Book Review – FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1960) by Ian Fleming

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1960) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 262pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1960
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1960
Introduction by Ian Rankin (8pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57694-5

Short Stories:
From a View to a Kill (43pp) **½
For Your Eyes Only (61pp) ****
Quantum of Solace (34pp) ***
Risico (54pp) ****
The Hildebrand Rarity (54pp) ***½

Blurb: ‘Private armies, private wars. How much energy they siphoned off from the common cause, how much fire they directed away from the common enemy!’ Five stories. Five missions. Five glimpses into the mind of a spy. From Jamaican estates to brooding French forests, Bond is tested to his limits by the world’s most dangerous men and the dark secrets they keep.

Comment: Before James Bond hit the movie screens, consideration had been given to a television series and four of the five stories in this collection were adapted from story outlines Fleming had compiled. The fifth, “From a View to a Kill”, was initially outlined as background for MOONRAKER. Fleming uses these stories to explore Bond’s motivation and attitude. In “Quantum of Solace” Bond’s glib remark that if he ever got married it would be to an air hostess, because they are eager to please, is typical of his view of women. The tale is a cautionary one, however, as his host recounts a chilling account of a husband spurned. The story plays out as a warning to Bond. In “For Your Eyes Only” Bond debates the psychological impact of revenge killing with Judy Havelock, whose parents have been murdered by a drug cartel. He ultimately lets her help him pay back the debt. “The Hildebrand Rarity” sees Bond question man’s need to kill for trophies as his rude American host, Milton Krest, seeks a rare fish in the Seychelles, whilst abusing is sub-servient wife. Krest looks to add poison to the sea thereby killing thousands of other fish in his quest for his prize. Bond reflects on his own need to kill for his country and his own sport of killing a stingray, which he views as predatory. His debate with himself is widened as he becomes more concerned with the abuse Krest delivers to his wife and there is ambiguity in the ultimate justice. “From a View to a Kill” and “Risico” are more straight-forward adventures. The former feels more like an interlude and hardly stretches Bond. It is wrapped up too neatly and is the weakest of the stories here. “Risico” is an excellent story that pits Bond against feuding smugglers Kristatos and Colombo. There is action and intrigue packed into a very satisfying tale, that along with “For Your Eyes Only” would form the basis for the Roger Moore film of the latter title. This collection of stories is much more down to earth than Fleming’s preceding novels and in the stronger stories is the better for it, as it makes Bond more human and less of a plot cypher.

Book Review – GOLDFINGER (1959) by Ian Fleming

GOLDFINGER (1959) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 372pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1959
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1959
Introduction by Kate Mosse (9pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57692-1

Blurb: ‘You’re stale, tired of having to be tough. You want a change. You’ve seen too much death’. In Fleming’s seventh 007 novel, a private assignment sets Bond on the trail of an enigmatic criminal mastermind – Auric Goldfinger. But greed and power have created a deadly opponent who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

Comment: Fleming’s seventh James Bond novel is his most ambitious plot to date, based around chief villain Auric Goldfinger’s plan to rob the Fort Knox gold depository, which occupies the final section of the book. The novel opens with Bond being asked by a friend to spot how Goldfinger is cheating him at cards. Bond succeeds and embarrasses Goldfinger into handing back his winnings. The pair meet again on the golf course, this time by design as Bond has been asked to investigate how Goldfinger is obtaining his massive wealth. The golf match is well described with Bond again getting the upper hand as Goldfinger fails in his attempt to win back some of his prior losses. Bond then follows Goldfinger across Europe to his factory, where he discovers how Goldfinger is smuggling his gold around the world. Having been discovered, Goldfinger, seemingly out of ego, keeps Bond onside as part of his Operation Grand Slam, the most daring robbery ever plotted. Along the way Bond meets Tilly Masterton, looking to avenge the death of her sister Jill at Goldfinger’s hands and the daringly named Pussy Galore, a lesbian gangster who is invested in Goldfinger’s operation. We also meet Oddjob, the giant Korean henchman with a deadly hat. Fleming’s writing is fluid and there is more of a cynical humour on show. The plot is frankly highly implausible and the final section of the book, whilst picking up the pace considerably, defies belief, whilst remaining wildly entertaining. However, it is hard to accept the logistics of Goldfinger’s plan and more so the way in which it is thwatrted. Goldfinger continues the trend set in Dr. No of Fleming using increasingly fantastical plots and the book feels a light year away from the honed down tension and emotion of Casino Royale.

Book Review – TROUBLED BLOOD (2020) by Robert Galbraith

TROUBLED BLOOD (2018) ****
by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Published by Sphere, 2020, 927pp
ISBN: 978-0-7515-7993-2

Blurb: Private Detective Cormoran Strike is visiting his family in Cornwall when he is approached by a woman asking for help finding her mother, Margot Bamborough – who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1974. Strike has never tackled a cold case before, let alone one forty years old. But despite the slim chance of success, he is intrigued and takes it on; adding to the long list of cases that he and his partner in the agency, Robin Ellacott, are currently working on. And Robin herself is also juggling a messy divorce and unwanted male attention, as well as battling her own feelings about Strike. As Strike and Robin investigate Margot’s disappearance, they come up against a fiendishly complex case with leads that include tarot cards, a psychopathic serial killer and witnesses who cannot all be trusted. And they learn that even cases decades old can prove to be deadly . . .

First thing is to address the elephant in the room. This book is by some significant distance the longest crime novel I have ever read. At 927 pages it is a monster akin to all those fantasy concept books that I could never get through. Rowling seems to be taking the same route with her Strike novels that she took with the Harry Potter series, each one being longer than the last. Could the story have been told in a shorter page count? The answer is both yes and no. The fifth book in the series takes place over thirteen months and crams an awful lot in. The main focus is the cold case of the disappearance of Dr Margot Bamborough back in 1974. Was she killed by serial killer Dennis Creed, or had she run away and started a new life somewhere? Hired by Margot’s daughter, Strike and Robin work through the police case files and re-interview key witnesses and suspects. Alongside this the agency is working on other cases with their extended team including the Scot Barclay and the slimy new member Morris – the latter of whom develops a fixation on Robin. Alongside this Strike is dealing with the gradual death from cancer of his aunt Joan – his surrogate mother and his estranged father’s attempts to reconnect. Alongside this, his ex-girlfriend, Charlotte, has been committed to rehab due to her suicidal tendencies. Alongside this, Robin is in the late stages of her bitter divorce from Matthew. Get the picture? There’s an awful lot going on. To Rowling’s credit, her writing is so strong that the book remains a page-turner throughout its epic length. You definitely won’t get through it in two or three sittings. You will have to live with it for a while. Somehow that feels appropriate. There are many twists and turns along the way and the characters continue to develop – notably the relationship between Strike and Robin. There are ups and downs and plenty of dramatic tension. The mystery elements are immensely satisfying with Rowling juggling the complexities and intricacies with extreme skill. The clues are there for those clever enough to see them – I wasn’t. The book is highly enjoyable and not as heavy-going as the page count suggests, but don’t read it lying in bed at night, because if you start to doze you may accidentally knock yourself unconscious.

Book Review – GENESIS 3 (2020) by Robert Ellis

GENESIS 3 (2020) *****
by Robert Ellis
Published by The Rock Library, 6 October 2020, 286pp
© The Rock Library, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-9993712-2-7

GENESIS - 3Blurb: This hard back book measures 250x297mm, has 286 pages, and contains over 600 images. It is not a history or a biography. It is a collection of my photographs from the Genesis line up of Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Phil Collins. It is arranged in chronological order and spans the tours and events I was at. It begins in 1978 with ‘…and then there were three…’ and continues up to 1987 and ‘Invisible Touch’. I have unearthed a few surprises along the way that even I had forgotten. Take a colourful and spectacular journey down Genesis memory lane with me and a few fans who have contributed their stories.

Comment: Genesis 3 is a hefty photographic album aimed at die-hard Genesis fans, I received this book as a gift from my parents for my 60th birthday. Robert Ellis has delved into his archive of photographs of the band from the period 1978 to 1987 and come up with some real gems. The book covers the majority of the Tony Banks/Phil Collins/Mike Rutherford trio years, where on stage they were augmented by guitarist Daryl Stuermer and drummer Chester Thompson. Included are sessions from the band’s rehearsals for the …And Then There Were Three… shows and on the road from the subsequent tour; individual sessions with band members in 1979 during the hiatus between Three and Duke; promotional shots for the Duke album; coverage of the Abacab, Three Sides Live, Genesis and Invisible Touch rehearsals and tours. The bountiful collection of photographs is printed on hefty paper making for good quality prints and a heavy tome. Whilst it also carries a hefty price tag this wonderful book is a true collector’s item and will be a much treasured part of my band collection.

Book Review – THE MAKING OF ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (2009) by Charles Helfenstein

THE MAKING OF ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (2009) *****
by Charles Helfenstein
Published by Spies LLC, 18 December 2009, 292pp
© Charles Helfenstein, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-9844126-0-0

Blurb: Step back in time to the late 1960s, when Sean Connery resigned from playing James Bond, producers Harry Saltzman and Cubby Broccoli decided to gamble and doubled down with an untested director and an unknown star and came up with the crown jewels: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Based on years of research, hundreds of interviews, and exclusive access to the archives of author Ian Fleming, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, and director Peter Hunt, this inside look features never-before-published script details, storyboards, production documents, interviews, memos, marketing material, call sheets, and hundreds of rare, behind-the-scenes photographs of the cast and crew, including sequences and entire sets not seen in the film. From novel to script to screen, this book details the incredible journey of making the most unique entry in the James Bond film series, the longest running, most successful film franchise in history. This is not the white-washed “authorized” story, but the real story.

Comment: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is unique in many ways in the James Bond movie canon. It was the first film in which the part of Bond was recast – Sean Connery having bowed out after five films with Australian model George Lazenby taking over; it would prove to be Lazenby’s one and only performance as Bond; it would be Peter Hunt’s one and only film as director; it would be the only film in which Bond has a serious relationship and gets married. Released at the very end of the 1960s, there were rumblings that Bond may no longer be in vogue as the late 60s cultural revolution pushed cinema audiences to young and hip movies like Easy Rider. These factors led to the film getting a mixed reaction from critics and audiences. Another factor was that the Connery Bonds had become bigger and bigger and more outlandish and OHMSS was a back to basics approach, eschewing the gadgets and became the closest adaptation of one of Ian Fleming’s source novels in the series (director Hunt would always have a copy of the book with him during filming). The film, as well as Lazenby’s performance, has been re-assessed over the years and is now regarded as one of the very best in the series. Charles Helfenstein’s account of the making of OHMSS is an outstanding piece of research taking us from the novel to the scripting process to pre-production to casting to production to post-production and marketing to release and critical reception. It makes for a fascinating journey and tells the story of a director with a determined vision, a new star who was something of a maverick and a production team that put itself on the line to produce the best possible output. Helfenstein has drawn on his own interviews with cast and crew as well as archived information. The book is also packed with production photographs, trade ads, posters, lobby cards and details of marketing products. There is some detailed analysis of the various screenplays developed over a period of five years, including false starts. There is also detail of initial outlines for Diamonds Are Forever, written before Lazenby decided to withdraw from future Bonds. The result is a book that is a must for Bond fans and any movie scholar.

Book Review – DR. NO (1958) by Ian Fleming

DR. NO (1958) ****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 329pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1958
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1958
Introduction by Sam Bourne a.k.a Jonathan Freedland (10pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57692-1

Blurb: Dr Julius No is a man with a mysterious past. Nobody knows what secrets are hidden on his Caribbean island, and all those who have attempted to investigate further have disappeared. When two British agents go missing in Jamaica, Bond is sent to investigate. Battling the Doctor’s twin obsessions with power and pain, he uncovers the true nature of his opponent’s covert operation – but he must undergo a deadly assault course before he can destroy the Doctor’s plans once and for all.

Comment: This sixth novel in Fleming’s James Bond series brings the spy back from a seemingly terminal finale at the end of From Russia With Love. He is chastised by M for his choice of firearm and dispatched on a routine mission to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of two members of the Jamaica station staff – who it is believed have taken a romantic triste. Bond soon discovers there is more to the couple’s disappearance leading him to the island of Crab Key and the sinister Doctor Julius No. It is easy to see why this book was chosen to kick off the film series. It is the most fantastical novel in the series to date and also the most thrilling in terms of set pieces – notably the extended finale where Bond is subjected to an assault course designed to test human endurance of pain. Honey Rider is a Bond girl with a backstory that makes her fiercely independent and very interesting. It is understandable that Bond falls for her. Dr, No is the archetypal Bond villain, handicapped through the loss of his hands and having to use metal pincers, and his verbal jousts with Bond over dinner set a template for future Fleming novels and the film series. The book’s exotic setting, fluent writing and slick pace make this one of the strongest in the series, despite its outlandish plot.

Book Review – A SONG FOR THE DARK TIMES (2020) by Ian Rankin

A SONG FOR THE DARK TIMES (2020) ****
by Ian Rankin
First published by Orion 2020, 325pp
ISBN: 978-1-4091-7697-8
© John Rebus, Ltd., 2020
    Blurb: When his daughter Samantha calls in the dead of night, John Rebus knows it’s not good news. Her husband has been missing for two days. Rebus fears the worst – and knows from his lifetime in the police that his daughter will be the prime suspect. He wasn’t the best father – the job always came first – but now his daughter needs him more than ever. But is he going as a father or a detective? As he leaves at dawn to drive to the windswept coast – and a small town with big secrets – he wonders whether this might be the first time in his life where the truth is the one thing he doesn’t want to find…
      Comment: As has become common-place with the Rebus-in-retirement books, Rankin juggles two separate cases, in which there is hinted a connection. The first involves Rebus trying to clear his daughter’s name when her husband is found murdered, the second sees Siobhan Clark and Malcolm Fox investigating the murder of a socialite in Edinburgh. The connection is a land deal proposed for a golfing holiday site near the north west coastal village where Rebus’s daughter Samantha lives with her own young daughter. A number of other elements are woven into the story. Rebus has moved to a ground floor flat due to his respiratory condition; gangster Cafferty has a hold over the Assistant Chief Constable when he comes across photos of her husband in an affair. Cafferty is also dealing with the prospect of his empire coming to an end and the book closes with some uncertainty on this. The two central mysteries are played out in familiar fashion and offer nothing really new beyond the background of a  WWII POW camp that was being studied by Samantha’s husband. The real delight, as ever, is in the familiar characters and their interactions. Rebus is at his abrasive best as he tussles with the local police. Clark and Fox’s working relationship continues to be tainted by their mistrust of each other. Cafferty is portrayed as an increasingly lonely figure relying on his past reputation. The page count is relatively and refreshingly brief, leading to an efficiently told story. There is still more to be said in this series and I look forward greatly to see where Rankin takes his characters next.

The Rebus Series:
Knots and Crosses (1987) ***
Hide and Seek (1991) ***
Tooth and Nail (original title Wolfman) (1992) ***
Strip Jack (1992) ***½
The Black Book (1993) ***
Mortal Causes (1994) ***
Let it Bleed (1996) ****
Black and Blue (1997) ****½
The Hanging Garden (1998) ****
Dead Souls (1999) ****
Set in Darkness (2000) ****
The Falls (2001) ****
Resurrection Men (2002) ****
A Question of Blood (2003) ****
Fleshmarket Close (2004) ****
The Naming of the Dead (2006)  ****½
Exit Music (2007) ****
Standing in Another Man’s Grave (2012) ***½
Saints of the Shadow Bible (2013) ***
Even Dogs in the Wild (2015) ****
Rather Be the Devil (2016) ***½
In a House of Lies (2018) ***½
A Song for the Dark Times (2020) ****

Book Review – FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1957) by Ian Fleming

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1957) ****½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 356pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1957
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1957
Introduction by Tom Rob Smith (7pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57689-1

Blurb: A beautiful Soviet spy. A brand-new Spektor cipher machine. SMERSH has set an irresistible trap that threatens the entire Secret Service. In Fleming’s fifth 007 novel Bond finds himself enmeshed in a deadly game of cross and double cross.

Comment: This fifth novel in Fleming’s James Bond series sees the author flexing his literary muscles and experiment with structure. The result is his most satisfying book to this point. The story is split into two sections. The first deals with the development of SMERSH’s plot to discredit the British secret service through James Bond. It introduces the characters of Rosa Klebb, SMERSH’s head of operations, who is a loathsome manipulator; Red Grant, SMERSH’s assassin; Kronsteen, master chess player and key strategist; and Tatiana Romanova, the instrument of the Russian plot. This section takes up the first third of the book and painstakingly fleshes out each of the characters and their motivations. The second section deals with the execution of the Russian plot. Bond meets Darko Kerim, allied head of operations in Istanbul, and Kerim is the strongest and most likeable character in the book. The book really picks up from here, with the girl fight and shootout in the gypsy camp scene a highlight. Bond and Tania’s escape on the Orient Express builds in tension as the Russians and Grant close in. Then the final showdown between Bond and Klebb ends the book on a cliffhanger. There were rumours that Fleming had tired of his creation and was looking for a way out, fortunately that was not the case and Bond returned in DR. NO. The book was reported as one of President John F. Kennedy’s top 10, which kicked off the series’ popularity in the US. The 1963 film adaptation added elements, but stuck to Fleming’s core plot and characters and resulted in one of the strongest films in the series.

Book Review – GENESIS – 1967 TO 1975: THE PETER GABRIEL YEARS (2020) by Mario Giammetti

GENESIS – 1967 TO 1975: THE PETER GABRIEL YEARS (2020) ****½
by Mario Giammetti
This paperback edition published by Kingmaker Publishing, 2020, 252pp
First published in Italy by Giunti Editore, 2013
© Mario Giammetti, 2013/2020
ISBN: 978-1-913218-62-1

Blurb: The definitive biography of the early years of one the world’s greatest rock bands! The book contains numerous exclusive interviews with band members and with all the important personalities who were part of the story of Genesis between 1967 and 1975. Features a number photographs which have never been published previously, plus interviews carried out with individual members of Genesis during listen through of each of the band’s first six albums. Mario Giammetti is an Italian music journalist with over 30 years experience. He has written for numerous leading Italian music magazines. In 1991 he founded Dusk (www.dusk.it) the only printed magazine in the world dedicated to Genesis. He has written 14 books related to the world of Genesis. Genesis 1967 to 1975: The Peter Gabriel Years is his first book to be published in English.

Comment:  This is the English language release of Mario Giammetti’s biography/chronicle of the period of Genesis’ history when Peter Gabriel fronted the band. It covers the band’s transition from schoolboy songwriters at Charterhouse Public School to becoming one of the top progressive rock acts of the 1970s. For many older fans of the band this is the so-called “classic” period encompassing six studio albums and an extensive touring programme. Although billed as a “biography” the book largely focuses on the music. It draws extensively on interviews with each of the band members and their associates, conducted by the author and Mike Kaufman (the latter extended from those included in the 2006-8 remix box set Extras DVDs) over the period 2000 to 2015 – so there is a small amount of new material to update the Italian language version published seven years ago.  Giammetti’s book makes for a fascinating read and unearths a lot of new detail (to those unfamiliar with the Italian language) around the writing and recording of each of the band’s albums during this period. Three of the band members (Tony Banks, Steve Hackett and Anthony Phillips) were also involved in listening sessions with the author on the albums, so were able to offer fresh perspectives on the material. For me (having recently completed my own book on the band’s output) this was the most interesting part of the book and there were a number of new details I discovered as a result. The book is well organised chronologically by album and tour and handsomely illustrated, with a number of rare photos. For a Genesis fan – particularly of that period in the band’s history – this is a must. It stands proudly alongside Armando Gallo’s classic I Know What I Like and the band’s own Chapter & Verse in its coverage and the insights it offers.  The book ends with the words “To be continued” and I eagerly look forward to part two of the story. I hope too that Giammetti’s other output on the band and its members gets the translation treatment on the back of this excellent book.

Book Review – WRONG LIGHT (2018) by Matt Coyle

WRONG LIGHT (2018) ***½
by Matt Coyle
This paperback edition published by Oceanview Publishing, 2018, 338pp
© Matt Coyle, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-60809-329-8

Blurb: Naomi Hendrix’s sexy voice hovering over the radio waves isn’t the only thing haunting the Southern California nights. A demented soul is stalking Naomi, hiding in the shadows of the night, waiting for the right moment to snatch her and fulfill a twisted fantasy. When Naomi’s radio station hires PI Rick Cahill to protect Naomi and track down the stalker, he discovers that Naomi is hiding secrets about her past that could help unmask the man. However, before Rick can extract the truth from Naomi, he is thrust into a missing person’s case–an abduction he may have unwittingly caused. The investigating detective questions Rick’s motives for getting involved and pressures him to stop meddling. While Rick pursues Naomi’s stalker and battles the police, evil ricochets from his own past and embroils Rick in a race to find the truth about an old nemesis. Is settling the score worth losing everything?

Comment:  This is the fifth book in Matt Coyle’s Rick Cahill series, but it is the first that I have read. It is a dark noir-ish novel which gives Private detective Cahill two unconnected cases to juggle – an unusual, but not unique, approach in a first-person PI novel. Coyle actually juggles the two stories pretty well, blending the action and key characters without confusing the reader. The primary case, concerning a female DJ being stalked is the more traditional, whilst the secondary case – involving the Russian Mafia and a hold they have over Cahill – refers back to events from previous books and readers would perhaps benefit in approaching this series from the beginning. That said, there is enough background provided to ensure you can also approach the book as a standalone. Cahill is a flawed hero and his manipulation of the few friends he has leaves him as something of a loner. The novel moves at a cracking pace and remains engaging throughout with many twists and turns – some that can be foreseen others that shock. As such the book challenges the reader at every turn. This can be both a positive and a negative in that it feels at times that Coyle is trying to be too clever and by doing so the reader can occasionally anticipate his next twist because they know not to take things at face value. The two plots run at different paces. The stalker plot line is almost text book mystery right up until its shocking conclusion. The Russian Mafia subsidiary plot line mixes the mystery element of the nature of the Russian Mob’s operation, in which they embroil Cahill, with action thriller elements of many a big screen crime thriller. Taken separately both would make for a very readable book. Blended together they at times make for an overly frenetic narrative that stretches credulity – not in the nature of the situations but in the way in which the police and FBI deal with them and Cahill seemingly can operate for days without much sleep. All said and done, I really enjoyed the book despite its over-ambition and look forward to seeing where Coyle takes Cahill next.