From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming (1957)

Bond put the thought of his dead youth out of his mind. Never job backwards. What-might-have-been was a waste of time. Follow your fate and be satisfied with it, and be glad not to be a second-hand motor salesman, or a yellow-press journalist pickled in gin or nicotine, or a cripple – or dead. (p.148)

28 chapters divided into two parts: 1. The Planning 2. The Execution.

Part one – The Planning (chapters 1 – 10)

The opening chapters introduce us to Donovan Grant, ‘Red’ Grant, a psychopath who loves killing. He discovered this as a violent young man in the countryside of Northern Ireland, graduating from going out at full moon to kill animals, to slitting the throats of tramps and vagrants, and then being employed for nefarious purposes by the local Sinn Fein.

Grant was sent off to do his National Service in Germany, where he promptly defected to the Russians who realised his special value, selected and trained him intensively to become a perfect killing machine, in fact Chief Executioner, for Bond’s nemesis, SMERSH, the execution department of what he calls the MGB (P.36). Now he is called Krassno Granitski, code name ‘Granit’.

Cut to the head of the SMERSH (Colonel General Grubozaboyschikov), known as ‘G’, P.39), the Head of Army Intelligence and a few other Soviet high-ups having a major conference. The Politburo is unhappy that Soviet intelligence has suffered recent setbacks (they mention a few recent examples, eg the unmasking of the atomic spy, Klaus Fuchs). The Politburo has decided they must strike a decisive counter-blow against Western Intelligence. One by one, they go through the NATO countries, assessing their intelligence services, until they come to England.

Here there is some shameless jingoism as Fleming has Soviet Intelligence marvelling at how the English secret service punches so much above its weight, with operatives who are paid a pittance and get no special privileges.

‘It is perhaps the Public School and University tradition. The love of adventure. But still it is odd that they play this game so well, for they are not natural conspirators.’ (p.55)

Very reassuring. And comments which link Bond effortlessly back to the Public School adventurism of Kipling, Rider Haggard and John Buchan.

So they agree to mount a high-profile attack on English Intelligence. But targeting who? Its head (M)? The public has never heard of him, he is secretive and well-protected, so it wouldn’t have much propaganda value. Well, what about his agent called Bond? Yes, he caused them a lot of trouble in the Le Chiffre affair, and breaking up the Mr Big network in America, and foiling the Drax plan. Yes. They will assassinate Bond to demoralise and humiliate Western intelligence.

The Head of the MGB calls in the head of SMERSH’s Directorate II (Operations and Executions) who turns out to be Rosa Klebb, a dumpy, frog-like woman (so memorably played by Lotte Lenya in the movie) and briefs her. We see her consulting with World Chess Champion and SMERSH strategist, Kronsteen (Head of the Planning Section of SMERSH, p.77), who is introduced to us in a taut scene at the climax of a major international chess game.

Then there is the scene where Klebb calls in Comrade Corporal Romanova, the stunningly beautiful and naive MGB operative who they are going to set up as the ‘honey trap’ for the well-known womaniser, Bond. In a gruesome twist, after Klebb has terrified the rather simple Romanova into submission, and instructed her for her mission, Klebb pops out of the room and reappears in ‘something more comfortable’, namely a see-through nighty, and lies on a couch, dimming the lights, expecting to seduce Romanova. Who obediently turns off the mina light, but then runs out the door and down the corridor.

In the final chapter of Part One, we see Klebb restored to full uniform and complete control, sparring with Kronsteen in SMERSH headquarters as they put the finishing touches to their plan. They choose Turkey as the location, since it is so close to the East, Bulgaria in particular. The girl will lure Bond with the promise of one of the Russians’ top secret Spektor coding machines. Grant will be despatched to carry out the assassination. They will have cameramen and writers ready to capture Bond’s humiliation and death, content they can then distribute via communist-controlled media (especially in France).

Part two – The Execution (chapters 11 – 28)

Bond is bored. It’s a year since his last assignment (Diamonds Are Forever).  It’s August in London, hot and muggy and half the office is on holiday. And, we learn, his romance with Tiffany Case has collapsed – she fell in love with an American Marine and went back to the States, leaving Bond to brood.

This allows Fleming to show us Bond at his most domestic, waking naked in bed, doing his morning exercises and, above all, having breakfast! It consists of: two large cups of very strong black coffee, no sugar, from De Bry in New Oxford Street, brewed in an American Chemex coffee-maker; a single egg, boiled for three and a third minutes, served in a dark blue egg cup with a gold ring at the top. It must be a fresh, speckled egg from the French Marans hens owned by a friend of his housekeeper, May’s, in the country. Two thick slices of wholewheat toast, a large pat of deep yellow Jersey butter, and three jars of jam: Tiptree Little Scarlet strawberry jam, Cooper’s Vintage Oxford marmalade, Norwegian Heather honey from Fortnum’s. The coffee pot and the silver on the tray are Queen Anne. The china is the same dark blue and gold as the egg cup. (p.127)

Could anything be cosier?

The housekeeper who attends on him at the pull of the bell rope, the fussy breakfast, the morning paper just so – this snug and cosy portrait of moneyed bachelordom takes us back to the Edwardian age or before, to the reassuring Baker Street rooms of Holmes and Watson and their ever-loyal housekeeper, Mrs Hudson.

M briefs Bond: Head of the Turkey station, Darko Kerim, has received the strangest approach from ‘the other side’. One Corporal Tatiana Romanova of the Russian Security Service made an appointment to meet him on the Bosphorus ferry and explained that she has fallen in love with Bond on the basis of his photos alone and wants to defect with a brand-new top-secret Spektor machine – but only on condition that Bond in person receives her. It’s so crazy it might actually be true, and so Bond packs his bags and takes a flight to Istanbul.

Flying to Istanbul

Just like previous plane journeys (from Florida to Jamaica in Live, across the Atlantic, then into Las Vegas in Diamonds) so Fleming gives a very detailed account of the whole procedure, the make of plane, the sound of the jets, the view out the window etc. And, just as in Live, the plane hits turbulence and Bond is genuinely afraid – his hands gripping the arm rests, his palms wet with fear (p.150).

Darko Kerim

After checking into an uncharacteristically seedy hotel in Istanbul, Bond is taken to meet the head of Station T, Darko Kerim, who he immediately warms to.

It was a startlingly dramatic face, vital, cruel, debauched, but what one noticed more than its drama was that it radiated life. Bond thought he had never seen so much vitality and warmth in a human face. (p.160)

Kerim briefs him on the girl, the offer of the Spektor machine, and the general situation in Turkey. The ‘other side’ are up to something, but he can’t put his finger on what. Kerim tells him about his life, raised one of 15 children in a harem of women kept by the biggest strongest fisherman on the Black Sea. A spell as a circus strong man, when his father was contacted and paid by the English Head of Station T to report on Russian comings and goings. Darko was taken on the payroll and, with his extensive family and connections, ended up its head. Bond warms to him and his simple, unashamed enjoyment of life in primal, Balkan passions.

Spying on the Russians

Kerim takes Bond up a secret passageway, a huge water pipe built by the Byzantines, filled with thousands of rats and bats, along to beneath the Russian Embassy. Here his people have fixed up a submarine periscope which allows them to see into the main meeting room of the Russian Embassy though not, alas, to hear anything. Bond watches some obviously senior Soviets meeting and then the arrival of Tatiana Romanova, a tall, elegant, obviously ballet-trained blonde girl, who looks strikingly like Greta Garbo. The men look at her oddly, as if she is a prostitute. We know this is because they all know the plan, for her to lure Bond into a ‘honeypot’ trap, with her body. But Bond doesn’t know this; he thinks she is concealing the fact that she wants to defect and so is puzzled by the mingled lasciviousness and contempt he sees in the Russians’ faces.

Catfight at the gypsies’

That night Darko’s Rolls Royce collects Bond from his hotel and they motor to the outskirts of Istanbul, to a dingy open air cafe by a big walled orchard. This is the base of the gypsies who work for Darko. Bond is introduced as a friend to the leader, Vavra, given pride of place at the head of the table and forced to eat along with the others part of their feast, a very hot stew, to be eaten by hand, with bread to mop up and raki to wash down.

Turns out they’ve arrived at a bad moment: two young women have declared they’re in love with Vavra’s son, and will kill their rival. The son has been sent to the hills and now, after the group feast, bolts are drawn back and Bond gets to watch along with the others a ferocious, vicious catfight between two gypsy women, Zora and Vida, who start off only wearing rags, and soon tear these off to emerge naked, sweat gleaming on their breasts and rumps. Fleming knows how to write good pulp fiction.

Shootout at the gypsies’

And as if to prove it, right in the middle of the fight there’s a bang as a group pf Bulgarian assassins blow up the perimeter wall of the gypsies’ orchard and come streaming in, guns blazing. The women and children retreat into the trees while the men spring into action, Bond among them, saving Darko’s life at least twice, shooting dead several attackers in the massive fight, until a figure by the wall, their leader Krilencu, blows and whistle and calls a retreat. They hop onto the scooters they arrived on and are gone into the darkness.

The gypsies tend to their wounded, the women return. Darko thanks Bond who sweeps aside his gratitude and wants to know why they were attacked. The gypsies are torturing one of the surviving attackers, who said they had orders to kill Darko but very specifically leave Bond alone. He has the feeling he is a pawn in a bigger game. They make their thanks and apologies to Vavra and leave but not before the proud, stern-faced gypsy says that, by killing so well, he can have final decision about which one of the wildcat women lives and which one dies. Sickened by the slaughter, Bond insists they both survive, throwing in as primitive reasoning, that Vavra will need them to breed new sons for the tribe. Vavra is visibly displeased. Bond couldn’t care less.

The assassination of Krilencu

Immediately following the gypsy shooutout, Darko has Bond accompany him in his chauffeur-driven Rolls to another part of Istanbul, where they know they’ll find Krilencu at the apartment of his mistress. He’ll send in some of his sons masquerading as police and flush Krilencu out the secret escape hatch which he doesn’t know that Darko knows about. With added pulp macabre-ness, it is a vertical trap door in the side of a hoarding used for advertisements. As Darko positions himself and assembles his lightweight rifle, Bond tries to make sense of the events of the evening. At a signal Darko’s sons go into the building; a minute later the trapdoor in the wall opens and a figure drops to the sidewalk, crouches, turns to run and… Darko shoots him dead with one bullet. They pack the rifle away, and Darko drops Bond back at his hotel where, characteristically, he has a long shower to wash off the blood and horror of the day.

Tatiana Romanova

It is only as he approaches the bed that he realises someone is in it and hears a girlish giggle. It is the Russian beauty, Tatiana Romanova, wearing only a black velvet choker. Fleming knows his S&M accessories. What is interesting in this scene – as in the one where Rosa Klebb briefed her – is Fleming’s attempts to see things through Tatiana’s eyes: we are privy to her thoughts as she struggles to follow her simple instructions (seduce Bond and persuade him to take the Orient Express back to London), with the ironic knowledge that she is only being used as a pawn to get Bond into a situation where he can be murdered by Red Grant.

It’s not exactly James Joyce or Virginia Woolf; but it’s the mere fact that Fleming’s trying to reproduce the girl’s consciousness (as he did, to some extent, with Tiffany Case in Diamonds) that is interesting.

While she tries to remember her lines, he tries to focus on the plausibility of her story and the feasibility of her plan to a) flee with the Spektor machine this very evening and b) flee aboard the Orient Express. The reader knows full well it is a trap; it’s pretty thick of Bond not to realise it, but then there would be no story.

Bond gets into bed with her, clasping her breast with its hard nipple, slipping his hand down over her tummy and watching her eyes flutter under the closed eyelids. The next morning Bond wonders whether he was too rough with her, bringing out the latent S&M feel of his sensualism. (There is a striking moment a few pages later, where he leans down to Tatiana in bed, seizes her by the hair and pulls her head fiercely back before kissing her ‘long and cruelly’ on the mouth, p.199). Meanwhile, as they move and writhe, Russian MGB operatives are filming it all on cine cameras pointing down through the two way mirror in this, the ‘honeymoon’, suite.

I am still liking Umberto Eco’s point about Fleming writing to the endoxa or received opinions of his readers. And thus Fleming goes the extra mile to make the men filming Bond make love not just clinical operatives, but dirty voyeuristic perverts, noting how:

the breath rasped out of the open mouths of the two men and the sweat of excitement trickled down their bulging faces into their cheap collars. (p.186)

The Orient Express

It is the evening of the next day. We learn that Bond made love to Tatiana again, that morning, before she went off to work at the Embassy. Now he is in the Istanbul railway station waiting for her by the Orient Express, as she requested. Exactly as it begins to move she calls out from a window and he leaps aboard. Here a) he again tries to figure out whether Tatiana is telling the truth and b) we see inside Tatiana’s mind as she continues to parrot the lies she was instructed in by her SMERSH masters.

Kerim is on the train, waiting outside their sleeper compartment and they share a cigarette while Kerim points out three SMERSH agents are aboard the train. He says he’ll look after them, not killing them, but getting them thrown off. By bribing the conductor, he gets two thrown off the train but not the evil-looking ‘Herr Benz’. Kerim and Bond have further talks about the girl and pondering what’s really going on, the conversation which expands on the various types of ‘game’ they are playing, or which the narrative engages in (see note below).

Bond toys with getting off the train, with the girl and the Spektor machine but decides – dilettantishly, in Kerim’s view – to ‘play the game out to the end’. He is woken in the early hours by an alarmed conductor and taken to Kerim’s compartment. There is his friend, stabbed to death by ‘Benz’, but in his death throes, himself managing to clasp to his own body and stab his assassin. The two men’s bodies are interlocked in a gruesome death embrace.

At Thessaloniki, one of Kerim’s son’s greets them only to be told the horrible truth. There is an 8 hour waitover, so the son takes them to his flat, invites them to eat and drink the provisions laid on for them, while he makes sundry phone calls, and Bond looks out the window, smoking, full of remorse at getting his new-found friend into this plight and then killed, and still wondering whether to abandon the train.

He doesn’t and as they get back on the train at the crowded station he sees an obvious Englishman making for the train among the thronging crowds. It must be the ‘back-up’ M had suggested sending to help out, when Bond spoke to him on the phone from Kerim’s son’s apartment.

The over-dressed Englishman introduces himself as Norman Nash but we know it is Red Grant, the SMERSH assassin. He knows the correct passwords and has Service paraphernalia, but everything about him is fake and wrong. Bond wonders if he’s actually mad. He makes himself useful, is introduced to Tatiana, joins them for dinner, all as if acting a part, clumsily (which he, of course is).

At dinner he slips a sleeping draught into Tatiania’s wine, then, as she passes out, helps Bond get her back to the sleeper compartment. He says he’ll stay and keep first watch and Bond lies back on the lower bunk to sleep. In the middle of the night Grant kicks him awake with a new tone of authority in his voice. He announces he is a SMERSH agent, tasked with killing him. They’ll make it look like he murdered Tatiana, because she was blackmailing him with the tapes of them having sex, to take her to England – then killed himself. Left wing journalists in France will give the story front page coverage, causing maximum embarrassment to his Service and country. Also the Spektor device is booby-trapped to kill Service scientists. Quite a tidy little package, eh, old man. All the time Bond has been desperately cooking up a plan, asking to be allowed to smoke a cigarette then concealing the cigarette case inside the cover of his (Eric Ambler) paperback so that – when the climactic moment comes, just as the train enters the Simplon Tunnel, Bond moves the book and case over his heart just as Grant fires.

He falls to the floor of the compartment as if shot, close to the case he’s carried all over Europe, complete with a few fancy tricks supplied by Q Department, including razor sharp knives which can be extracted from its base. He waits till Grant has both feet on the bunk above him, and is preparing to shoot the sleeping Tatiania, when Bond suddenly corkscrews upwards, plunging the dagger deep into Grant’s groin then pushing more. But Grant in his death throes falls, grabs Bond’s ankles and starts pulling him off the bunk preparatory to strangling him. Desperately Bond scrabbles for Grant’s gun, turns it towards him and fires the gun five times. There is a horrible gurgling noise then Grant’s body collapses to the floor.

After some time to recover, Bond sets about tidying up the compartment using his sheets to soak up the blood which covers it like an abattoir. He finally wakes Tatiania in time for Dijon, where they finally leave the train, after four nightmare-ish days putting his feet on blessedly solid unmoving ground.

Coda

Grant had mentioned  his rendezvous with the mastermind of the conspiracy, Rosa Klebb, at the Ritz Hotel in Paris the next day. Instead – having contacted his friend Mathis from the French Deuxième Bureau to a) look after Tatiana b) despatch the booby-trapped Spektor case to London – Bond keeps the appointment.

Klebb is disguised as a wizened old crone, clacking away at her knitting in a luxury suite. She keeps up the pretence while Bond declares who he is. Her hand goes to a bell pull and only some instinct makes Bond leap sideways out of the chair as a hidden gun shoots holes in the chair. And then she is on him with the knitting needles which, Bond realises, have poisoned tips. He kicks one out of her hands then grabs a luxury Empire-era chair and corrals her body in it pushing it back up against the wall. At which point Mathis enters with two assistants carrying a large laundry basket. Klebb will be drugged and flown to England and interrogated. But just as Bond slackens the chair to let the men get to her she lashes out with the poisoned tip of her shoe and stabs Bond in the calf. The poison works in seconds, Bond going numb and cold from the legs up, before crashing unconscious onto the rich, red, carpeted floor.


Good food

Bond/Fleming loves his food and conveys his enjoyment and relish very vividly.

  • In his hotel in Istanbul, looking out over one of the most famous views in the world: thick creamy yoghurt in a blue china bowl, ripe, ready-peeled green figs and jet black Turkish coffee (p.157).
  • With Kerim in the market: sardines en papillote and raki (p.136), followed by kebab tasting of smoked bacon fat and onions along with Kavaklidere, a rich coarse Balkan red wine (p.180). Bond, for once, is not impressed.
  • At the gypsy camp Bond eats along with everyone else a greasy ragout with bread and raki. Peasant food.

The Turks

Bond is surprisingly dismissive of the Turkish people.

So these dark, ugly, neat little officials were the modern Turks. He listened to their voices, full of broad vowels and quiet sibiliants and modified u-sounds, and he watched the dark eyes that belied the soft, polite voices. They were bright, angry, cruel eyes that had only lately come down from the mountains. Bond thought he knew the history of those eyes. they were eyes that had been trained for centuries to watch over sheep and decipher small movements on far horizons. They were eyes that kept the knife-hand in sight without seeming to, that counted the grains of meal and the small fractions of coin and noted the flicker of the merchant’s fingers. They were hard, untrusting, jealous eyes. Bond didn’t take to them. (p.153)

He has Darko, son of a Turkish fisherman and an English mother, be very dismissive of his fellow Turks in a whole stream of comments condemning their dirtiness and their poor, peasant cuisine. As soon as his hoteliers discover Bond is a guest of Effendi Kerim they pack his things and move him into the best room in the place – the so-called ‘Honeymoon suite’ – bending low and apologising. Bond is sickened by their grovelling subservience (p.171). The more he sees of the generality of Turks, the more he thinks of them as ‘this country of furtive, stunted little men’ (p.173).

Later, as he accompanies Darko to the alley where they will assassinate Krilencu, Bond is overcome by repulsion at Istanbul.

From the first, Istanbul had given him the impression of a town where, with the night, horror creeps out of the stones. It seemed to him a town the centuries had so drenched in blood and violence that, when daylight went out, the ghosts of its dead were the only population. His instinct told him, as it has told other travellers, that Istanbul was a town he would be glad to get out of alive. (p.220)

Even as they prepare to catch the Orient Express out of town, Fleming has time to say how much he dislikes the main Istanbul railway station.

The Orient Express was the only live train in the ugly, cheaply architectured burrow that is Istanbul’s main station. (p.241)

Finally, as the Orient Express enters italy with the promise of France ahead, Bond is hugely relieved to be ‘among friendly people, away from the furtive lands’ (p.283).

Everyone and their cat can accuse Fleming of sexism, racism and the other -isms, nothing easier. Odd that you don’t often read about the pretty solid anti-Turkism which runs throughout this book.

Naked

Bond routinely is naked, highlighting his sensuous self-awareness. He gets out of bed naked (p.123); on returning from the trip through the sewers to spy on the Russians Bond returns to his hotel, has a hot bath and a cold shower and sits naked sipping a vodka and tonic and enjoying sunset over the Bosphorus (p.193); at the end of the adventurous night with the gypsies Bond returns to the hotel room and enjoys the feel of the night breeze on his naked body (p.229).

Gadgets

The movies make ‘Q’ into a character, a grump old grey-haired inventor who provides Bond with nifty gadgets. In the books there is no ‘Q’, there is a Q branch which manages technical matters, for example they supervie the skin graft on Bond’s right hand which takes place between Casino Royale and Live and Let Die. This is the first book where they provide anything like a gadget, namely a hand-carried attaché case which contains: two flat rows of 25 bullets packed between lining and case; in each side a flat throwing knife made by Wilkinson; a hidden compartment in the handle which, at the press of a button, would deliver a cyanide pill into Bond’s hand; containing a thick tube of Palmolive shaving cream which unscrews to reveal the silencer for his Beretta hand-gun; and a belt of 50 gold sovereigns slipped into the upper lining (p.145).

Play the game

‘It is perhaps the Public School and University tradition. The love of adventure. But still it is odd that they play this game so well, for they are not natural conspirators.’ (p.55)

According to tradition, the Public School ethos taught its pupils to ‘play up, play up, and play the game.’ As we all know, the rivalry between Imperial Britain and Imperial Russia in central Asia in the last decades of the 19th century was known as The Great Game. It was the background to Rudyard Kipling’s most successful novel, Kim set in India. And throughout the Great War and then all the Imperial conflicts of the 1920s, 30s and the second war, upper class Brits were taught to ‘play the game’, the archetypal Imperial game, of course, being cricket.

It comes as no great surprise, then, to report the importance of ‘the game’, of ‘game playing’, in the Bond books. It could hardly be more obvious when the first novel in the series entirely rotates around a complicated card game, which requires the author to explain its rules in great detail along with the odds and how to gamble on it. Similarly, Moonraker‘s first part is devoted to a long and detailed exposition of a game of bridge which Bond rigs to win and humiliate his opponent, Hugo Drax. Similarly, Live and Let Die features a short but powerful scene at a gambling table in Las Vegas which again requires the author giving a detailed explanation of the game and its rules.

So it is blindingly obvious that games are central to the Bond novels. And it is only a small step up to notice that Bond conceives of each assignment as a ‘game’. When the downmarket hotel he’s checked into unexpectedly bump him up to the best room in the place, Bond reflects they might be deferring to his acquaintance with Darko Kerim. Or maybe there’s something more behind it.

Bond decided not to care if there was. The game, whatever it was, had to be played out. If the change of rooms had been the opening gambit, so much the better. The game had to begin somewhere. (p.173)

And so, 70 pages later, once Tatiana has persuaded him to take her aboard the Orient Express but Bond is trying to assess whether she’s telling the truth or not,

Bond calmly admitted to himself that he had an insane desire to play the game out and see what it was all about. (p.258)

It is this devil-may-care whimsicality, this seeing the whole Cold War struggle as a kind of extended game of cricket, which sets the British apart from the Americans or the Russians, making them sometimes – in the spy novels of Le Carré or Deighton – seem laughable and absurdly amateurish; but in the Jingoistic lineage of John Buchan or James Bond, it is what gives our playboy heroes their effortless superiority.

He reflected briefly on the way the Russians ran their centres – with all the money and equipment in the world, while the Secret Service put against them a handful of adventurers, underpaid men, like this one, with his second-hand Rolls and his children to help him. (p.198)

The game-playing rhetoric becomes a little more interesting in chapter 23 in an extended conversation with Kerim. Kerim points out the way M and Bond are both alike in being gamblers; they are taking a risk on the girl and her story and are interested to find out what the game is about. Kerim contrasts their English adventurism with the Russian game, chess, which the Russians play with ruthless professionalism:

These Russians are great chess players. When they wish to execute a plot, they execute it brilliantly. The game is planned minutely, the gambits of the enemy are provided for. They are foreseen and countered. (p.271)

This of course reminds us of the scenes in Part One featuring Kronsteen, Russian world champion chess player who is also head of planning for SMERSH, and who we see planning with Rosa Klebb every detail of the conspiracy to murder Bond. Bond says: ‘All I ask is to go on with the game until we find out.’ But Kerim counters with his own position. ‘I was not brought up “to be a sport”‘, he says sarcastically about the well-known English addiction to playing with a straight bat etc.

‘This is not a game to me. This is business.’ (p.273)

And we have seen how well-organised Kerim’s operation, and how it extends to sons and nephews; it really is a business. Now he makes a further analogy. Bond is playing the game as if it was a game of billiards. He has hit the white ball with perfect accuracy at the red which will, with complete inevitability, go into the pocket. But what if an airplace crashes on the billiard hall or a gas main blows it up. All the rules of billiards continue to be true, but they are destroyed by the broader context. Thus Bond’s silly game playing – his childish wish to play things out and see what happens – is trumped by the complexity of the real world – by the infinite multiplicity of other games which overlap, impinge on and trump the small, neat, logical one Bond thinks he’s playing.


Bond biographical details

Each book tells us a little more. Bond is six feet tall (p.159). We learn that Bond’s flat is not just off the King’s Road, it is in a plane-tree’d square off the King’s Road (p.123). His Scottish housekeeper, May, can never bring herself to say ‘sir’, but sometimes adds an ‘s’ to the end of her sentences. The only newspaper Bond reads is The Times. (p.124)

The early section has the MGB officials reading out Bond’s full file, which includes the facts that he commenced work with the Service in 1938 and was awarded the CMG in 1953 (p.68).

In Diamonds Bond told Tiffany he was in effect ‘married’ to his boss, M. Here, he sits in M’s office and looks across ‘at the tranquil, lined sailor’s face that he loved, honoured and obeyed’ (p.134).

Interestingly, on the flight to Istanbul Bond reads The Mask of Dimitrios, often thought of as the best of Eric Ambler’s pre-war thrillers (p.144 and p.302) and which is set, or at least starts off, in Turkey.

We learn that the Service debriefs enemy agents at a secluded house nicknamed ‘the Cage’, near Guildford (p.269).


Credit

From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming was published in 1957 by Jonathan Cape. All quotes and references are to the 2006 Penguin paperback edition.

Related links

Other thrillers from 1957

The Bond novels

1953 Casino Royale Bond takes on Russian spy Le Chiffre at baccarat then is gutted to find the beautiful assistant sent by London to help him and who he falls in love with – Vesper Lynd – is herself a Russian double agent.
1954 Live and Let Die Bond is dispatched to find and defeat Mr Big, legendary king of America’s black underworld, who uses Voodoo beliefs to terrify his subordinates, and who is smuggling 17th century pirate treasure from an island off Jamaica to Florida and then on to New York, in fact to finance Soviet spying, for Mr Big is a SMERSH agent. Along the way Bond meets, falls in love with, and saves, the beautiful clairvoyant, Solitaire.
1955 Moonraker An innocent invitation to join M at his club and see whether the famous Sir Hugo Drax really is cheating at cards leads Bond to discover that Drax is in fact a fanatical Nazi determined on taking revenge for the Fatherland by targeting an atom-bomb-tipped missile – the Moonraker – at London.
1956 Diamonds Are Forever Bond’s mission is to trace the route of a diamond smuggling ‘pipeline’, which starts in Africa, comes to London and then to follow it on to New York, and further to the mob-controlled gambling town of Las Vegas, where he wipes out the gang, all the while falling in love with the delectable Tiffany Case.
1957 From Russia, with Love Bond is lured to Istanbul by the promise of a beautiful Russian agent who says she’ll defect and bring along one of the Soviets’ precious Spektor coding machines, but only for Bond in person. The whole thing is an improbable trap concocted by head of SMERSH’S execution department, Rosa Klebb, to not only kill Bond but humiliate him and the Service in a sex-and-murder scandal.
1958 Dr. No Bond is dispatched to Jamaica (again) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of the station head, which leads him to meet up with the fisherman Quarrel (again), do a week’s rigorous training (again) and set off for a mysterious island (Crab Key this time) where he meets the ravishing Honeychile Rider and the villainous Chinaman, Dr No, who sends him through a gruelling tunnel of pain which Bond barely survives, before killing No and triumphantly rescuing the girl.
1959 Goldfinger M tasks Bond with finding out more about Auric Goldfinger, the richest man in England. Bond confirms the Goldfinger is smuggling large amounts of gold out of the UK in his vintage Rolls Royce, to his factory in Switzerland, but then stumbles on a much larger conspiracy to steal the gold from the US Reserve at Fort Knox. Which, of course, Bond foils.
1960 For Your Eyes Only (short stories) Four stories which started life as treatments for a projected US TV series of Bond adventures and so feature exotic settings (Paris, Vermont, the Seychelles, Venice), ogre-ish villains, shootouts and assassinations and scantily-clad women – but the standout story is Quantum of Solace, a conscious homage to the older storytelling style of Somerset Maugham, in which there are none of the above, and which shows what Fleming could do if he gave himself the chance.
1961 Thunderball Introducing Ernst Blofeld and his SPECTRE organisation who have dreamed up a scheme to hijack an RAF plane carrying two atomic bombs, scuttle it in the Caribbean, then blackmail Western governments into coughing up $100,000,000 or get blown up. The full force of every Western security service is thrown into the hunt, but M has a hunch the missing plane headed south towards the Bahamas, so it’s there that he sends his best man, Bond, to hook up with his old pal Felix Leiter, and they are soon on the trail of SPECTRE operative Emilio Largo and his beautiful mistress, Domino.
1962 The Spy Who Loved Me An extraordinary experiment: an account of a Bond adventure told from the point of view of the Bond girl in it, Vivienne ‘Viv’ Michel, which opens with a long sequence devoted entirely to her childhood in Canada and young womanhood in London, before armed hoodlums burst into the motel where she’s working on her own, and then she is rescued by her knight in shining armour, Mr B himself.
1963 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Back to third-person narrative, and Bond poses as a heraldry expert to penetrate Blofeld’s headquarters on a remote Alpine mountain top, where the swine is carrying out a fiendish plan to use germ warfare to decimate Britain’s agriculture sector. Bond smashes Blofeld’s set-up with the help of the head of the Corsican mafia, Marc-Ange Draco, whose wayward daughter, Tracy, he has fallen in love with, and in fact goes on to marry – making her the one great love of his life – before she is cruelly shot dead by Blofeld, who along with the vile Irma Bunt had managed to escape the destruction of his base.
1964 You Only Live Twice Shattered by the murder of his one-day wife, Bond goes to pieces with heavy drinking and erratic behaviour. After 8 months or so M sends him on a diplomatic mission to persuade the head of the Japanese Secret Service, ‘Tiger’ Tanaka to share top Jap secret info with us Brits. Tiger agrees on condition that Bond undertakes a freelance job for him, and eliminates a troublesome ‘Dr Shatterhand’ who has created a gruesome ‘Garden of Death’ at a remote spot on the Japanese coast. When Bond realises that ‘Shatterhand’ is none other than Blofeld, murderer of his wife, he accepts the mission with gusto.
1965 The Man With The Golden Gun Brainwashed by the KGB, Bond returns from Japan to make an attempt on M’s life. When it fails he is subjected to intense shock therapy at ‘The Park’ before returning fit for duty and being dispatched to the Caribbean to ‘eliminate’ a professional assassin, Scaramanga, who has killed half a dozen of our agents as well as being at the centre of a network of criminal and political subversion. The novel is set in Bond and Fleming’s old stomping ground, Jamaica, where he is helped by his old buddy, Felix Leiter, and his old secretary, Mary Goodnight, and the story hurtles to the old conclusion – Bond is bettered and bruised within inches of his life – but defeats the baddie and ends the book with a merry quip on his lips.
1966 Octopussy Three short stories in which Bond uses the auction of a valuable Fabergé egg to reveal the identity of the Russians’ spy master in London; shoots a Russian sniper before she can kill one of our agents escaping from East Berlin; and confronts a former Security Service officer who has been eaten up with guilt for a wartime murder of what turns out to be Bond’s pre-war ski instructor. This last short story, Octopussy, may be his best.

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1 Comment

  1. Most of the Bond movies are not worth looking at even once, but “From Russia With Love” (1963) might possibly be the exception. The ending, as I dimly recall, is quite free of the usual triumphalism.

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