In a year where we should be looking forward to the new James Bond film, we have nothing. The next new James Bond novel--written by none other than Jeffrey Deaver--is almost a year away. If you wanted a Bond fix, you could easily break out a DVD or check cable TV but, perhaps, some of the films have staled after repeated viewings. Then I have the remedy for you: read one of Ian Fleming's original Bond novels.
With only fourteen published works, I try to pace my reading of the Fleming stories, not wanting them to end as I enjoy them so much. I've been reading them in published order and this summer, I got up to book #6, Dr. No. Interestingly, Dr. No is the first Bond film and I've seen it enough times to know the general story. What the movie lacks, however, is the uncertainty that permeates the beginning of the story.
The last book, From Russia With Love, ended with 007 getting himself poisoned by Rosa Klebb's hidden shoe blade. As Dr. No opens, Bond is given the "easy" task of investigating the seeming disappearance of the head of the Jamaica branch of the secret service, Strangways. Had you read the books in order, this is a reappearance for Strangways, having helped Bond in the second literary adventure, Live and Let Die. Bond's boss, M, frankly doesn't think Bond is ready and thinks this "rest case" will do 007 some good. No one expects what Bond uncovers.
Like the film, the literary version of Dr. No has a slower pace, not all action-packed like the later movies. Bond actually does some detective work and gets himself quite dirty, another fun trait of the literary incarnation. The novel, written in 1958, is full of the type of hard-boiled language and prose befitting a story of this era. It's a reminder of Bond's true pulp origins.
The movie has arguably the most iconic shot in all the Bond canon: that of Honey Ryder, as portrayed by Ursula Andress, rising from the beach, clad in a skin-tight bikini. Well, she's flat-out naked in the book. You can see why they could not do that scene in the 1962 film. Her backstory is fleshed out and, while its interesting, it isn't exactly fascinating. Bond's repeated reference to her as "girl"--she really is years younger than Bond's thirtysomething--puts a bit of distaste on the tongue. Yes, it's a book of its time, but it still grates.
The big finale in the book is nothing like the film. In fact, as Bond struggled through the Big Scenes in the novel, I kept waiting for the filmed version to show up. It never does, and that is one of the biggest treats about reading Fleming's original books. For every faithful version (From Russia With Love), there is a Dr. No or, more specifically, a Moonraker or Diamonds are Forever.
I can easily recommend any of the Bond books to any fan of 007 or the spy genre in particular. They are great fun and a nice peek in the origins of one of the most famous characters of the 20th Century.
Oh, and that reading pace I mentioned earlier? I enjoyed Dr. No so much that I chucked the one-book-a-year pace out the window and plunged directly into book #7, Goldfinger. But that's for another review...
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