Showing posts with label James Bond. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Bond. Show all posts

Thursday, May 5, 2022

James Bond #04 - Diamonds Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever is the fourth installment of Ian Fleming's wildly successful James Bond series of spy-thrillers. It was originally published by Jonathan Cape in the U.K. in 1956. The novel's central theme is diamond smuggling, a criminal operation that intrigued Fleming enough to not only use it as a plot, but also a non-fiction book he wrote in 1957, The Dimaond Smugglers. In 1971, the novel was adapted into the seventh James Bond film. 

In the book's opening chapters, Bond and his superior M engage in a deep discussion about the diamond industry. At the time, England was importing diamonds from Africa and then selling large amounts to various international companies and countries. It made up a large percentage of the country's income and represented what would ultimately be one of the largest diamond exporting operations. One of the largest buyers, House of Diamonds, has reduced their purchases of English diamonds, creating a financial gap in the Brits lucrative business. 

It's explained that House of Diamonds is a legitimate business owned and controlled by an American mob family named The Spangs. M, and the Special Branch, suspect that a criminal element has been introduced which is creating the rift. House of Diamonds surely must be obtaining their diamonds by smuggling them in at a cheaper price. M wants Bond to investigate the operation by infiltrating the smuggling ring into New York and Las Vegas under the disguise of a common burglar named Peter Franks. He wants Bond to engage in the job and then converse with a woman named Tiffany Case, one of the gang members involved in the smuggling.  

Bond's journey is quite epic, first beginning in New York to retrieve the smuggling money owed on the latest smuggle. His payer is a gang leader named Shady Tree. He explains that their operation doesn't just pay out the full payment for security reasons. To fulfill his payout to Bond, aka Peter Franks, he orchestrates a number of rigged gambling ventures that will produce fragmented payments. The first payout is an exciting stretch at a rigged horse race in Saratoga. Then, a rigged blackjack game in Las Vegas dealt by Tiffany. But, Bond flips the score and pays off the jockey to disrupt the payoff and then wins too much money at blackjack.

If I provide anything else pertaining to the story, it's going to provoke you to skip Ian Fleming and just read me. I'd never forgive myself. Here's the thing, read Diamonds Are Forever if you want to see Bond deeply entrenched in hardboiled danger. Fleming throws everything but the kitchen sink at readers: intrigue on a ship, danger in the desert, a train-car chase, torture, romance, and gunplay. The chemistry between Tiffany and Bond was perfect with both needing something from each other. Former American CIA agent Felix Leiter returns to this book and I found his addition to the story effective. My only real complaint is the “cowboy” appearance of one of the Spangs and the longer than necessary ending. Otherwise, Bond absolutely wins again. Recommended. 

Buy the book HERE.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

James Bond #03 - Moonraker

James Bond's third series installment, Moonraker, was first published in the U.K. as a hardcover by Cape on April 5, 1955. Macmillan published the U.S. edition on September 20, 1955, followed by Pan Books publishing a paperback edition in the U.K. a month later. In December of 1955, Permabooks published a paperback version in the U.S. under the title Too Hot to Handle. In 1979, the book's title was used for the eleventh James Bond film and the fourth appearance of Roger Moore as the Secret Service hero and heartthrob. The film's production company, Eon Productions, authorized Christopher Wood to write a novelization of the film, which was published under the title James Bond and Moonraker (a bestseller that I've heard is quite terrible). 

In Moonraker, Fleming begins by providing a more intimate look at Bond's day-to-day activities. Readers gain a peek into his home, his routines, and his official desk assignments when he isn't globetrotting to extinguish international fires. It's shown that Bond is having affairs with three married women, works a desk schedule of 10 to 6, and likes to play cards in the evenings with friends. 

Fleming reveals that Bond uses a stimulant known as Benzedrine to stay awake and alert, and even combines the amphetamine with champagne. It was also,interesting to watch his habit of sprinkling black pepper on the surface of vodka. 

It is all of these things that further connected me to the character. I also found it fascinating that Bond was contemplating how many more assignments he has to complete before he can retire. He even fathoms how many will introduce the real possibility of his own death. It was written in such a poignant way that made me sympathize with him. Personally, I felt that his characteristics from Casino Royale were further enhanced by this novel. The idea that he wants to move on and have a normal existence is re-visited at the beginning and ending of Moonraker, leaving an emotional impact on readers.

Down to business, M approaches Bond about a personal favor, sort of an “off the record” assignment. He wants Bond to join him at an exclusive gentleman's club called Blades to play poker with a wealthy entrepreneur named Hugo Drax. M suspects Drax is cheating, but wants Bond to discover his method. This segment of the novel includes intense rounds of bridge as Bond verifies Drax's cheating and beats him with a stacked deck of cards, winning seven times his annual salary. All of this is important because the narrative focuses on Bond and Drax's working relationship later.

Bond's official assignment comes to fruition when a Ministry of Supply security officer is fatally shot in a facility housing England's first nuclear missile. This missile has been created by Drax's company and is to take flight as a demo version for England and foreign powers. Bond is assigned as the security officer's replacement in an effort to determine what's going on. I found his investigation hard-boiled and edgy, culminating in a high-speed chase between Bond and Drax's crew from the town of Deal to London. Of course, it wouldn't be a Bond novel without the inclusion of a beautiful co-worker named Brand. 

Moonraker is rather unique due to its settings. The entire novel takes place in and around London, with a focus on atmosphere as Bond is centralized on the sprawling White Cliffs of Dover, the countryside, and the battering of the North Sea and the English Channel. There's a sense of isolation as Bond gazes at the ocean at night, listening for the ship's foghorns and spotting a beacon. I felt that this, combined with Bond's lonely position in the book's last pages, added a sense of solitude to the story. 

Drax's backstory of his rise to criminality, war atrocities, and his fevered attempts to destroy London paired nicely with Bond's “do or die” mission. There's violence, sexiness, thrills, car chases, shootouts, and the pesky Russians to keep the pages moving at a brisk pace. The storytelling improved drastically from the rather average prior installment, Live and Let Die. While that book was action-packed, it came  across a bit campy when compared to the series debut in Casino Royale. Ian Fleming is all business in Moonraker, making it a fan favorite among James Bond fans. Recommended! 

Get the book HERE.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

James Bond #02 - Live and Let Die

British author Ian Fleming created what is generally believed to be the most popular secret agent of all time, James Bond. The series began in 1953 with Casiono Royale, an origin novel that introduced Bond's continuous war with Russia's counterespionage agency SMERSH. Nearly a year after Casino Royale's publication, Live and Let Die was released. It's the second novel in the James Bond series and features many elements that were dissected and added to the Bond films For Your Eyes Only (1981) and License to Kill (1989). 

In Live and Let Die, Bond is ordered by M to investigate a villain named Buonaparte Ignace Gallia, otherwise known as "Mr. Big". The dense plot has Mr. Big as an African-American voodoo priest utilizing 17th century gold coins to fund operations for SMERSH. In the opening chapters, Bond's investigation leads him to Harlem, New York.

Partnering with CIA agent Felix Leiter (who also starred in Casino Royale), Bond locates Mr. Big in a lavish nightclub. But, the two are quickly captured by the villain and Bond finds himself being tortured by Mr. Big while having his fortune read by a beautiful woman named Solitaire. After Bond's finger is brutally broken, the British agent and Felix manage to escape. But once they arrive in St. Petersburg, Florida to search for Mr. Big's warehouses, Fleming escalates the violence and tension. In a horrifying manor, Felix is written out of the book (and possibly the series) and Bond gains an assist from Solitaire in fighting the vile villain. 

I challenge anyone to say this is a worthy sequel to Casino Royale. While I didn't hate the book, I found it to be absurd even in the often wacky world of fictional espionage. Mr. Big is a strange villain and the book's multiple locales warranted a more epic storyline. Instead, Bond fights Mr. Big in nightclubs, a giant aquarium and an underground oceanic cavern in lieu of a high-wire spy act. While Fleming obviously spotlights the action, the plotline left something to be desired. If you can swallow the far-fetched story, Live and Let Die is still a pleasurable reading experience.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Thursday, June 3, 2021

James Bond #01 - Casino Royale

The best-known fictitious undercover agent of all time is James Bond. The character was created by British writer Ian Fleming (1908-1964) and appears in 14 of Fleming's novels between 1953 and 1966, two after his death. Beginning in 1981, authors John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Fualks, Jeffery Deaver and others continuously added new original novels in the series. The character became an icon of cinema with 27 films in total featuring the secret agent. Needless to say, you can take a deep dive into the character's history and pop-culture phenomenon on your own time. This review is dedicated to the very first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, published in April, 1953 by Jonathan Cape.

James Bond, 007 is an agent of the British Secret Service (MI6) and works for a superior simply named M. Through brief explanations, readers learn that Bond served in WW2, and later books state he was a Royal Navy officer. The 007, pronounced "double-o-7", is partly a symbolic name that the agent killed an enemy of the state. Bond and his colleagues receive various weapons and trainings from Branch Q, a research and development department.

In this first novel, Bond receives a mission from M to join a high stakes baccarat game at the Royal-les-Eaux in northern France. He's assigned a female companion named Vesper Lynd and an American CIA agent named Felix Leiter as support. The mission is to bankrupt Le Chiffre, a stateless man who brings financial advantages to the Russian counterespionage agency SMERSH. After Le Chiffre lost most of his fortune on a brothel front, he joins this lucrative card game in an effort to recoup most of the money. If he loses, SMERSH will probably kill him.

The first 70 pages of Casino Royale are extremely slow with much of the story transfixed with the art of baccarat. Through pages and pages of card playing, Bond attempts to win the game and at one point gains a large sum of money from Felix. Although this first half doesn't provide a captivating story, Fleming definitely shines in the second half of the novel.

Bond's romantic relationship with Lynd builds into a crescendo. Bond is considering leaving the espionage business and marrying Lynd. He even dreams of settling in a suburban environment where foreign adversaries simply do not exist. It is this very humane aspect that makes this book and this character so interesting. Once Bond leaves the casino, Fleming ratchets up Casino Royale with car chases, gunfire, a long and breathtaking torture sequence and the required violence to emphasize that Bond is fighting some truly bad people.

Like Donald Hamilton's Death of a Citizen, there's a savage scene where James Bond evolves into the British agent that we know today. It is the mythology of a very human person transformed by violence into a living and breathing weapon. Hamilton did it with Matt Helm. Pendleton did that to Mack Bolan. Fleming does it with expertise with James Bond. The final sentence of the book is one of the strongest lines in fictional history - in my opinion.

Whether you saw the comedy movie version of Casino Royale or the modern remake with Daniel Craig, nothing is comparable to the book. Considering the first half is rather lackluster, the strength of the second half more than makes up for the failure. The last line of the book introduces themes and villains that Bond will contend with for the life of the series. As an origin tale, Casino Royale delivers on all fronts. Highest possible recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 25, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 45

Paperback Warrior Episode 45 is our All-Spy Spectacular where we discuss the best fictional spies of 20th Century fiction including Matt Helm, James Bond, Evan Tanner, Boise Oakes, and much, much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE. Listen to "Episode 45: All-Spy Spectacular" on Spreaker.