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).