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Friday, 30 July 2010


Fleming seemed to have killed James Bond off at the end of From Russia With Love, but to prove you can't keep a good man down, Bond is revived for this, the sixth book, in the series. The book starts in the by now usual fashion with a teaser sequence that sets up the feel of the novel to come. The first chapter sees the death of Strangways and this immediately followed by the Bond/M scene.

"No stopping power, sir. But it' easy to operate. A bit fancy looking too. Appeals to the ladies."

The armourer is talking about Bond's beloved Beretta which is taken away from him, to be replaced by the now iconic Walther PPK and a Smith and Wesson. Bond is not happy with this but M points out that it is not debatable and so Bond is kitted out with the new equipment for what is seen as an easy mission, a bit of a rest. Of course in the world of James Bond there is no such thing as an easy misson.

Bond is ordered to investigate the disappearance of Strangways - and so Bond finds himself in Jamaica where he picks up on the trail that will eventually lead him to Dr Julius No - the novel is far more action orientated than From Russia with Love and the plot is also far more fantastical, almost science fiction. The book can also boast one of the most successful female leads in Honey Rider.

From Russia with Love's plot was relatively serious but Doctor No is the complete opposite with a plot foresakes credibility and goes all out for thrills and worries not about realism. However Fleming's talents had progressed by this period and for the time spent between the covers, Dr No seems very real indeed. The violence is also cranked up considerably and the author manages to create a true sensation of fear and revulsion in the reader. Quarrel's death for instance is especially nasty and described in nauseating detail. And later in the book we follow Bond through an obstacle course that is truly thrilling with each blow 007 sustains felt by the reader.

To many fans this is the best of all the Bond books and whilst I'm not of that opinion, it is most definitely a good place to start if you're new to the literary Bond. You may miss much of the continuity from the earlier books but, like From Russia with Love, the character of Bond is recognisable to the 007 of the early movies.

Bond stood and waited for his unspeakable end. He looked into the blue jaws of death and saw the glowing red filament of the firer deep inside the big tube. He thought of  Quarrel's body - there was no time to think of Quarrel - and imagined the blackened, smoking figure laying in the melted sand. Soon he, too, would flame like a torch.

Dr No is a very effective thriller - M is at his most tyrannical in the book and Bond is much more fatalistic and reflects on his own mortality at several key points in the narrative. The last quarter of the book is pure, "Boy's Own" and the reader is compelled to turn the pages. I re-read this book for this article and I must have read it at least half a dozen times previously but it still thrills with each and every page - a truly great entry in the Bond canon and a superb thriller in itself.



Scott Parker said...

I just finished reading Dr. No and enjoyed it. What strikes me as odd (when compared to the movie Bond) is the literary Bond really has a fatalistic attitude about his job. He knows, at certain stages in this book, that he could die. And he gets pummeled through that obstacle course.

Interestingly, no mention of SPECTRE. Have to wonder if that's a movie-only thing (since I'm reading the 007 books in order).

You've got an excellent series going here. For the first time, I'm actually behind. Time to start Goldfinger.


Scott - SPECTRE will crop up in the books. And you are quite right the literary Bond has never been faithfully captured in the films. Spectre turned up in THunderball which was the only Fleming novel not wholly original - in fact Thunderball, OHMSS and You Only Live Twice are known as the SPECTRE trilogy.