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Book Review: Dr. No, by Ian Fleming


Dr. No

Published in 1958, 240 pages

M calls this case a "soft option". He sends Bond to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of the head of the Kingston station. Jamaica is luxurious, and the seductive Honey Rider is beautiful and willing, but they are both part of the empire of Dr. No.

Bond discovers that Dr. No is working with the Russians, and that they have supplied him with several million dollars worth of equipment to sabotage nearby American missile tests. The doctor is a worthy adversary, with a mind as hard and cold as his solid steel hands and an obsession for power. His only gifts are strictly pain-shaped.

In which my love of Bond suffers a blow, akin to the blows of my head against the desk.Collapse )

Verdict: Contemporary readers will find all of the Bond novels very much products of their time, and either you can overlook that and enjoy them for what they are or you can't. However, Dr. No has all the worst qualities of Fleming's writing and very little of the best. Lard halp me, I still enjoyed it, but I was cringing more than I usually do, and I would not recommend this book unless you're either a die-hard Bond fan or you just want to have a good long sneer.

Also by Ian Fleming: My reviews of Casino Royale, From Russia With Love, and Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories.

Book Review: Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming

Britain's biggest dick is almost unmanned.

Casino Royale

First published 1953, 192 pages.

Introducing James Bond: charming, sophisticated, handsome, chillingly ruthless, and licensed to kill. This, the first of Ian Fleming's tales of secret agent 007, finds Bond on a mission to neutralize a lethal, high-rolling Russian operative called "Le Chiffre" by ruining him at the Baccarat table, forcing his Soviet spymasters to "retire" him.

It seems that lady luck has sided with 007 when Le Chiffre hits a losing streak. But some people just refuse to play by the rules, and Bond's attraction to a beautiful female agent leads him to disaster...and to an unexpected savior.

"The bitch is dead." Oh, Bond, you charmer you.Collapse )

Verdict: If you've seen the movie, none of the plot twists in the book will surprise you, but reading Casino Royale is still a different experience than watching it on film. James Bond is what he is - a big, swinging dick - but Fleming's got a knack for stylish storytelling, so if writing that is about as politically incorrect as you can get without being John Norman doesn't turn you off, I'll cheerfully recommend the Bond novels as spy thrillers that don't bear too much thinking about.

Also by Ian Fleming: My reviews of Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories and From Russia with Love.

Casino Royale is on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (most likely for its cultural significance rather than its literary value). If you found my review too positive, dorian_mauve gave it a delightfully snarky, scathing review for books1001.
One-line summary: SMERSH wants James Bond dead, and baits a honeytrap with a hot decoding device and a hot cipher clerk.

Published in 1957, 256 pages

Every major foreign government organization has a file on British secret agent James Bond. Now, Russia's lethal SMERSH organization has targeted him for elimination. SMERSH is the Soviet organ of vengeance, interrogation, torture, and death. James Bond is dedicated to the destruction of its agents wherever he finds them.

Far away in Moscow, SMERSH has laid a death-trap for Bond with an enticing lure: the irresistible Tatiana Romanova, who lures 007 to Istanbul promising the top-secret Spektor cipher machine. But when Bond walks willingly into the trap, a game of cross and double-cross ensues -- with Bond both the stakes and the prize.

007 novels are not high literature, but they aren"t as trashy as you think. Okay, they are pretty trashy. But they"re not bad.Collapse )

Verdict: If you like James Bond films, you should read the books, because they're just as fun and have better stories. If you think the Bond films are misogynistic tripe, well, the books aren't any better. From Russia with Love is a quick and entertaining Cold War spy story, and while it's the fifth Bond novel, there's no need to read the previous ones; Bond is as unchanging as Superman.

See also my review of Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories.

I've seen every James Bond movie, but like most people who've grown up with the movies, I'd never read any of the books. When Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories popped up for sale on Audible.com, I decided to give it a try, and I'm glad I did. This book consists of nine James Bond short stories, all written in the early sixties. Each one is a compact little thriller, fun to read/listen to, but definitely not meant to engage the brain on any deeper level.

Ian Fleming's writing is surprisingly good: taut, masculine, and beautifully detailed. The settings, from London to New York to Italy to Jamaica, are generously, lavishly described, and as befits James Bond, Fleming lingers over all the finer things in life: clothes, cars, drinks, cigarettes, guns, women, etc.

Yes, "women, etc." Let's not forget these were stories written to grace the pages of Playboy. They're horribly sexist, and not a little racist as well. Bond is unapologetically misogynistic and Britain is unapologetically imperialist, but they're still the good guys because it's the height of the Cold War and the Russians are still the biggest, baddest villains around.

If you can get past the fact that the stories are a product of their time, you'll find that Fleming's Bond is actually a rather different creature than the Hollywood Bond. First of all, there are no high-tech gadgets: no laser cigarette lighters or cars with missile launchers. Bond's enemies are KGB agents, snipers, smugglers, and the like, not evil genius madmen with schemes for world domination. And while in the movies, Bond kills people right and left like he's swatting flies, in the stories, he's a much more reluctant killer. He doesn't like it when his job forces him to kill someone. He's also more reflective, and several of the stories contain relatively little action. Which is not to say he's more sensitive than the movie Bond, or even a particularly nice guy; he isn't. He's just a highly trained agent with a job to do, and his own code of morality.

The stories in this collection consist of the following:

From a View to a Kill
For Your Eyes Only
Quantum of Solace
The Hildebrand Rarity
The Property of a Lady
The Living Daylights
007 in New York

Most of those titles will look familiar. Don't expect anything else to be; in most cases, the movie by the same name had absolutely nothing to do with the original story. For example, there isn't any female character at all in Octopussy, and Bond himself only makes a brief appearance. Quantum of Solace isn't about a 007 mission at all; it's Bond listening to a British governor tell him a story about two other people. (This is much less boring than it sounds.)

If you like Bond, especially if you've only ever been exposed to the movies, I definitely recommend this book as a little treat that doesn't require the investment of reading one of the full novels. Also, the narrator for the audiobook version has the perfect dry English accent for James Bond (though his renditions of American and Canadian accents are a bit comical, and the Jamaican and Chinese characters will make you wince).

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