Tuesday, September 01, 2009

James Bond Daily: The Man With The Golden Gun

This is the last Bond novel by Fleming; he didn't consider it finished when he died in 1964, and the question of just who made it publishable (and how much work went into that effort) has been hotly debated since then by the kind of people who care about such things. It's one of the thinnest of the Bond novels -- about the same length as Casino Royale, the first novel, and only slightly longer than the overgrown novelette The Spy Who Loved Me.

Golden Gun is somewhat programmatic as well, running quickly through its plot without the customary asides and thoughts that Fleming incorporated into the earlier novels -- leading me to assume that writing those was part of Fleming's revision process, that the first draft was to get the plot down and correct, and afterwards was to bring the book up to the necessary polish. (I may be wrong; I clearly haven't made a serious study of the subject.)

It begins a year after You Only Live Twice; Bond has been missing and presumed dead since then. But a man claiming to be Bond -- and knowing more than most of those who have claimed to be Bond -- has contacted the Secret Service and asked to be put through to see M. This man -- who is Bond, of course -- does get in to see M, but it turns out that he came home via the Soviet Union, and had been brainwashed into an assassination plot.

But this is still the early '60s, so brains can always be washed and re-washed. Bond is captured, sent off for the rest cure, and -- more quickly here than I assume Fleming would have wanted it to be in the final draft -- propped back up in his suit and license to kill, and sent off on a mission. If he succeeds, then he's back in grace. If not...well, he'll have died in harness, which is what everyone expected.

The job is to kill Paco "Pistols" Scaramanga, a killer for hire working for the Castro government in Cuba (still fairly young, and assumed to be shaky, at this point), who is also the point man for a consortium of organized crime cartels investing in a Jamaican casino. (Once again, Fleming's own connections to Jamaica drag Bond there, out of all of the places in the world -- for a superspy in the height of the Cold War, he spent an awful lot of time in the topical heat, and most of it before the Cuban revolution at that.)

The plot is pure Fleming, and there are many of his usual touches along the way -- in the final confrontation between Bond and Scaramanga, on a train and off it, and in the return of Bond's CIA friend Felix Leiter -- but Golden Gun feels as unfinished as the shell of a hotel that hosts the gathering of mobsters at the center of its plot.

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