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Octopussy & the Living Daylights (James Bond, #14)

Octopussy & the Living Daylights (James Bond, #14)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.54
book published: 1966
rating: 3
read at: 2018/10/20
date added: 2018/10/20
shelves:
review: This collection of short stories more appropriately belongs somewhere before You Only Live Twice, but was not published until after Ian Fleming’s death in 1964. It contains three short stories: “Octopussy”, “The Property of a Lady”, and “The Living Daylights” which–like For Your Eyes Only before them–are appetizer-sized vignettes into some of James Bond‘s smaller, but nonetheless interesting, adventures.

“Octopussy” ruminates on a man’s past glory, his dissatisfaction with his life, and the war crime that was to be his rise and ultimate downfall. James Bond is sent to extradite a former British officer from Jamaica in order to stand trial for crimes committed during the allied occupation of Germany at the end of WWII. It is a story of guilt and the ghosts that follow us when ill-gotten gains become our way of life.

“Property of a Lady” is referenced more by the plot of Octopussy the film than its namesake story. The Faberge Egg plot device of the film is lifted directly from this short story which finds Bond in an unfamiliar world of London’s exclusive luxury auction houses, notably Sotheby’s, on a hunch that the KGB is using the sale of a valuable piece of jewelry to pay off an agent that has been dutifully performing work for the Kremlin while handling cypher communications for MI-6 (entirely to MI-6’s knowledge as she is constantly fed false and misdirected information to confound the KGB). It’s a fun little romp that Fleming obviously enjoyed writing and is full of wry, subtle humor that the film series is often celebrated for.

“The Living Daylights” puts Bond in the job he hates the most of his profession: that of the assassin. It’s unpleasant work, and Fleming lets you see just how much Bond dislikes killing–especially in cold blood. It’s a clever little story that sees Bond in a sniper’s duel between him and his opposite number in the KGB over the life of a defector try to cross the area that would become known as the infamous “Checkpoint Charlie”.

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The Man With the Golden Gun (James Bond, #13)

The Man With the Golden Gun (James Bond, #13)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.54
book published: 1965
rating: 3
read at: 2018/10/16
date added: 2018/10/16
shelves:
review:

You know, the more I think about it, the more I kinda enjoy this late outing in Fleming’s James Bond canon. It’s a pretty straightforward detective story, but we see get to enjoy the last appearance of Bond’s BFF Felix Leiter as well as an action-packed firefight at the climax of the story! It’s a desperate gambit that pits two desperate men against each other. This is the kind of action that should have been incorporated into You Only Live Twice–a REAL adversary that can match Bond in wits as well as skill! Unfortunately, his name is Francisco Scaramanga and not Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Ideally, this would have ended the series, but there is one more collection of short stories that needed to be told. I would strongly recommend reading Octopussy, The Living Daylights, and Other Stories first and end Fleming’s franchise in a way that will make more narrative sense in the concluding chapters of The Man With The Golden Gun.

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You Only Live Twice (James Bond, #12)

You Only Live Twice (James Bond, #12)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.75
book published: 1964
rating: 3
read at: 2018/10/08
date added: 2018/10/08
shelves:
review:

You Only Live Twice might be my least favorite of Fleming’s James Bond stories. The characters are one-dimensional parodies (even by Fleming standards), Fleming spends far too much time describing the gardens surrounding the Castle of Death, and Blofeld and Bunt are hopelessly incompetent! Instead of an epic showdown to last the ages, we get a tottering old fool in the form of Ernst Stavro Blofeld, a shadow of his former imperious megalomania, and his half-witted wife Irma Bundt purchasing a castle in Japan in order to allow people to more easily commit suicide? Seriously, the man who first held the world at ransom with two stolen nuclear weapons in Thunderball then attempted to inflict mass starvation through engineered famine in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service goes on to raise the stakes by…populating his garden with every manner of poisonous flora and man-eating fauna so that depressed Japanese salarymen can still kill themselves in a spectacular manner (as, apparently, dictated by the Shinto religion?) while not doing so with the more “favored” methods such as throwing themselves under a pile driver or in front of a speeding train.

Even the “last, great, deciding battle” with Blofeld is lackluster: Bond gets lucky and the fight is over within a page or two. It’s bad. Like, it’s really bad. There’s no real sense of danger. There’s no real suspense. It’s just Fleming gushing about how wonderfully civilized the Japanese are since The War and how much he’s learned about poisonous plants over the course of his life.

Skip this one and read Thunderball or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service again.

If you’re looking for completion, go ahead and grab it on Amazon (affiliate link)

Thunderball (James Bond, #9)

Thunderball (James Bond, #9)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.78
book published: 1961
rating: 4
read at: 2018/09/19
date added: 2018/09/19
shelves:
review:

James Bond is BACK!

After a disappointing outing in Goldfinger and an appetizer of juicy vignettes from For Your Eyes Only, Fleming has brought Bond back to all his former, pulpy glory in a new adventure in an exotic locale with a brand new enemy–SPECTRE–in the ever-thrilling Thunderball!

The first few chapters seem to play with the audience’s criticisms about Bond: M thinks he’s tired, possibly washed-up, and sends him on a mandatory holiday at a health spa in the country learning to fast, eat vegetables, cease smoking and drink, and other “un-manly” things that were the new health craze at the time. The retreat really serves as a reboot in the series. Bond casually investigates a fellow inmate, the inmate tries to kill Bond in retaliation, and Bond responds in kind. Very typical “tough guy” Bond that we all know and love. All the while, Bond begins to soften somewhat and take on a more healthful visage; he returns from the retreat energetic and healthy, much to the delight of M but receiving the uncharacteristic reprimand from his faithful housekeeper who knows more about his life than Bond might’ve suspected.

After the delightful opening act, physically rejuvenating Bond and reminding the reader what made them love the character in the first place, we are introduced to our new villainous organization, SPECTRE (the SPecial Executive for CounterTerrorism, Revenge, and Extortion)–led by Ernst Stavro Blofeld–to take the place of (the now, apparently, defunct) SMERSH in a more “realistic” capacity and, ostensibly, to allow Fleming more freedom to write around the confines of the Cold War rather than from within. It’s a bold move, and one that–as we look back historically–has worked out well for the franchise staying relevant.

The novel is paced well, much like the early films, and reads like one of Connery’s outings. Bond is back to being his introspective tough guy, and Felix Leiter returns in a starring role (hook, peg leg, and all). The stakes are the highest that they’ve ever been in a Bond novel, and the action stays intense throughout!

Pick up a copy on Amazon (affiliate link)

For Your Eyes Only (James Bond, #8)

For Your Eyes Only (James Bond, #8)
author: Ian Fleming
name: Matthew
average rating: 3.64
book published: 1960
rating: 4
read at: 2018/09/06
date added: 2018/09/06
shelves:
review:

After the disappointing experiences with Goldfinger and Dr. No, Fleming seems to come back around to what made James Bond special in the first place. This collection of short stories, curated under the title For Your Eyes Only reads like Fleming revisited his fundamentals after two disappointing outings–focusing instead on the quintessential Bond tropes and those storytelling techniques that made the early works so great. The stories are tight, the action is gripping, the stakes are high, and Bond is really Bond–not some sub-par interloper traipsing through the French countryside or enjoying a quiet game of golf, making mistakes for the purpose of advancing the plot.

The one outlier in this collection is “Quantum of Solace”, a sort of story-within-a-story where the governor of Jamaica delivers a tale of woe and revenge between a goldbricking young woman and her milquetoast husband. It’s a comedy of life wrapped up in the mundane drudgery of white-collar Edwardian colonial politics, but it reads with sincerity and a polish that keeps you wondering just what will happen next to the unhappy couple. I feel like it serves as a subtle turning point in the Bond literary franchise. Bond learns a little something about “real” people, and we’re treated to a gossipy tale about the hidden despair in outwardly happy life in colonial Jamaica.

There’s a definite attitude change in the way Fleming treats Bond through these stories. Instead of just pushing Bond through another lackluster travelogue, Fleming plays with him in the way he does best. The stories are vignettes, rather like a “best of” collection, displaying the most interesting and exciting attributes of a Bond novel. Fleming has the luxury of dropping us into the middle of an adventure, without wasted exposition, and reinvigorates the interest both he and the reader have in this legendary character.

Pick up a copy on Amazon (affiliate link)