As a New Year’s resolution, I began the year with what seemed to me to be a doable commitment to start and finish several series that were on my TBR (to be read) list. First and foremost were the Sue Grafton Kinsey Millhone alphabet series, an Amy Cross Mass Extinction Event series and the Veronica Roth Divergent books. Sometime along the way, Amazon offered to sell me the entire Ian Fleming James Bond book collection (12 novels and 2 short story anthologies) for 98 cents each. I regret nothing. I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in these worlds.
In considering what I wanted to contribute to the blog for Remember September in the area of my Reading Sanctum, I immediately decided I wanted to talk about the James Bond from the books. The James Bond from the books is considerably different from the one most people know in the movies. James Bond from the books is anachronistic. Consider, if you will, that Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale was published in 1953. Obviously, a lot has changed in the intervening years.
Remember September is our nostalgia month. This month, we wanted to focus on works that are older than 21 years. In other words, things from the previous century: movies, TV shows, comic books, games, and books. James Bond fits this theme.
Casino Royale is the first of the series, introducing the readers to a James Bond, distinct from the cinematic version. Sure, he is arrogant, but he is also debonair. Misogynistic? OK, but he is noble, too. Ultimately, he is tortured and requires assistance in order to survive the travail. In the movies, he rarely requires assistance. In fact, in the movies he is usually a one-man wrecking crew rarely sustaining an injury he can not shake off.
In this oddly paced novel, there are whole chapters where 007 is enrapt in a strategic card game of baccarat. He loses the card game, but only when Felix Leiter gives him a fresh infusion of funds does he return to the table to destroy Le Chiffre, taking 80 million francs from SMERSH. Le Chiffre is none too happy, knowing that by losing this money, he has signed his death sentence.
I can see the genesis of our intrepid hero in this historic, ground-breaking work published circa 1953. SMERSH? What, no SPECTRE? Aww! Still, my nostalgia goggles were going nuts, so I have to temper with a middle of the road rating. I am not in love with this character who is infinitely more fallible than the Bond cinema audiences have watched and grown to love.
Live and Let Die is the second James Bond novel. It was written by Ian Fleming in 1954 and amazingly it has a 1970s blaxploitation feel. The novel moves from Harlem, to Florida, then Jamaica. On the other hand, the movie that uses this book as its source material transpires in the 1970s with a similar backdrop but instead of Florida it substitutes New Orleans and the French quarter.
One might think that the movie contributed to my interpretation of this novel, but the reality is that the novel has some very distinct voodoo elements that can not be denied. The villainous Mr. Big is worthy of being called a Bond villain. The lovely Solitaire is worthy of being a Bond “girl.” She may or may not have psychic power. Live and Let Die is heavy on the misogyny and the “n-word.” So trigger warning for all that would find it offensive.
Just recognize that the book was written in a different era. Much of what was acceptable back then is not acceptable now. I rate the book as a relic to be enjoyed. Quarrel is a very likeable black character that is supposed to serve as an offset to the other stereotypical ethnic characters. He teaches 007 some important things about marine biology. I made my caveats, so if you read this novel, you have been warned. Still and all, it is a very entertaining read.
Moonraker by Ian Fleming is the third James Bond novel. Before reading this, anyone should take note that this was written in the 1950s with the sensibility of the day, where misogyny and strict gender roles were just beginning to change, as well as the increase of cold war era disdain for the Russians. If these concepts trigger you, then avoid reading Bond books. In some ways, there is an antiquated mindset pervasive throughout the books, but again if this is going to make you uncomfortable: avoid the book.
There are some really magnificent touches in this novel. Agent 007 communicates that he is one of only three 00s currently active and double O eleven is one of his pals. After spending his morning on the gun range, he goes to the office to interact with the secretary of the 00s, review files, read and sign a file of new policies and procedures, and meet with M. The beginning of this novel is a view of pre-secret agenting that is so mundane that it provided a great deal of food for thought that I devoured.
The major part of the story revolves around a wealthy British patriot looking to get a rocket into space, and his suspicious ways. Hugo Drax is an intriguing and memorable character, because not only is he brilliant, but he is thought of as an innovator, the first man to get the British into space with a rocket. It plays upon 1950s fears of the space race, nuclear annihilation, Soviet communism, Nazism, and the threat from within common to the fiction of the day. Also here Bond is colder toward Gala Brand who is a professional investigator that appears immune to Bond’s charms.
Diamonds are Forever is the fourth of the series published in 1956. The year is relevant because it can not be judged (IMHO) with a modern eye. These books must be judged in the context of their historical milieu. Are these books misogynistic and racially insensitive? To a modern reader, quite possibly, but bear in mind it was published in Great Britain circa 1956.
Tiffany Case is an okay Bond girl / Bond woman. Felix Leiter returns! Yay! He is a shadow of himself in some ways, but still it’s great to witness his return. I love the character. Bond versus the mob, infiltrating a diamond cartel with a mostly not-present leader. Good, but not great middle-of-the-road. Bond is again taken to the woodshed and gets beaten to a pulp. He will require more time to recuperate. I think this one leaves a lot to be desired.
On this down note, I will leave it. There are better novels coming, but of the first four Live and Let Die and Moonraker are the standouts. Casino Royale and Diamonds Are Forever are the weaker ones.
As always, I thank you for reading what we write. If you disagree or agree, leave a comment. Tell me why. See ya, later. Peace.