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Rediscovering the original Bond, James Bond

rediscovering-the-original-bond-james-bondI was intrigued when all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels were reissued this summer. Ian Fleming’s heirs hired literary writer, Sebastian Faulks, to write Devil May Care, a new James Bond story. Readers wanted to know if it was any good, so thinking it was more of a “guy” book, I had my husband read it. He liked it, and decided to read the first bond book Casino Royale to see how it compared to Ian Fleming himself. Well, now he is reading his way through all of the James Bond novels – and so am I! We are revelling in the 1950s – when you could stay at a hotel in Saratoga during race week for only $10 a night; fly from Los Angeles to New York City in just 10 hours; and play bridge at Blades in London where the newspapers are ironed and they only circulate new currency.

Devil May Care is good – but it is not as interesting to me as the James Bond novels written by Ian Fleming in the 1950s and 1960s. The new novel is set in the 1970s. I loved that Bond smoked Balkan Sobranie cigarettes – considered very cool in England at the time – and he has a Ronson Varaflame lighter, capable of “triggering a small dart with a poison that could immobilize a man of average build for six hours."

The premise is that the United States is unhappy that Great Britain is not contributing to the Vietnam War. The bad guy is using this situation — he is planning to bomb the USSR (blame it on the U.K.) — and they will be drawn into war. The bad guy is seeking personal revenge on the U.K. for his treatment there as a schoolboy. There are a couple of gruesome murders – but they pass far more quickly than they do on film. It was a thriller – a page-turner and a good one.

Like my husband, I wanted to compare this novel to the “real” James Bond novels of Ian Fleming. Written in 1953, Casino Royale is the first Fleming novel. I found it very sexist – Bond sees women only as “recreation” – and I was happy to see that this had changed (not a lot, but enough) by the second novel Live and Let Die. Bond himself is a very cool, composed and careful secret agent, with “features ironical, brutal, cold." In this novel he is after “Le Chiffre” a Russian bad guy, who, having spent money that was not his own, is trying to win it back by gambling at a casino along the French coast near Deauville. It is Bond’s job to make sure that Le Chiffre loses.

Bond is definitely not a very nice guy – a 00 designation means that the agent has killed in order to make his mission successful. It’s not long into the book before we are given the famous Bond Martini recipe “Three measures of Gordon’s (Gin), one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it is ice cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”

We also meet CIA agent Felix Leiter and the female character Vesper Lynd, a new agent. They all hang out at the casino and set about getting rid of the bad guys. I am not the least bit interested in gambling myself but I found it all very fascinating. And I have to admit I was hooked. We joked at the cottage all summer that Alan and I were both off to bed with James Bond each night.

And on to the second book, Live and Let Die. I have watched all of the James Bond movies and I must say that this book is way better than the film. This time Bond is off to New York to find Mr. Big, the bad guy, who is somehow smuggling gold coins, thought to be the loot of “Bloody Morgan,” and using it to do bad things.

So, a few days in New York with lots of lovely comments on the American culture, way of life, food and fashion –and then off to Florida and Jamaica. Mr. Big is a member of the Russian spy agency, SMERSH. Bond is seeking revenge on this bunch after the events of Casino Royale.

I love this era. Bond flies into Idlewild, now JFK, in New York. There is an interesting comment about New York being a target. As Bond drives through Manhattan in a cab he turns to his companion - “I hate to say it,” he said, “but this must be the fattest atomic bomb target on the whole face of the globe.”

Ian Fleming wrote 14 James Bond novels in 12 years. Fleming died in 1964 – at the age 56.

He was a spy during the Second World War and used his experience to fashion his famous character. Most of us have seen the films over the years, but I have to say the novels are a delight to read. Fleming is an astute observer and his commentary on the society of his time – the fashions especially — are very clever. These novels are as addictive as your favourite snack food and just as enjoyable.

P.S. A lovely trivia fact. Ian Fleming used the name of a real person for his character. James Bond was an ornithologist specializing in Caribbean birds. He wrote the definitive book on the subject, Birds of the West Indies. Fleming, who was a keen birdwatcher, lived in Jamaica and was given permission to use the name. Fleming wrote, “It struck me that this brief, unromantic Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born.”

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