same time, it doesn’t diminish everything that Fleming accomplished in the previous novels.

Anyway, since I’ve reviewed all of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, I guess now is the time to rate them all, from best to worst.  Not included in the list below are the two collections of short stories that Fleming wrote, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

From best to worst:

  1. On Her Majesty Secret Service (1963)
  2. From Russia With Love (1957)
  3. Moonraker (1955)
  4. Goldfinger (1959)
  5. Dr. No (1958)
  6. You Only Live Twice (1964)
  7. Casino Royale (1953)
  8. Live and Let Die (1954)
  9. The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
  10. Diamonds are Forever (1956)
  11. Thunderball (1961)
  12. The Man With The Golden Gun (1965)

Despite Fleming’s death, Bond would live on.  Not only would there be the films but other writers would continue Bond’s literary adventures.  Later this year, I’ll start in on the non-Fleming Bond novels.  Until then, I hope everyone has enjoyed this look back at Ian Fleming’s original novels!

Bond, as visualized by Ian Fleming.

Book Review: You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming


You Only Live Twice, the 11th James Bond novel, opens 8 months after the tragic ending of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Tracy Bond is dead.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld has vanished.

And James Bond is no longer the man who readers thought they knew.

Over the course of the previous ten novels, one thing that remained consistent about Bond was his ruthless and unsentimental approach to his job.  For the first 9 books, Bond was the man who reacted to Vesper Lynd’s suicide by coldly announcing, “The bitch is dead.”  Then, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond finally fell in love and married, just to have Tracy murdered an hour later.  The first few chapters of  You Only Live Twice introduces us to a Bond who has become a shell of his previous self.  The man who used to always be in control of every situation is now drinking so heavily that it’s causing him to screw up at his job.  The once committed professional is now rarely in his office and, when he’s summoned to a meeting with M, he actually shows up late.

M has decided that he only has one option.  It’s time to demand Bond’s resignation.  The scene where M says that he has no choice but to fire his best agent is a shocking one.  For 10 books, Bond has been M’s best agent.  M is almost a paternal figure to Bond.  To read M casually talking about dismissing Bond not only shows us how far Bond has fallen but also reminds us that there’s no room for sentiment in intelligence work.

Fortunately, before going through with his plan to fire Bond, M speaks to a psychologist who explains that Bond is suffering from shock and that, in order to become the man that he once was, he needs to be given a task that will restore his confidence, an “impossible” mission.  If Bond succeeds, it’ll be the first step to dealing with his grief.  If Bond fails, his career will be over.

That’s how Bond eventually ends up in Japan, trying to convince the head of Japan’s secret service, Tiger Tanaka, to share intelligence with the British.  Tanaka says that he’s willing to do so if Bond does him a favor.  The mysterious Dr. Guntram Shatterhand has moved into an ancient castle and has set up his own “suicide garden.”  Tanaka wants Bond to kill Shatterhand.  Once Bond realizes that Shatterhand is actually Blofeld, he’s more than happy to do the favor.

Of course, it won’t be easy to penetrate Shatterhand’s castle.  However, with the help of actress Kissy Suzuki, Bond disguises himself as a mute Japanese miner named Taro Todoroki and heads out to get his revenge.

You Only Live Twice is one of the stranger Bond novels.  Far more than any of the other Fleming books, You Only Live Twice deals with Bond’s psychology.  In fact, the story is often so twisted that it’s tempting to wonder if perhaps the entire thing is some sort of fever dream.  Much like a German silent film, it sometimes seems as if the book’s bizarre and outlandish plot is actually a reflection of Bond’s twisted mind.  We’ve never seen Bond as self-destructive as he is at the start of this book and it’s probably not a coincidence that his mission leads him to a literal suicide garden.  When Bond transforms himself into Taro Todoroki, it allows him to leave behind the baggage of being Bond and only by denying his identity can he finally defeat Blofeld.  As for Blofeld, he’s such a bigger-than-life villain in this book that it sometimes tempting to think that he may have leapt fully formed out of Bond’s damaged psyche. Blofeld is the opponent that both Bond and Fleming needed.

And just as Bond found freedom in his new identity, it seems that it did the same thing for Ian Fleming as a writer.  There’s a liveliness to Fleming’s prose that suggests that he actually enjoyed writing this odd chapter of Bond’s life.

And then there’s that ending!  Despite the fact that I already gave a spoiler warning, I’m not going to reveal the ending because it’s one of the most shocking and unexpected endings in the history of the Bond novels.

Tomorrow, we finish up our look at Ian Fleming’s Bond novels with The Man With The Golden Gun.

Book Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Ian Fleming


“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.

Book Review: The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming

First published in 1962, The Spy Who Loved Me is easily the most controversial of all of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels.

The Spy Who Loved Me was not the first of the Bond novels to keep James Bond off-stage for the majority of the story.  From Russia With Love, one of the best of Fleming’s novels, keeps 007 offstage until about halfway through the book.  The difference is that, even before he makes his first appearance, everyone else in From Russia With Love is obsessed with Bond.  As well, From Russia With Love dealt with a world that Fleming knew well, the world of international intelligence operations.

The Spy Who Loved Me, on the other hand, is mostly about a young Canadian woman named Vivienne Michel who spends most of the novel discussing her background until, eventually, she finds herself being held prisoner by two cartoonish American gangsters named — I kid you not — Sluggsy and Horror.  Fortunately, James Bond eventually shows up and rescues her.  Vivienne not only narrates the novel but Ian Fleming even gave her co-writing credit on the title page.

In the book’s prologue, Fleming explains:

I found what follows lying on my desk one morning. As you will see, it appears to be the first person story of a young woman, evidently beautiful and not unskilled in the arts of love. According to her story, she appears to have been involved, both perilously and romantically, with the same James Bond whose secret service exploits I myself have written from time to time. With the manuscript was a note signed ‘Vivienne Michel’ assuring me that what she had written was ‘purest truth and from the depths of her heart’. I was interested in this view of James Bond, through the wrong end of the telescope so to speak, and after obtaining clearance for certain minor infringements of the Official Secrets Act I have much pleasure in sponsoring its publication.

So, The Spy Who Loved Me is a bit of an experiment.  That Fleming often grew tired of Bond as a character is well-documented.  Not only did Fleming have to come up with a new adventure every year but Bond himself couldn’t change from being who he had been since the early 50s, a serious-minded civil servant who occasionally saved the world.  With this book, Fleming largely used Bond as a plot device, a deus ex machina.

Instead, the novel is dominated by Vivienne.  Oddly, for someone who wants to tell us all about James Bond, Vivienne spends a good deal of time focusing on her life before she ended up at that hotel.  We find out about her first boyfriend, an insincere British boy named Derek and also about her second boyfriend, an autocratic German named Karl.  The scenes with Derek and Karl almost feel like a parody of the coming-of-age genre.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t compelling scenes to be found in The Spy Who Loved Me.  Fleming was too good of a storyteller for anything that he wrote not to have some sort of value.  But, at the same time, it’s still obvious that the story is being written by a British man in his 50s who is trying really, really hard to sound like a Canadian woman in her 20s.

And then — oh my God!  Sluggsy and Horror show up!  I’m sorry but there’s no way that you can take anyone named either Sluggsy or Horror seriously.  They are, without a doubt, the weakest villains since Diamonds are Forever gave us the Spang Brothers.

On the plus side, Horror did apparently inspire Jaws, the henchman played by Richard Kiel in the film versions of both this book and Moonraker.  And, even if the experiment didn’t quite work, it’s still interesting to see Bond through someone else’s eyes.

Fleming was so dissatisfied with this novel that, when he sold the film rights, he specifically required that the film not use any material from the book.  While The Spy Who Loved Me may not be Fleming’s strongest work, he would follow it up with the last great Bond novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

We’ll look at that one tomorrow.


Book Review: Thunderball by Ian Fleming

After the publication of Goldfinger in 1959, Ian Fleming’s next installment in the adventures of James Bond would be a short story collection, 1960’s For Your Eyes Only.  It would not be until 1961 that another Bond novel would be published.

That novel was Thunderball.

Thunderball originally began life as a screenplay.  In 1959, Ian Fleming met with producer Kevin McClory to discuss the possibility of McClory producing a Bond film.  Working with McClory, Fleming developed not only the basic storyline of Thunderball but also created the villains who, in the 60s, would replace the Russians as being Bond’s main villains.  It was while working with McClory that Fleming first created both SPECTRE and its enigmatic leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Ultimately, Fleming and McClory had a falling out, putting a temporary end to McClory’s plans to produce the first James Bond film.  Instead, the first Bond film would be produced by Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli and Fleming would turn the screenplay into a novel.  This led to problems when McClory and screenwriter Jack Wittingham sued Fleming, claiming that they owned the rights to Thunderball’s story.  As a result of a settlement, McClory won the right to produce the eventual film version of Thunderball, with Broccoli and Saltzman received executive producer credits.

McClory would later claim that, as the producer of Thunderball, he had the right to produce other James Bond films as well.  This led to several years of lawsuits, during which time McClory remade Thunderball as Never Say Never Again.  Reportedly, he was trying to raise money for a third remake when he died in 2006.  (Later, the McClory estate would sell the rights to Thunderball, SPECTRE, and Blofeld to MGM.  The end result was SPECTRE, a film that totally wasted one of Fleming’s most intriguing villains.)

Reading Thunderball, it’s easy to see that Fleming was thinking in terms of cinema when he came up with the story.  Most of the action takes place in the always photogenic Bahamas.  There are lengthy action scenes, involving planes being hijacked and underwater combat.  The storyline, which features two atomic missiles being stolen by SPECTRE’s Emilio Largo, is tailor-made for the movies.

Thunderball even starts with a lengthy prologue, the type that should be familiar to anyone who has seen any of the Bond films.  M sends Bond to a health spa, where Bond ends up getting targeted by an international criminal named Count Lippe.  The health spa scenes are among the most enjoyable in the book.  Not only is Bond forced to drop all of his “bad” habits but afterward, he actually discovers that he does feel healthier and more active.  Soon, he becomes a bit of a health fanatic and gets on the nerves of almost everyone who works with him with all of his “good” habits.  It’s easy to imagine that Fleming was having a little bit of fun at the expense of all the critics who claimed that Bond was  somehow a bad role model.  Of course, by the next novel, Bond was back to all of his old habits.

As for the rest of Thunderball, this was a book that I wanted to like more than I actually did.  After Bond gets finished at the health spa, he gets sent to the Bahamas track down the missiles and it becomes a rather standard thriller.  It doesn’t take long for Bond to both figure out that Emilo Largo stole the missiles and to seduce Largo’s mistress, Domino.  Felix Leiter makes another welcome appearance but, on the whole, it all feels rather slow and uninspired.

However, Thunderball will always be an important work in the Bond canon because it introduced the world to Blofeld.  Though Bond and Blofeld never meet (that would have to wait for later novels), the book’s best chapters deal with Blofeld’s background and the way he manages SPECTRE.  As is typical of many of Fleming’s villains, Blofeld is described as being someone who does not drink, does not smoke, and who has no interest in sex.  A reoccurring theme in all of Fleming’s Bond novels is that a man with a certain amount of minor vices is far more trustworthy than a man with none.  It’s a good thing that Bond eventually recovers from going to that health spa because otherwise, he never would have been able to defeat SPECTRE’s nefarious schemes.

Fleming would follow Thunderball with one of his most controversial novels, The Spy Who Loved Me.  We’ll look at that one tomorrow!

Book Review: Goldfinger by Ian Fleming


In 1959, Ian Fleming introduced a character who would go on to become the quintessential James Bond villain.  His name? Auric Goldfinger.

When I reread Goldfinger, Fleming’s seventh Bond novel, I was surprised to discover just how faithful the 1964 film adaptation really was.  True, there were a few differences.  While Jill Masterson was still killed via gold paint, it happened off-stage in the book and long after Bond had already left Miami.  Meanwhile, Jill’s sister, Tilly, survived far longer in the book than she did in the movie.  Pussy Galore, on the other hand, doesn’t appear until the very last few chapters of the book.  There’s no scene with Bond being threatened by a laser.  Goldfinger never laughs and says, “I expect you to die.”

And yet, while reading Fleming’s novel, it was impossible for me not to visualize Gert Frobe and Harold Sakata as Goldfinger and Oddjob.  Outside of the actors who have played Bond, the casting of Frobe and Sakata in the film version of Goldfinger may have been the two best casting decisions in the history of the Bond franchise.  And while that giant laser never made an appearance, Oddjob’s killer hat was present in the novel and loving described by Fleming.

Goldfinger’s lunatic plot to rob Fort Knox is present in both the novel and the book, though it’s somehow even more implausible in the book than in the movie.  What’s interesting is that, from the minute Bond hears about Goldfinger’s plot, Bond continually says that it’s a crazy plan that can’t possibly succeed.  Fleming never makes much of an effort to convince us that Bond could possibly be wrong about Goldfinger’s plan, either.  For once, the threat isn’t that the villain will succeed.  The threat is that Goldfinger will cause even more damage while failing.  Bond’s mission is less to thwart Goldfinger than to contain him.

With a personality that is somewhat reminiscent of Moonraker‘s Hugo Drax, Goldfinger is one of Fleming’s best bad guys.  Though there’s nothing subtle about Goldfinger, his flamboyant and cocky villainy serves as a nice contrast to James Bond’s more serious-minded personality.  Like many Bond villains, Goldfinger is so defined by his single obsession (in this case, with gold) that he doesn’t show any interest in any of the activities — drinking, smoking, having sex — that tend to define Bond as a character.  That’s one of the reoccurring themes to found in Fleming’s work.  Men who do not indulge in “gentlemanly vices” are almost always evil.

It’s a good and entertaining book, marred only by some foolishness towards the end in which Bond is upset to realize that 1) Tilly Masterson is a lesbian and 2) she’s more attracted to Pussy Galore than to him.  In fact, during Goldfinger’s assault on Fort Knox, Tilly ignores Bond’s orders and goes looking for Pussy instead.  (I know, I know.  Stop it.)  Tilly is promptly killed by Oddjob and Bond mournfully considers that she would still be alive if only she had been attracted to men instead of women.

(As I mentioned in my review of Live and Let Die, Fleming may have been a “man of the world” but he was also a product of his time and all the prejudices that went along with it.)

Fleming would follow Goldfinger with a collection of short stories.  The next James Bond novel, Thunderball, would not appear until 1961.  We’ll take a look at it tomorrow.

Book Review: Dr. No by Ian Fleming

Having survived his creator’s attempt to kill him off at the end of From Russia With Love, British secret agent James Bond returned in the 1958 novel Dr. No.

When Dr. No begins, M is concerned that his top agent might no longer have what it takes.  After all, James Bond barely survived his previous mission.  The doctors say that he’s recovered,  Bond has spent months in rehab.  Bond is desperate for a new mission but M still has his doubts.  So, he gives Bond what should be an easy assignment.  He sends 007 to Jamaica, to investigate the strange disappearance of John Strangeways and his secretary.  (Strangeways previously appeared in Live and Let Die.)

It turns out to be anything but simple.  As soon as Bond arrives, it becomes obvious that the mysterious Dr. No was somehow involved in whatever happened to Strangeways.  Dr. No lives on a remote island and has made a fortune through the cultivation of bat guano.  (Eck!)  With the help of the loyal Quarrel and the beautiful Honeychile Ryder, Bond sets out to find out what Dr. No is actually up to.  Of course, the natives say that Dr. No is protected by a dragon.  Bond says that’s foolish but then the dragon shows up…

But it’s not just the dragon that Bond has to look out for!  There’s Dr. No himself.  When we finally meet Dr. No, we discover that he’s basically a cyborg.  Oh, he’s never called that, of course.  I don’t even know if “cyborg” was a word in 1958.  But Fleming delights in telling us about Dr. No’s metal hands and the way that he glides across the floor.  Fleming also delights in telling us all about the ins and outs of bat guano.  Fleming came up with many creative deaths for his Bond novels but Dr. No is the first to feature suffocation by bat shit.

Dr. No is a departure from Fleming’s previous books, all of which may have featured villains with odd names but, at the same time, remained somewhat realistic.  Dr. No, on the other hand, is so fanciful that it almost reads as being satire.  Everything from Dr. No’s megalomania to Honeychile Ryder’s first appearance on the beach suggests that Dr. No is intentionally written to take place in a bigger-than-life fantasy world.  That doesn’t mean that it’s a bad book.  In fact, it’s one of Fleming’s more entertaining novels.  But it’s almost as if, having brought Bond back to life, Fleming was determined to take a break from the real world with his next novel.

Interestingly, Dr. No started life as a non-Bond related screenplay.  Though Fleming ultimately abandoned the script, he used it as the inspiration for his next book.  It’s appropriate that, from such beginnings, Dr. No went on to serve as the basis of the first Bond film.

Book Review: From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming


First published in 1957, the fifth James Bond novel was nearly the last.  Despite the success of the previous books, Ian Fleming was growing tired of the yearly obligation of coming up with a new adventure for James Bond.  His health failing and his marriage strained, Fleming wrote to his friend Raymond Chandler, “My muse is in a very bad way … I am getting fed up with Bond and it has been very difficult to make him go through his tawdry tricks.”

Perhaps that’s why From Russia With Love could have easily been retitled “The Death of James Bond.”

In fact, the promise of death hangs over every paragraph of From Russia With Love.  Bond doesn’t even make a personal appearance until halfway through the book.  Up until that point, we spend our time with the men and the women who are plotting his death.  The Russians not only want to kill Bond but they want to do so in a way that will embarrass the British secret service.  What better scheme than to use the naive Tatiana Romanova to entice Bond and get Bond to lower his guard long enough to be killed by their top assassin, the sociopathic Red Grant?

Indeed, From Russia With Love is unique among the Bond books in that the reader spends almost the entire book a few steps ahead of Bond.  While Bond thinks that he is helping Tatiana defect to the West, we’re aware that Red Grant is waiting just around the corner.  And while Bond is often unsure about whether Tatiana is really in love with him, we know that she is but we also know that the Russians consider her to be expendable.

Up until the final few chapters, Bond is almost as passive a character in From Russia With Love as he was in Casino Royale.  When he arrives in Turkey to investigate Tatiana, he spends most of his time being led around by the older Darko Kerim.  Much as in Casino Royale, Bond is a bit of a student, one who is briefly disturbed when Kerim ruthlessly assassinates an enemy agent.  Kerim is one of Fleming’s best creations, an outspoken spymaster who is so full of life that he often overshadows Bond.  It’s only when Kerim is dead that Bond can step up into his usual heroic role.

Throughout the book, Fleming appears to be fascinated by everyone but James Bond.  However, the change-of-pace actually works out surprisingly well.  Grant, Tatiana, Kerim, and the dangerous Major Rosa Klebb are such memorably drawn characters that it doesn’t matter that Bond spends most of the book in the background.  More than being a good Bond novel, it’s a genuinely exciting thriller.

And then there’s that ending.  After originally ending with Bond and Tatiana going off on a typical Bondian jaunt, Fleming revised the book’s conclusion.  Now, the book ended rather abruptly with Bond, having been poisoned by Major Klebb, crashing to the floor.  If you ignore the fact that you’re reading a James Bond novel then it’s obvious that the Russians have succeeded in assassinating MI6’s best agent.  That may have been Fleming’s intention but, of course, that’s not the way things turned out.  Instead, Bond would return a year later in Dr. No.

And why not?  From Russia With Love was the best Bond novel up to that point.  (I consider it to be the second best of Fleming’s Bond novels, behind On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.)    Fleming may have been growing bored with Bond but readers?  They loved him.

Up next: Bond gets strange with Dr. No!

Book Review: Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming


First published in 1956, Diamonds are Forever was the fourth of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels.

This time, Bond has been assigned to investigate international diamond smuggling.  After assuming the identity of a burglar named Peter Franks, Bond infiltrates a smuggler’s ring.  His investigation leads him back to the United States and into the untamed city of Las Vegas.

Diamonds are Forever is one of the weaker of Fleming’s Bond novels.  Reportedly, it didn’t take long for Fleming to grow weary of the demands of coming up with a new Bond novel every year and he even considered killing off the British secret agent all together.  As opposed to the first three books, the plot of Diamonds are Forever often feels rather hastily mashed together.  Worst of all, Diamonds are Forever features the least memorable villains of the series, the Spang Brothers.  The Spang Brothers are mobsters who talk like they’re in a bad crime movie and that’s about it.  Certainly, they never come across like a legitimate threat to James Bond.

Probably the best thing about Diamonds are Forever is Bond’s growing relationship with the tough and cynical smuggler, Tiffany Case.  More so than Vesper, Solitaire, and even Gala Brand, Tiffany seems like Bond’s equal and it’s no surprise when, at the end of the book, she and Bond end up moving in with each other.

(It’s also not a shock when, in the next novel, we learn that Tiffany soon left Bond for another man.  Tiffany’s not the type to get tied down.)

It’s also interesting to read Fleming’s thoughts on Las Vegas.  Remember how much Fleming hated on Florida in Live and Let Die?  That’s nothing compared to what he does to Las Vegas.  Reading his description of the famed gambling mecca, one gets the feeling that Fleming was both fascinated and disgusted by this quintessentially American city.

Finally, an entire chapter is devoted to Bond’s experience flying from the UK to the US.  That may seem like filler to modern audiences.  But you have to remember that Diamonds Are Forever was written at a time when commercial air travel was considered to be something of a luxury.  For many readers in 1956, reading that chapter was probably as close to flying as they’d ever get.

Diamonds are Forever may be one of the weaker Bond novels but it was followed by one of the best, From Russia With Love!

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…


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.