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From Russia with Love (James Bond Series) Paperback – October 16, 2012
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About the Author
Ian Fleming was born in London on May 28, 1908. He was educated at Eton College and later spent a formative period studying languages in Europe. His first job was with Reuters News Agency where a Moscow posting gave him firsthand experience with what would become his literary bete noire—the Soviet Union. During World War II he served as Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence and played a key role in Allied espionage operations.
After the war he worked as foreign manager of the Sunday Times, a job that allowed him to spend two months each year in Jamaica. Here, in 1952, at his home “Goldeneye,” he wrote a book called Casino Royale—and James Bond was born. The first print run sold out within a month. For the next twelve years Fleming produced a novel a year featuring Special Agent 007, the most famous spy of the century. His travels, interests, and wartime experience lent authority to everything he wrote. Raymond Chandler described him as “the most forceful and driving writer of thrillers in England.” Sales soared when President Kennedy named the fifth title, From Russia With Love, one of his favorite books. The Bond novels have sold more than one hundred million copies worldwide, boosted by the hugely successful film franchise that began in 1962 with the release of Dr. No.
He married Anne Rothermere in 1952. His story about a magical car, written in 1961 for their only son Caspar, went on to become the well- loved novel and film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Fleming died of heart failure on August 12, 1964, at the age of fifty-six.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The naked man who lay splayed out on his face beside the swimming pool might have been dead.
He might have been drowned and fished out of the pool and laid out on the grass to dry while the police or the next-of-kin were summoned. Even the little pile of objects in the grass beside his head might have been his personal effects, meticulously assembled in full view so that no one should think that something had been stolen by his rescuers.
To judge by the glittering pile, this had been, or was, a rich man. It contained the typical membership badges of the rich man's club - a money clip, made of a Mexican fifty-dollar piece and holding a substantial wad of banknotes, a well-used gold Dunhill lighter, an oval gold cigarette case with the wavy ridges and discreet turquoise button that means Faberge, and the sort of novel a rich man pulls out of the bookcase to take into the garden - The Little Nugget - an old P.G. Wodehouse. There was also a bulky gold wristwatch on a well-used brown crocodile strap. It was a Girard-Perregaux model designed for people who like gadgets, and it had a sweep second-hand and two little windows in the face to tell the day of the month, and the month, and the phase of the moon. The story it now told was 2.30 on June 10th with the moon three-quarters full.
A blue and green dragon-fly flashed out from among the rose bushes at the end of the garden and hovered in mid-air a few inches above the base of the man's spine. It had been attracted by the golden shimmer of the June sunshine on the ridge of fine blond hairs above the coccyx. A puff of breeze came off the sea. The tiny field of hairs bent gently. The dragonfly darted nervously sideways and hung above the man's left shoulder, looking down. The young grass below the man's open mouth stirred. A large drop of sweat rolled down the side of the fleshy nose and dropped glittering into the grass. That was enough. The dragonfly flashed away through the roses and over the jagged glass on top of the high garden wall. It might be good food, but it moved.
The garden in which the man lay was about an acre of well-kept lawn surrounded on three sides by thickly banked rose bushes from which came the steady murmur of bees. Behind the drowsy noise of the bees the sea boomed softly at the bottom of the cliff at the end of the garden.
There was no view of the sea from the garden - no view of anything except of the sky and the clouds above the twelve-foot wall. In fact you could only see out of the property from the two upstairs bedrooms of the villa that formed the fourth side of this very private enclosure. From them you could see a great expanse of blue water in front of you and, on either side, the upper windows of neighbouring villas and the tops of the trees in their gardens - Mediterranean-type evergreen oaks, stone pines, casuarinas and an occasional palm tree.
The villa was modern - a squat elongated box without ornament. On the garden side the flat pink-washed facade was pierced by four iron-framed windows and by a central glass door leading on to a small square of pale green glazed tiles. The tiles merged into the lawn. The other side of the villa, standing back a few yards from a dusty road, was almost identical. But on this side the four windows were barred, and the central door was of oak.
The villa had two medium-sized bedrooms on the upper floor and on the ground floor a sitting-room and a kitchen, part of which was walled off into a lavatory. There was no bathroom.
The drowsy luxurious silence of early afternoon was broken by the sound of a car coming down the road. It stopped in front of the villa. There was the tinny clang of a car door being slammed and the car drove on. The doorbell rang twice. The naked man beside the swimming pool did not move, but, at the noise of the bell and of the departing car, his eyes had for an instant opened very wide. It was as if the eyelids had pricked up like an animal's ears. The man immediately remembered where he was and the day of the week and the time of the day. The noises were identified. The eyelids with their fringe of short sandy eyelashes drooped drowsily back over the very pale blue, opaque, inward-looking eyes. The small cruel lips opened in a wide jaw-breaking yawn which brought saliva into the mouth. The man spat the saliva into the grass and waited.
A young woman carrying a small string bag and dressed in a white cotton shirt and a short, unalluring blue skirt came through the glass door and strode mannishly across the glazed tiles and the stretch of lawn towards the naked man. A few yards away from him, she dropped her string bag on the grass and sat down and took off her cheap and rather dusty shoes. Then she stood up and unbuttoned her shirt and took it off and put it, neatly folded, beside the string bag.
The girl had nothing on under the shirt. Her skin was pleasantly sunburned and her shoulders and fine breasts shone with health. When she bent her arms to undo the side-buttons of her skirt, small tufts of fair hair showed in her armpits. The impression of a healthy animal peasant girl was heightened by the chunky hips in faded blue stockinet bathing trunks and the thick short thighs and legs that were revealed when she had stripped.
The girl put the skirt neatly beside her shirt, opened the string bag, took out an old soda-water bottle containing some heavy colourless liquid and went over to the man and knelt on the grass beside him. She poured some of the liquid, a light olive oil, scented, as was everything in that part of the world, with roses, between his shoulder blades and, after flexing her fingers like a pianist, began massaging the sternomastoid and the trapezius muscles at the back of the man's neck.
It was hard work. The man was immensely strong and the bulging muscles at the base of the neck hardly yielded to the girl's thumbs even when the downward weight of her shoulders was behind them. By the time she was finished with the man she would be soaked in perspiration and so utterly exhausted that she would fall into the swimming pool and then lie down in the shade and sleep until the car came for her. But that wasn't what she minded as her hands worked automatically on across the man's back. It was her instinctive horror for the finest body she had ever seen.
None of this horror showed in the flat, impassive face of the masseuse, and the upward-slanting black eyes under the fringe of short coarse black hair were as empty as oil slicks, but inside her the animal whimpered and cringed and her pulse-rate, if it had occurred to her to take it, would have been high.
Once again, as so often over the past two years, she wondered why she loathed this splendid body, and once again she vaguely tried to analyse her revulsion. Perhaps this time she would get rid of feelings which she felt guiltily certain were much more unprofessional than the sexual desire some of her patients awoke in her.
To take the small things first: his hair. She looked down at the round, smallish head on the sinewy neck. It was covered with tight red-gold curls that should have reminded her pleasantly of the formalised hair in the pictures she had seen of classical statues. But the curls were somehow too tight, too thickly pressed against each other and against the skull. They set her teeth on edge like fingernails against pile carpet. And the golden curls came down so low into the back of the neck - almost (she thought in professional terms) to the fifth cervical vertebra. And there they stopped abruptly in a straight line of small stiff golden hairs.
The girl paused to give her hands a rest and sat back on her haunches. The beautiful upper half of her body was already shining with sweat. She wiped the back of her forearm across her forehead and reached for the bottle of oil. She poured about a tablespoonful on to the small furry plateau at the base of the man's spine, flexed her fingers and bent forward again.
This embryo tail of golden down above the cleft of the buttocks - in a lover it would have been gay, exciting, but on this man it was somehow bestial. No, reptilian. But snakes had no hair. Well, she couldn't help that. It seemed reptilian to her. She shifted her hands on down to the two mounds of the gluteal muscles. Now was the time when many of her patients, particularly the young ones on the football team, would start joking with her. Then, if she was not very careful, the suggestions would come. Sometimes she could silence these by digging sharply down towards the sciatic nerve. At other times, and particularly if she found the man attractive, there would be giggling arguments, a brief wrestling-match and a quick, delicious surrender.
With this man it was different, almost uncannily different. From the very first he had been like a lump of inanimate meat. In two years he had never said a word to her. When she had done his back and it was time for him to turn over, neither his eyes nor his body had once shown the smallest interest in her. When she tapped his shoulder, he would just roll over and gaze at the sky through half-closed lids and occasionally let out one of the long shuddering yawns that were the only sign that he had human reactions at all.
The girl shifted her position and slowly worked down the right leg towards the Achilles tendon. When she came to it, she looked back up the fine body. Was her revulsion only physical? Was it the reddish colour of the sunburn on the naturally milk-white skin, the sort of roast meat look? Was it the texture of the skin itself, the deep, widely spaced pores in the satiny surface? The thickly scattered orange freckles on the shoulders? Or was it the sexuality of the man? The indifference of these splendid, insolently bulging muscles? Or was it spiritual - an animal instinct telling her that inside this wonderful body there was an evil person?
The masseuse got to her feet and stood, twisting her head slowly from side to side and flexing her shoulders. She stretched her arms out s...
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While the above mentioned set-up was a welcome change of pace, the overt monologuing at the end of the story was... less so. Indeed, "Captain Nash's" speech at the end of the book proved my biggest dislike. Regardless of how part and parcel that practice is with this particular series, it was still distracting and borderline disruptive. It is one thing to accept Bond's greatest qualities as a secret agent are his fortitude and unearthly luck. It is quite another to find his antagonists regularly explaining every facet of their plan, however minute (and at times, not entirely relevant to Bond). Yes, it is part of the charm peculiar to this sub genre of spy fiction, but surely there must be other ways to present that information, even if hat deviation from the formula is only occasional.
All ranting about plot presentation aside, "From Russia With Love" still stands as one of the great pulp spy thrillers. The reasons are many and varied; well worth spending a few hours to discover and delight in. And now for everyone's favorite part of a review... quotes!
"They are hard people. With them, what you don’t get from strength, you won’t get from mercy."
"General G. sought for a final phrase to convey the threat without defining it. He found it. ‘There will be,’ he paused and looked, with artificial mildness, down the table, ‘displeasure.’ "
"Even the highest tree has an axe waiting at its foot."
"A great deal of killing has to be done in the U.S.S.R., not because the average Russian is a cruel man, although some of their races are among the cruellest peoples in the world, but as an instrument of policy. People who act against the State are enemies of the State, and the State has no room for enemies. There is too much to do for precious time to be allotted to them, and, if they are a persistent nuisance, they get killed. In a country with a population of 200,000,000, you can kill many thousands a year without missing them. If, as happened in the two biggest purges, a million people have to be killed in one year, that is also not a grave loss. The serious problem is the shortage of executioners. Executioners have a short ‘life’. They get tired of the work. The soul sickens of it. After ten, twenty, a hundred death-rattles, the human being, however sub-human he may be, acquires, perhaps by a process of osmosis with death itself, a germ of death which enters his body and eats into him like a canker. Melancholy and drink take him, and a dreadful lassitude which brings a glaze to the eyes and slows up the movements and destroys accuracy. When the employer sees these signs he has no alternative but to execute the executioner and find another one."
The British Empire no longer held the ascendant authority as policeman of the planet as it once had. That role had been seized by the United States. Britain’s impotence was underscored by high profile defections of agents Burgess and Maclean, both of whom are cited in this novel. However, SMERSH, the real-life Soviet counterintelligence agency, still sees Britain as a formidable opponent as exemplified in the exceptional agent James Bond. They list their recent defeats at his hand i.e. incidents recounted in most of the preceding novels of the series and devise a circuitous plan to kill him and embarrass the British Secret Service in a fresh scandal, using a beautiful Russian agent who wants to defect but only with the aid of the great spy James Bond, with whom she’s fallen in love at first sight of a photograph. In return for Bond’s aid, Tatiana Romanova will deliver the Spektor, a prized Soviet decoding machine.
Bond’s superior, M, directs Bond to accept the job despite his disapproval of Bond’s amorous escapades. M and his colleagues are enticed by the prospect of obtaining this machine (inspired by the Enigma decoding machine used in World War II) and see Bond as the most qualified for this job as escort for the love-smitten young Russian agent. They, and Bond, see it, naively, as a fairly straightforward operation.
While Bond has the obvious reputation as something of a playboy, unlike his cinematic counterpart he actually seems somewhat monogamous. At the beginning of the novel he is still recovering from the slow dissolution of his romance with Tiffany Case, the female protagonist of the previous novel, ‘Diamonds are Forever,’ and is not initially eager to plunge into another romantic intrigue. Of course, once he meets Tania (as her friends call her) he quickly becomes intrigued and a bit infatuated to the point that he is concerned about her fate (and theirs as a couple) after this operation is concluded.
The Soviet scheme is devised by chess master Kronsteen and Rosa Klebb, head of Operations and Executions. They enlist the homicidal Red Grant as Bond’s killer. Most of this is unknown by Tatiana, who is a pawn with limited knowledge of the extent of the game she is playing. There is no single diabolical villain who lusts for world domination, just a few psychopathic Soviets out to embarrass the decadent Brits.
As I read this novel, I noted how much space is devoted to what Bond eats for breakfast, the cigarettes he smokes, the martinis he drinks (although the phrase ‘shaken not stirred’ is not used once), how he dresses. Fleming is describing a lifestyle that he envies or at least idealizes as much as he is writing a spy thriller. There are so many passages that don’t obviously propel the plot but simply add atmosphere to the tale. Fleming’s books have been described as travelogues—and they definitely fit that description—but they are also depictions of a fantasy lifestyle of romance, danger and the good life or what Fleming would like to persuade his largely male readers is a good life.
Regarding Bond’s ‘license to kill’ I noticed how, when his Turkish ally Darko Kerim vows revenge against a Bulgarian refugee named Krilencu, Bond accompanies him but inwardly recoils at Kerim’s killing of the man ‘in cold blood’ (shooting the man in the dark using an infrared sight after he escapes from a trapdoor embedded in a movie billboard, emerging from Marilyn Monroe’s mouth). I sense that Bond is at heart still tied to an ideal of sportsmanship. I don’t recall if the license to kill was depicted in the novels as consent for Bond to kill with discretion as it seems to be in the films. I will have to revisit more novels and films to make an assessment of that feature.
I will not be revealing a spoiler by stating that it ends with Bond being stabbed by a poison tipped blade emerging from Rosa Klebb’s shoe and falling to unconsciousness as ‘From Russia With Love’ is only Novel # 5 of 12 (Fleming also wrote a couple of collections of James Bond stories). He certainly intended to leave Bond’s fate up in the air at the novel’s conclusion. Perhaps he saw this as a possible exit strategy much as Arthur Conan Doyle had done with Sherlock Holmes at the end of his story “The Final Problem.” Obviously, he continued the series. Far from being the final Bond novel, ‘From Russia With Love’ falls clearly within the first half of the series.
Although Fleming’s Bond fantasies bear only a tenuous resemblance to real life MI6 operations (it took John Le Carre’ to bring a sense of authenticity to the real life of a British secret agent in the Cold War era), they still seem more rooted in a world resembling ours than the film series that grew progressively more absurd and exaggerated. Fleming describes a character that is not simply a killing machine or a seduction machine or a ‘shaken not stirred’ martini drinker. While he is never as conscience-ridden as most of Le Carre’s protagonists, James Bond is a recognizable man who worries and berates himself for not measuring up to ideals that have been set for him or that he has set for himself. I think he basically wants to be a good agent (it’s the only job for which he’s really qualified) but he’ll live as much of this ‘good life’ as he can along the way.
I found the Bond character much more believable than the movies, with real emotions and human flaws. Very likable indeed. Lots of fascinating details to entertain. Probably there are some parts uncomfortable for today's readers such as bias toward cultures and nations other than British. It reflects the period of time when the book was written.