Tuesday, June 11, 2024

JAMES BOND, BOOK #7: GOLDFINGER


Released in 1959, Goldfinger may be the high-water mark in Ian Fleming's Bond books. It was the third in the great Bond trio: From Russia With Love, Dr. No and Goldfinger, which turned in to the first three James Bond films.

This is Ian Fleming at his finest. For those only familiar with the movies, all the elements from the film version of Goldfinger are there : the Miami card game, the sharp-edged golf match, the gold painted girl, Odd Job, the Silver Ghost Rolls Royce, the gangsters, Pussy Galore (although in a different role), and the Aston Martin, only a DBIII with only minor gadgets & no ejector seat. There's even an atomic bomb headed to Fort Knox. But some of these elements are not quite in the same order as in the movie.

Goldfinger -- "the man with the golden touch," as Shirley Bassey sings -- is even a more deliciously disturbing character in the book as created by Fleming than in the movie. There are a couple of places where the pacing dips due to some of Fleming's wafting into too much detail, but that is minimal.

Goldfinger indeed is a thriller that reinforces Fleming as one of the most entertaining spymaster writers ever. It is a MUST READ.

I began this by noting that it was the high water mark in Bond books.  Written in 1958 and published in 1959, Goldfinger preceded the first James Bond film by three years. Dr. No didn't come to film until 1962. But Fleming admitted that by this time, he was straining to find plots for his novels.  In fact, Goldfinger was the last truly original stand alone Bond novel for four years.

His 1960 book was For Yours Eyes Only, a collection of five James Bond short stories that included From a View to a Kill and Quantum of Solace. He worked on other projects, including a 13-episode American television pitch to CBS which was turned down, and teaming up with three other men, including Kevin McClory, to draft a movie script featuring a super-criminal organization called SPECTRE. That, too, was rejected.

In 1960, Fleming used the unproduced script and turned it into Thunderball, published in 1961. That became the source of the great legal controversy that plagued the Bond movies for more than half a century and contributed to Fleming's early death at age 56 (although Fleming's heavy smoking and drinking surely also contributed). 

Even after Thunderball, Fleming still was looking for something different. He wrote The Spy Who Loved Me, published in 1962. Told in a first person narrative by a lonely woman in the woods of New York, Bond is almost a secondary character. He does not appear until well more than halfway through the book.

But by that time, Life Magazine had published the list of JFK's favorite books, which included From Russia With Love, and the first James Bond movie was making its way to movie theaters. By then, Ian Fleming, not Goldfinger, was the man with the golden touch.

Friday, June 7, 2024

JAMES BOND BOOKS #6: DR. NO


Dr. No is the sixth of Ian Fleming's Bond books, and in my opinion, the best. Oddly, it almost wasn't written. After From Russia With Love, Fleming thought he was likely done with Bond. But the reception of From Russia With Love, both critically and sales, was such that he decided to continue.

Unlike previous years, when Fleming headed to his 2-month vacation in January 1957 at his Goldeneye hideaway in Jamaica, he did not have a Bond book planned. But by happenstance, in March of 1956 he had been invited to visit Great Inagua Cay, a desolate marshland island in the Bahamas that hosted birds, mountains of guano (bird shit) and two naturalists.  

The island was both hideous and attractive to Fleming. So when he decided to continue writing, it was a natural fit for the next Bond book. 

Dr. No slides into the middle of the great late-50s trio of the best Bond books -- From Russia with Love, Dr. No and Goldfinger. More than 60 years after it was first written, Dr. No still maintains its fast-pace edge. It is Fleming's writing at its best. In fact, a few years ago I read a book on writing that used Dr. No as one of three books that exemplify great thriller writing.

All the elements of Bond books come together here - the mysterious villain who isn't seen until the last part of the book; the exotic setting in Jamaica; the tense action, and of course Honey Rider, whose appearance in the book is sans swimsuit.

Because of legal entanglements, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman decided to scrap the original plans to use Thunderball as the movie-world's introduction to James Bond, and instead opted for Dr. No. And the world hasn't been the same since.

Fans of the movies will notice many of the scenes are drawn directly from the book -- more so than any of the other movies. This book is about as good as Bond gets.