James Bond: Book 5
[James Bond is on the Orient Express for an important rendezvous...]
There was no hurrying figure coming up the platform from the guichet. High up above the guichet, near the ceiling of the station, the minute hand of the big illuminated clock jumped forward an inch and said ‘Nine’. A window banged down above Bond’s head. Bond looked up. His immediate reaction was that the black veil was too wide-meshed. The intention to disguise the luxurious mouth and the excited blue eyes was amateurish. ‘Quick.’
The train had begun to move. Bond reached for the passing hand-rail and swung up on to the step. The attendant was still holding open the door. Bond stepped unhurriedly through.
‘Madam was late,’ said the attendant. ‘She came along the corridor. She must have entered by the last carriage.’ Bond went down the carpeted corridor to the centre coupé.
A black 7 stood above a black 8 on the white metal lozenge. The door was ajar. Bond walked in and shut it behind him. The girl had taken off her veil and her black straw hat. She was sitting in the corner by the window. A long, sleek sable coat was thrown open to show a natural coloured shantung dress with a pleated skirt, honey-coloured nylons and a black crocodile belt and shoes. She looked composed. ‘You have no faith, James.’
commentary: James Bond doesn’t appear in this book till a long way in – there is a very long and rather dull set up in which we hear all about the Soviet plot to do him down. Benefit of the doubt – perhaps all this would have been fascinating in 1957. Fleming opens the book by saying ‘Not that it matters, but a great deal of the background to this story is accurate.’ (A format followed in announcement at the beginning of the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 12 years later). And so we hear a lot about the organization Smersh, and its views of the Western countries. It reminded me of Dennis Wheatley, who also used to drone on like that. I think the content could have been summed up in 2 short chapters, one about the wicked Mr Grant and one about the plot. And I think if the kind of plan the Soviet Secret Service made is truly represented by this book, then it’s a wonder they didn’t lose the Cold War a lot sooner. The amount of preparation and expense involved in taking down one spy is absurd. Checking up on Tatiana’s sexual abilities! It reminded me of the delightfully rubbish-y Irving Wallace book, The Second Lady.
As ever, Bond is always one step behind the Russians and the readers – it’s rather an odd feature of the books, and one I haven’t seen much comment on: he comes over as rather dim, and far too trusting. There is one scene where he is spying on a Soviet secret meeting – he can see what is going on, but can’t hear anything. If he could hear, the whole plan would be exposed to him, so the whole thing is rather pointless. He comments himself on
his own stupidity – blind, lethal stupidity. At any moment he could have done something to dodge this shambles. There had been no lack of opportunity. But conceit and curiosity and four days of love had sucked him along on the easy stream down which it had been planned that he should drift.The main events start off in Istanbul then move to the Orient Express, an excellent setting, and there is plenty of action all the way home. I particularly liked the gun disguised in a copy of War and Peace – and the tremendous moment when Bond picks it up in mid-fight and has a panic:
The book! How did one work the thing? Which way up was it? Would it shoot him or [X]?-- he literally doesn’t know which way the bullets come out, like those people who turn their video camera the wrong way round.
The villain on the train does more even than the usual talkative criminal: he says he will kill Bond, spends half an hour telling him the plot and secrets, and ends up saying where and when he must meet his superior the next day. So that when Bond overpowers him, he then knows how to get to the next layer.
However, the ending isn’t what one might be expecting – something dreadful happens on the very last page….
Rosa Klebb resembles Dolores Umbrage from the Harry Potter books, and plainly should be played by Imelda Staunton if the film is ever remade.
All fur coat pictures are subject to my lovely knowledgeable readers telling me what animal they are from – one of these plainly isn’t sable, but I thought she had the right look for Tatiana, and it’s the right era – from the splendid Clover Vintage Tumblr. The other is much more recent, but again seemed in the spirit of From Russia With Love.
There's another entry on this book coming up - so much to say on this series... For other Bond books, click on the labels below.
Always liked this one a lot as I thought it had one of Fleming's best plots - but I'd forgotten how long Bond is off-stage and yes, he is playing catchup for most it - interesting, never really thought of it that way. One could argue that in some respects he is much more of a passenger and less of a driver as the series wore on, though that might just be a gross over-simplification (as is my wont).ReplyDelete
Once Bond got going I really enjoyed it - plenty of action and just loved the setting. I think of the ones I've read so far it IS one of the most memorable.Delete
I do have to wonder about that long buildup at the beginning, Moira. There's setting the stage and there's going on for too long... Still, I have to say I've a soft spot for the Orient Express part of the setting - not, I'm sure, that you're surprised at that. ;-)ReplyDelete
Exactly! There are some of us who can never NOT thrill to the idea of the Orient Express...and I would definitely have you in that category along with me.Delete
Ever done Modesty Blaise? She was a snappy dresser.ReplyDelete
No - I remember a comic strip and a film? There were books? Were they good?Delete
I've read one of the Modesty Blaise books. I don't think I'd bother trying to track down any of the others. The idea of Modesty Blaise is great but it lacks something in the execution. Mind you the one I read was quite a late one - the early ones may have been better.Delete
I have to say that my opinion is 180 degrees in the opposite direction. I've read a few of them now, including a short story collection, and O'Donnell had a genuine talent for thriller writing. In fact he was a good writer, full-stop. The novels really eclipse the original comic-strip (good as it is) but they carry some of the enjoyable surrealism of the original. The less said about the film, the better!Delete
Now you've all got me completely fascinated, will have to read one now. Suggestions as to the best one?Delete
If you want to give them a go, you could do worse than just starting with the very first one:- MODESTY BLAISE. It does set up the characters and their relationships very well. There's also a certain amount of continuity between the books, so it helps to read them in the correct order.Delete
The MODESTY BLAISE novel I read was LAST DAY IN LIMBO which is one of the later entries. I'd certainly be prepared to give the earlier books a go.Delete
Thanks, both - two to make note of.Delete
O'Donnell wrote that he based the character on a real person, a child he met in the Middle East during the war.Delete
From Russia with Love is my husband's favorite Bond film. Thus we have watched it more than any of the others. Don't remember how the film and book compare.ReplyDelete
From Russia with Love is my husband's favorite Bond film.Delete
It's my favourite too. It's the one that in my view works best as a straight spy movie.
I've never seen it but probably should - it would lend itself to great visuals given the train, the glamour, the romantic subplot etcDelete
I asked Glen what he liked about the movie compared to the others. He said the same thing as dfordoom... it is more of a straight spy movie, without the emphasis on gadgets. Also Robert Shaw as the bad guy, and the parts set on the train.Delete
I can see I am going to have to go and hunt for a cheap DVD...Delete
It was this book that ensured Bond and Fleming's literary immortality. The previous four had done well, but not managed to land an American publisher. In an interview with LIFE magazine in 1961, President Kennedy admitted that this was one of his favourite novels. By the end of the year Fleming had become the best-selling thriller writer in the USA.ReplyDelete
I like the long run-in rather better than you do. The bit where the department heads decided that Bond must die is shot through with black comedy, with everyone being secretly recorded in order to supply evidence of treachery when they are finally denounced by the Party. Also, the fact that Bond is off-screen so much means that when he finally appears the action is much more relentless. I have to give Bond a bit of a 'get out of jail free' card as regards getting caught out again in this novel. 007 keeps musing that there's something funny going on, but can't believe that SMERSH would spend that much time and money in setting up a trap for him. Here's a thought--is Grant the first appearance of a serial killer in major role in popular fiction?
Here's a thought--is Grant the first appearance of a serial killer in major role in popular fiction?Delete
Philip MacDonald's MURDER GONE MAD (1931) deals with a serial killer. And although I haven't read it I'm pretty sure that John Rhode's THE MURDERS IN PRAED STREET (1928) was a serial killer novel.
In popular culture, whenever you think that someone has come up with something new, it inevitably turns out that someone has been there before!Delete
Thanks both - interesting. I'd heard that about Kennedy, and as I've been reading Fleming's letters, this is about the point where he accepts real bestsellerdom I think. And the money that went with it.Delete
Mink and fox, respectively.ReplyDelete
Thanks - I knew someone would be able to tell me!Delete
But conceit and curiosity and four days of love had sucked him along on the easy stream down which it had been planned that he should drift.ReplyDelete
Maybe that's Fleming's point. Bond's weakness is that he's an old-fashioned romantic and he keeps falling in love. To be a successful super-spy you have to be able to switch off your emotions and Bond can't do that.
The more I read, the more I agree with you. Bond is a 'hard man', and Fleming emphasizes his cruel looks - but he is very romantic inside, willing to believe in people.Delete
Moira: As I read your posts on the dim witted Bond of the books I am ever more convinced that Bond had a talented secretary in the background telling him what to do. After watching Fleming in the recent mini-series he may have gained his adventure ideas for Bond from the Admiralty assistant who tolerated him.ReplyDelete
Oh that's a great perception Bill - the answer to my previous question about the secretaries. And of course your answer to that previous question (in the comments here http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/james-bond-book-3-moonraker.html ) is now revealed as the most perfect cover story....Delete
Moira, thanks to the movies, I have given the books a miss. I wonder if the franchise made Fleming's books and James Bond look better than they are.ReplyDelete
That's a very interesting question - I have watched only one Bond movie, so come from the opposite angle to you. We both need to venture to the other side and compare notes!Delete