It’s been quite a while since we’ve had the typical James Bond novel of deep cover and intrigue. The last attempt was Goldfinger and Bond was so incompetent with the execution that I scarcely dare consider it. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, James Bond–sick and tired of “desk work” chasing down leads on Ernst Stavro Blofeld (his assignment since Operation Thunderball), mostly ending up as wild geese–seriously considers resigning from the Double-Oh Section and going into some other line. He even goes so far as to dictate his resignation letter to his secretary, Mary Goodnight, when he gets an urgent call from M informing him of a new lead on Blofeld at the Royal College of Arms.
Bond goes under deep cover as a representative of the Royal College of Arms to help determine if this Blofeld fellow (who wants to claim a dukeship in France), proprietor of a health clinic and ski resort on top of a Swiss alp, is the same character who mastermined the Thunderball affair. What he finds is no real surprise, but the cat-and-mouse game of subterfuge is Fleming’s knack for nail-biting suspense at it’s peak (or should I say, “piz”?)!
Fleming gives Bond one of his best and most “James Bond-like” outings of the series in this taut thriller that puts Bond completely in the lion’s den with no gadgets, no backup, and possibly no escape. Bond is literally in character, locked in a fortress, and under near-constant surveillance from his quarry. The devil is in the details, though, as our wily secret agent has to improvise his way around the compound, find the information he needs, and escape with his life–or die trying.
Desperate mountainside chases on skis and bobsleds highlight the intense action worthy of any great action film (brilliantly portrayed by George Lazenby in 1969 in the most faithful adaptation of the franchise) while sweaty, page-turning suspense inside the Piz Gloria culminate in what might be the best book of the series. James Bond is human, and there’s a definite sense of the stakes involved in this caper. We’re not entirely certain that he’s going to make it, but even a hero needs the help of a hero every once in a while….