Book Review – YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1964) by Ian Fleming

YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1964) ***½
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 320pp (288pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1964
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1964
Introduction by Tony Parsons (10pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57698-3
Blurb: You only live twice: Once when you are born And once when you look death in the face’ Doctor Guntram Shatterhand’s “Garden of Death” is a magnet for suicides from all over Japan. James Bond – grief-stricken and erratic – must kill him to save his career in the Service. But as Shatterhand’s true identity is revealed, Bond is forced to confront his past, in Ian Fleming’s twelfth 007 adventure.
Comment: Fleming’s twelfth Bond book was the last he fully completed before he died on 12 August 1964 (The Man With the Golden Gun was still being edited at the time of his death). The book is perhaps the darkest of all the Bond novels. Bond is initially a shadow of his former self as he continues to grieve the death of his wife, Tracy, nine months on. M is prepared to give Bond a final chance and sends him on an “almost impossible” emissary mission in order to obtain access to Japanese knowledge of US and Russian activity via their MAGIC 44 device. In return the head of the Japanese Secret Service, Tiger Tanaka, seeks Bond’s help in ridding the country of the mysterious Dr. Shatterhand, who has built a castle of death – its gardens containing poisonous vegetation and a lake filled with piranha – aimed at helping people who wish to commit an honourable suicide. Much of the book is taken in introducing Bond to Japanese customs and comparing them with those of the West. The detail of Fleming’s research is admirable, but these early sections tend to drag, despite building up excellent characterisations of both Tanaka and Bond. The book comes alive once Bond has agreed to Tanaka’s request for help and becomes a Japanese fisherman in order to gain access to the castle from the sea cliffs. The final section in Shatterhand’s lair is both tense and shocking. The grisly deaths of some of Shatterhand’s “followers” are truly harrowing.  The novel finishes in a surprising way that leaves the reader wondering where Fleming would take Bond next. Overall, this is a mixed bag, which some may find a slog initially, but the final chapters are worth it and contain Fleming’s most fantastical setting to date.

Book Review – ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1963) by Ian Fleming

ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1963) *****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 368pp (339pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1963
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1963
Introduction by Stella Rimington (7pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57697-6
Blurb: Ernst Stavro Blofeld, head of the terrorist organization SPECTRE, is holed up in his Alpine base, conducting research into a terrifying biological weapon. 007’s mission is to gain access to Blofeld’s icy retreat and gather information vital to guaranteeing world safety. A new alliance with the troubled daughter of the head of the French mafia offers 007 the chance to bring down his nemesis once and for all – but will Bond be prepared to pay the ultimate price for victory?
Comment: Fleming’s eleventh Bond novel was a landmark for the series. It was the first novel Fleming had published after the release of the first Bond film Dr. No (1962) – indeed the novel has a sly reference when actress Ursula Andress is spotted at Piz Gloria; it made reference to Bond’s childhood and his Scottish/Swiss parentage and gives us much more insight into his character; and it sees Bond find the love of his life in Tracy. It also has the most exciting action sequences in the series with Bond’s escape on skis from Piz Gloria, Blofeld’s alpine base, and the final assault and bob sleigh chase breathlessly conveyed. The opening chapters also have a great deal of introspection on Bond’s part, he even considers resigning from the service, as he becomes knight-errant for the suicidal Tracy. The plot deftly mixes Bond’s relationship with Tracy and her father Marc-Ange Draco, who is head of a crime syndicate, with the tracking down of Blofeld and the uncovering, undercover, of his latest plot involving bacterial terrorism delivered through the hypnosis treatment of ten young female allergy victims. Fleming is at the top of his game as he skilfully weaves the story elements together into a satisfying whole, with its shattering conclusion.

Book Review – THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1962) by Ian Fleming

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1962) ***
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 237pp (212pp)
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1962
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1962
Introduction by Douglas Kennedy (8pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57696-9
Blurb: ‘You take a wrong step, play the wrong card in Fate’s game, and you’re lost in a world you had never imagined, against which you have no weapons. No compass.’ Vivienne Michel is running away – from pain, from rejection, from humiliation. When she stumbles into a criminal plot, her life seems over…until a chance encounter with James Bond turns her world upside down.
Comment: Fleming’s tenth James Bond novel is a bold experiment in that it tells its story entirely from the point of view of a female character. The book is written in the first-person allowing Fleming to relate the experiences of Vivienne Michel and how her life is changed by her meeting James Bond. Split into three parts: the first exploring Viv’s life in England leading up to her job at the remote Dreamy Pines motel in the north eastern corner of the USA; the second introduces the two gangsters who would terrorise Viv as she is left in sole charge of the motel pending an end-of-season handover to the owner; the third part introduces James Bond as her saviour and the man who influences her life pathway choices going forward. Whilst the first part is necessary to let us understand Viv’s character, it feels a tad overlong, but the story picks up considerably with the arrival of Sluggsy and Horror at the motel. Then seeing Bond through another pair of eyes is an  interesting diversion, but adds little to Bond as a character that we don’t already know. As such the novel feels more of a diversion – a short story expanded into a novel. The insurance scam plot is simple and slight and only Viv as a character gets any colour due to the nature of the approach. Sluggsy and Horror are given dialogue that could have come out of any 1930s gangster movie. As a diversion it is and interesting, but flawed, experiment that is an entertaining read. Fleming returned to his more traditional writing format for the rest of the series.

Book Review – THUNDERBALL (1961) by Ian Fleming

THUNDERBALL(1961) ****
by Ian Fleming
This paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 372pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1961
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1961
Introduction by MIchael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (5pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57695-2
Blurb: ‘He was one of those men – one meets perhaps only two or three in a lifetime – who seem almost to suck the eyes out of your head. He was their Supreme Commander – almost their god’ SPECTRE is a merciless new enemy – a group of the world’s toughest criminals, headed by the brilliant Ernst Stavro Blofeld. When two NATO atom bombs go missing, Bond must unravel SPECTRE’s intricate plans and prevent a global catastrophe.
Comment: Fleming’s ninth James Bond novel is unique in that it is based on an original screenplay Fleming had developed with Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ivar Bryce and Ernest Cuneo. It became the subject of a long, drawn-out legal battle when Fleming’s novel appeared without any acknowledgement of the contribution of the others involved. The result was a court ruling that gave story credit to the three main writers, which meant all future publications of the novel carried the following credit: “This story is based on a film treatment by K. McClory, J. Whittingham and Ian Fleming.” McClory would also retain film rights to the subject matter following Fleming’s death in 1964, which resulted in a deal with Eon productions to film the novel for release in 1965 (originally planned as the first Bond movie but held up by the legal wrangle). The legal battle between Eon and McClory re-emerged in the 1970s with McClory claiming copyright ownership of SPECTRE and the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, both introduced in Thunderball. This resulted in McClory’s ill-received remake, Never Say Never Again, in 1983 row which Sean Connery was lured back for one last bow as 007.
Fleming’s novel, meanwhile, is an excellent spy adventure coasting on all the elements that made the series popular. Whilst his use of coincidence (the Shrublands meeting with Count Lippe and his bumping into Domino in the Bahamas) as a story advancement technique, may be questionable, it ensures the plot moves quickly. The Bahamas setting is exotic and the characters are strong. Emilio Largo has a conceit that proves to be his undoing, when he brings his mistress – the feisty Domino Vitali – with him on atomic bomb salvage and extortion operation. The introduction of SPECTRE, a criminal super-organisation, and its leader Blofeld creates an added threat and a chief villain with gravitas and charisma who would return in two further novels. The underwater fight climax is thrillingly written and exciting. The story does seem to wrap up remarkably quickly after this and leaves the reader with a feeling of a lack of closure, with Blofeld and SPECTRE remaining at large, but that was understandable given the options this would give Fleming moving forward. In summary, whilst not quite the peak of Bond’s literary adventures, Thunderball is still enjoyable escapism and an important watershed in the series.

Book Review – ANTHRAX ISLAND (2021) by D.L. MARSHALL

ANTHRAX ISLAND (2021) ****½
by D.L. Marshall
This paperback edition published by Canelo, 2021, 342pp
© D.L. Marshall, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-80032-275-2

Blurb: FACT: In 1942, in growing desperation at the progress of the war and fearing invasion by the Nazis, the UK government approved biological weapons tests on British soil. Their aim: to perfect an anthrax weapon destined for Germany. They succeeded. FACT: Though the attack was never launched, the testing ground, Gruinard Island, was left lethally contaminated. It became known as Anthrax Island. Now government scientists have returned to the island. They become stranded by an equipment failure and so John Tyler is flown in to fix the problem. He quickly discovers there’s more than research going on. When one of the scientists is found impossibly murdered inside a sealed room, Tyler realises he’s trapped with a killer…

Comment: The debut novel of D.L. Marshall mixes the ingredients of an Alistair MacLean adventure with a locked-room mystery,  a James Bond spy caper and the group paranoia of John Carpenter’s The Thing (to which the author adds an overt nod on page 83 ). All great influences and all blend together to create a highly enjoyable page-turning thriller. Marshall’s story is told from a first-person perspective by the hero, mercenary spy John Tyler, who is transported onto the titular island under the guise of a technician to repair a faulty protective door unit. The group of scientists working on the island are testing for remnant samples of experiments undertaken secretly during WWII. The death of Tyler’s supposed predecessor is followed by others and the group quickly become distrustful of Tyler and each other, whilst the discovery of a new strain of the deadly anthrax attracts international interest. Marshall takes us through many twists and turns in his mazy plot and the tension builds as the paranoia amongst the group increases. Marshall’s prose style is fluid and engaging. Tyler as a character feels real and human and has depth along with a personal motivation which unfolds throughout the story. Writing the novel in the first-person Marshall succeeds in elevating the “whodunnit” elements of the plot allowing the reader to unravel the mystery along with the protagonist. Marshall keeps a trick or two up his sleeve right up to the story’s protracted denouement, which veers off into more traditional action movie tropes in the final chapters. That said, this remains a hugely impressive and thoroughly enjoyable read that promises great things for the intended series.

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.