From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
If this is love then I’d hate to see the Russian idea of hate.
The Soviets have suffered several espionage losses so they decide to run an elaborate operation in which they’ll kill British agent James Bond in such a way that will embarrass all of English intelligence. The two big pieces of cheese in this mousetrap are a code machine used by the Russians and a beautiful code clerk named Tatiana Romanova who doesn’t realize what kind of pawn she actually is. Will Bond take the bait? Well, he is James Bond, and did I mention that that Tatiana is a beautiful woman? Yeah, take a guess how this goes.
I’m a big fan of Bond on film and generally like those a lot more than the Fleming novels I’ve tried. With this one being the basis for one of the best Bond movies I didn’t find anything to change my mind about that. Bond is usually a bastard in both forms, but there’s something even worse and apt to make me roll my eyes in the way that he’s even more of a privileged sexist bigot on the page then any time on screen.
Plus, the structure of this novel is just weird. It’s only 191 pages, but Bond doesn’t show up until halfway through it. Instead we spend a lot of time getting all the details about how the Soviets came up with this plan. Even when Bond finally appears we get a long segment about how he’s been bored at the office and what his domestic life is like when he's not killing people or having sex. Another problem is that since we’ve been told in detail exactly what trap awaits Bond there’s not a lot of mystery for the reader even when 007 is trying to figure it out.
Although to be fair, the movie also lays out the plan, but there it’s done much more quickly so that Bond gets involved much sooner. In fact, the basic plot beats from the book are used in the film, but the film did a better job of pacing and adding action to the mix. Since I do like the movie a lot I guess that means the basic plot works as long as it moves briskly.
Still, it is one of the classic Bond stories, and there is some charm to this including some spy vs. spy games in Turkey. It also has a top notch thug in the form of Red Grant, a psychopath from the United Kingdom who defected to Russia and became their chief executioner. If there was more of him in here I think I would have liked it more.
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