Friday, August 07, 2009

James Bond Daily: From Russia With Love

After the sidetrack of Diamonds Are Forever into the American underworld, From Russia With Love gets Bond back to his most obvious (though not most common) home: European East-West intrigue. The first two-fifths of this book, a section called "The Plan," traces a plot hatched by SMERSH, the secret Soviet terror agency, to cripple its enemies by framing and killing a Western spy in a place where they can guarantee immediate, scandalous media coverage. And, as you might have guessed, the Western spy they decide to trap is 007.

And then the rest of the book is "The Execution," in which Bond takes the bait -- gorgeous Tatiana Romanova, a young woman in the Soviet secret apparatus whose cover story is that she fell in love with Bond from his file -- in Turkey, pokes about a bit there with the head of station, Kerim Bey, and then takes the Orient Express back to Paris. The assassination plot takes Bond almost entirely by surprise, and he only just makes it out alive. (As, of course, we know he must have, since we can see the list of later 007 novels on the card page.)

Bond talks a bit too much in this book, in a sometimes too-Hemingwayesque rush of short sentences. Fleming is better with his other characters' dialogue, and only indulges his mid-century taste for phonetic dialect in a mercifully few instances. But From Russia With Love is a lesser Bond novel, the thriller equivalent of those horrible "keyhole" essays many of us were forced to write in school -- it tells us what it's going to tell us, and then it tells us. (Thankfully, it doesn't finish up the keyhole by then telling us what it told us.) Fleming is experimenting a bit with his structure, particularly in not bringing Bond onstage until nearly halfway through the novel, but the important thing to remember about experiments is that not all of them succeed. This one isn't a failure, but it's not a pure success, either. (Among other things, there are two excellent villains here in Rosa Klebb and Donovan Grant, who aren't given enough to do in scenes with Bond and are both dispatched too quickly.)
Listening to: Little Tybee - Glass Brigade
via FoxyTunes

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