After creating a rather winning formula with his James Bond novels, Ian Fleming uses his 5th book as a departure from the norm. The book is really divided into two distinct parts: the first, a deep look at the operations of SMERSH within the greater Soviet party bureaucracy as well as an intimate portrait of their best assassin–a bipolar sociopath whose disillusion with western society led to his defection during the early years of allied occupation in postwar Germany. The second, a romp around the gleefully sinister city of Istanbul where daily jabs in spycraft put the “game” in “The Great Game”. This romp, following James Bond and led by his new friend and ally Kerim Bey, is a love letter to the near Orient of Fleming’s time. The area was in transition to modernity, and Fleming attended those growing pains with interesting details and flourishes such as the juxtaposition of modern film advertisements alongside traditional institutions like the spice bazaar.
In true Fleming fashion, the writing is verbose and colorful when describing the scenery, then tight and frenetic when describing action (such as the climactic fights with Red Grant and Rosa Klebb). Kerim Bey is a wonderful character and brings a joie de vivre to the introspective action of a typical Bond adventure. Bond himself seems more flippant in this adventure, possibly owing to the fact that he feels that the whole assignment is rather daft (a beautiful Soviet cyphers technician wants to defect because she has fallen in love with Bond’s file), which leads to a series of missteps and miscalculations that build to an intense climax aboard the legendary Orient Express.
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