James Bond: Book 5
[James Bond is on the Orient Express for an important rendezvous...]
There was no hurrying figure coming up the platform from the guichet. High up above the guichet, near the ceiling of the station, the minute hand of the big illuminated clock jumped forward an inch and said ‘Nine’. A window banged down above Bond’s head. Bond looked up. His immediate reaction was that the black veil was too wide-meshed. The intention to disguise the luxurious mouth and the excited blue eyes was amateurish. ‘Quick.’
The train had begun to move. Bond reached for the passing hand-rail and swung up on to the step. The attendant was still holding open the door. Bond stepped unhurriedly through.
‘Madam was late,’ said the attendant. ‘She came along the corridor. She must have entered by the last carriage.’ Bond went down the carpeted corridor to the centre coupé.
A black 7 stood above a black 8 on the white metal lozenge. The door was ajar. Bond walked in and shut it behind him. The girl had taken off her veil and her black straw hat. She was sitting in the corner by the window. A long, sleek sable coat was thrown open to show a natural coloured shantung dress with a pleated skirt, honey-coloured nylons and a black crocodile belt and shoes. She looked composed. ‘You have no faith, James.’
commentary: James Bond doesn’t appear in this book till a long way in – there is a very long and rather dull set up in which we hear all about the Soviet plot to do him down. Benefit of the doubt – perhaps all this would have been fascinating in 1957. Fleming opens the book by saying ‘Not that it matters, but a great deal of the background to this story is accurate.’ (A format followed in announcement at the beginning of the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 12 years later). And so we hear a lot about the organization Smersh, and its views of the Western countries. It reminded me of Dennis Wheatley, who also used to drone on like that. I think the content could have been summed up in 2 short chapters, one about the wicked Mr Grant and one about the plot. And I think if the kind of plan the Soviet Secret Service made is truly represented by this book, then it’s a wonder they didn’t lose the Cold War a lot sooner. The amount of preparation and expense involved in taking down one spy is absurd. Checking up on Tatiana’s sexual abilities! It reminded me of the delightfully rubbish-y Irving Wallace book, The Second Lady.
As ever, Bond is always one step behind the Russians and the readers – it’s rather an odd feature of the books, and one I haven’t seen much comment on: he comes over as rather dim, and far too trusting. There is one scene where he is spying on a Soviet secret meeting – he can see what is going on, but can’t hear anything. If he could hear, the whole plan would be exposed to him, so the whole thing is rather pointless. He comments himself on
his own stupidity – blind, lethal stupidity. At any moment he could have done something to dodge this shambles. There had been no lack of opportunity. But conceit and curiosity and four days of love had sucked him along on the easy stream down which it had been planned that he should drift.The main events start off in Istanbul then move to the Orient Express, an excellent setting, and there is plenty of action all the way home. I particularly liked the gun disguised in a copy of War and Peace – and the tremendous moment when Bond picks it up in mid-fight and has a panic:
The book! How did one work the thing? Which way up was it? Would it shoot him or [X]?-- he literally doesn’t know which way the bullets come out, like those people who turn their video camera the wrong way round.
The villain on the train does more even than the usual talkative criminal: he says he will kill Bond, spends half an hour telling him the plot and secrets, and ends up saying where and when he must meet his superior the next day. So that when Bond overpowers him, he then knows how to get to the next layer.
However, the ending isn’t what one might be expecting – something dreadful happens on the very last page….
Rosa Klebb resembles Dolores Umbrage from the Harry Potter books, and plainly should be played by Imelda Staunton if the film is ever remade.
All fur coat pictures are subject to my lovely knowledgeable readers telling me what animal they are from – one of these plainly isn’t sable, but I thought she had the right look for Tatiana, and it’s the right era – from the splendid Clover Vintage Tumblr. The other is much more recent, but again seemed in the spirit of From Russia With Love.
There's another entry on this book coming up - so much to say on this series... For other Bond books, click on the labels below.