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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1956) by Ian Fleming

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1956) ***½
by Ian Fleming
Diamonds Are Forever - Ian FlemingThis paperback edition published by Vintage, 2012, 309pp
First published by Jonathan Cape in 1956
© Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., 1956
Introduction by Giles Foden (13pp)
ISBN: 978-0-099-57688-4

Blurb: The Spangled Mob are no ordinary American gangsters. They prey on the addictions of the wealthy and treat the poor as collateral. Their ruthless desire for power and fierce brotherly loyalty make them deadly and invincible. James Bond must go deep undercover in his urgent new assignment: to destroy their millionaire masterminds, Jack and Seraffimo Spang. But the Spangs’ cruel influence is everywhere, from dusty African diamond mines to the frenzied gambling dens of Las Vegas. Can Bond find his men before his cover is blown?

Comment: This fourth novel in Fleming’s James Bond series is better than I remember. Whilst the plot is fairly basic in Bond’s assignment to link the pipeline of diamond smuggling from its source to distribution, it moves at a good pace and is never dull. The villains. the Spangled Mob, are merely violent gangsters controlling the gambling casinos in Las Vegas as well as the diamond operation. Their methods are basic. We learn a bit more about Bond through his interaction with Tiffany Case – a sympathetic character with a dark history. We also learn why Bond has never married and get confirmation of his loyalty to his service. The action set pieces are good – although this time the torture of Bond by Spang’s henchmen takes place “off-screen”. There is a good locomotive chase and the first finale on board the Queen Elizabeth liner is exciting. Whilst not in the series’ top drawer it is on a par with Live and Let Die as a fast-moving action thriller.