Customer Review

69 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From the 50s with Love, June 23, 2002
This review is from: From Russia, With Love (The James Bond Classic Library) (Hardcover)
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is generally considered to be the very best James Bond book. In this case, conventional wisdom is right. I recently re-read the book, originally published in 1957, and it was even better than I remember it being.
First, the flaws: Like most Flemming novels, much of the plot is implausible. The story revolves around a scheme by the Soviets to embarrass the British Secret Service by killing James Bond in a compromising position. Perhaps it is because we live in a post-Monica Lewinski world, but this doesn't seem to be that much of a big deal. The movie version of FRWL seems to acknowledge the weakness of the reasoning behind the sequence of events that make up the story. The movie makes Bond's planned embarrassing death a secondary consequence of the villains' (this time SPECTER, not the Soviets) plot to steal the Russian decoder, which in the book is merely used as bait.
Another common problem with Flemming's Bond, which is again on display, is that he is rather gullible and pretty much goes along for the ride without using his wits to solve mysteries or get out of jams. In FRWL he misses obvious clues, believes a thinly disguised enemy agent enough to hand over his gun without much of a thought, and fails to ever put "two and two together."

Despite all the flaws, FRWL is a great book. If the plot has holes, the collection of words are beautiful in themselves, from Flemming's detailed description of food and drink, to the combat scenes that really come to life in this book. The character of Bond is more interesting here than in previous books - he demonstrates a sense of humor and playfulness, shows emotion and even has moments of reflection.
The series of villains, while cartoonish, are fun. The lurking presence of Red Grant is menacing. Bond's interactions with the villains forms the basis for the series of events that make the story flow. Once the silly premise is accepted, the rest of the sequence of events makes a certain amount of sense. This internal coherence (which was missing to some degree in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) added with a fast pace makes the book hold together and never seem slow or dull.
What separates FRWL from the other books, however, is that it contains some genuine surprises, including its truly unexpected ending. The ending is even more unexpected because it is explained away in DR. NO. But the ending should be read for what it is in the context of the book itself, not in the larger context of the series.
Finally, one of the things I enjoy about Flemming's Bond books is that because they were written in the 1950's, they have a feel for a different world, with different values, assumptions, and cultural icons. This differentness is on full display in FRWL. While I have no illusions of the world depicted in Bond books having any resemblance to actual history, the transportation into another world is achieved more purely than could be by a contemporary author writing a period piece. I love it!
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 20, 2015 10:22:48 AM PST
His name is Fleming, not Flemming. Other than this irritation, the review was excellent.
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