LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
Bond walked into the small living-room and closed the door behind him.
‘Lock it,’ said the voice. It came from the bedroom. Bond did as he was told and walked across the middle of the room until he was opposite the open bedroom door. As he passed the portable long-player on the writing desk the pianist began on ‘La Ronde’.
She was sitting, half-naked, astride a chair in front of the dressing-table, gazing across the back of the chair into the triple mirror. Her bare arms were folded along the tall back of the chair and her chin was resting on her arms. Her spine was arched, and there was arrogance in the set of her head and shoulders. The black string of her brassiere across the naked back, the tight black lace pants and the splay of her legs whipped at Bond’s senses.
The girl raised her eyes from looking at her face and inspected him in the mirror, briefly and coolly.
‘I guess you’re the new help,’ she said in a low, rather husky voice that made no commitment. ‘Take a seat and enjoy the music. Best light record ever made.’ Bond was amused.
commentary: Next one along, the fourth of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels. See labels below for the others.
I didn’t enjoy it as much as the earlier ones, although there was a lot going for it: that entrancing title, settings that jump all over the place, an interesting plot regarding diamond smuggling. The woman above is Tiffany Case, Bond’s theoretical boss as he pretends to be a low-level criminal – she is somewhat more of a positive figure than some Bond girls.
The action moves from London to New York to the races at Saratoga and on to some mudbaths nearby. Next there’s a trip to Las Vegas, then out to a crime centre in the desert, before the main participants end up on the liner the Queen Elizabeth travelling back to England. There is a framing of action in French Guinea and Sierra Leone, which comes over all David Attenborough with a man in khaki shorts looking at a scorpion, but also still very reminiscent of Biggles, as I have said so often before.
At one point Bond is pretending to be both a criminal and a policeman in the same case, which does seem a mistake. And Ian Fleming shares the view with
Agatha Christie that it is easy to make someone unrecognizable with a few small changes – it was moustaches in Moonraker, here:
A touch of white at the temples. The scar gone. A hint of studiousness at the corners of the eyes and mouth. The faintest shadows under the cheekbones. Nothing you could put your finger on, but it all added up to someone who certainly wasn’t James Bond.No instructions are given as to how you add ‘a hint of studiousness’ to a face – perhaps that’s classified info.
The attack in the mudbaths is fairly sensational – a foreshadowing of events in Thunderball. And the Las Vegas details are fascinating – the resort was really getting going in the mid-50s, but Fleming could safely assume that most of his readers had not been there, and were interested in a lot of detail. Now that detail is sociological history. I particularly loved this:
the blackjack dealers were pretty women and that they were all dressed in the same smart Western outfit in grey and black – short grey skirt with a wide black metal-studded belt, grey blouse with a black handkerchief round the neck, a grey sombrero hanging down the back by a black cord, black half-Wellingtons over flesh-coloured nylons.Wellingtons! The security men also wear Wellingtons. Children’s heroine Katie Morag will be sure of a job doing one or the other when she grows up.
Bond’s relationship with his superior officer, M, is beyond description. In this book James Bond actually says this:
‘Matter of fact I’m almost married already. To a man. Name begins with M. I’d have to divorce him before I tried marrying a woman. And I’m not sure I’d want that...’At this point I think we’ll tiptoe away and move on to the next book.
Black underwear was seen as rather racy in the 50s, so it is quite hard to find respectable pictures. These are both filmstars: Elke Sommer, and Janet Leigh (in Psycho – the black underwear is generally supposed to be a symbol of her criminal behaviour).
The musician in the extract above, by the way, is George Feyer, as Tiffany tells Bond. The name of the record is not given in the book: deep research by Clothes in Books has obtained the info for you that it is called Echoes of Paris, easily available as a download. It is pleasant enough listening (my commitment to my readers knows no bounds) but I don’t share Tiffany’s view that it’s the best light record ever made.