Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Book Review Club: Dr. No by Ian Fleming

(This is the September 2010 contribution to Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. For more great books, click the link at the bottom of this post.)

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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Perplexio said...

I've read Casino Royale, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, You Only Live Twice, and The Man With the Golden Gun.

The latter 3 can kind of be read as a trilogy. And I much prefer the way the books handled Bond's marriage, his reaction to Tracy's death, and his seeking vengeance for her death.

The film For Your Eyes Only borrowed a scene from the beginning of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In OHMSS Bond visits and puts flowers on Vesper's grave. In For Your Eyes Only Bond visits and puts flowers on Tracy's grave after finally getting revenge on Blofeld in the opening film sequence before the creidts.

Barrie said...

I haven't read Dr No in years. I really should revisit it. You know how I love a Perry Mason and a Nero Wolfe. I don't know why it never occurred to me to re-read 007! thanks for joining in, Scott.

Frank Loose said...

Thanks for sharing your review and thoughts.
I recently re-read (first reads were in the 60s as a teen) Casino Royale, Thunderball, Live and Let Die, and Dr. No. I enjoyed Dr. No the most, thinking it was the tightest plotted and written.

I plan on re-reading OHMSS, Goldfinger, FRWL, and Spy Who Loved Me, but not the entire series.

Randy Johnson said...

Like Frank, I read the Fleming Bonds in the sixties as a teen and haven't read them since. Maybe it's time, though I do very little rereading as there are so many books I haven't and want to read as it is.