the 13th James Bond Book
‘Well, sir, I think it must be 007. Bit thinner than his photographs. I’ll be giving you his prints as soon as he’s gone. Wearing his usual rig – dark-blue single-breasted suit, white shirt, thin black knitted silk tie, black casuals – but they all look brand new. Raincoat bought yesterday from Burberry’s. Got the Freudenstadt question right, but says he won’t say anything about himself except to M. personally. But whoever he is, I don’t like it much. He fluffed on his special cigarettes. He’s got an odd sort of glazed, sort of far-away look, and the “Scope” shows that he’s carrying a gun in his right-hand coat pocket – curious sort of contraption, doesn’t seem to have got a butt to it. I’d say he’s a sick man. I wouldn’t personally recommend that M. should see him, but I wouldn’t know how we’re to get him to talk unless he does.’
[Bond meets up with his old secretary, Mary Goodnight in Jamaica]
Still the same glint of health over the good bones and the broad uninhibited smile from the full lips that, in repose, were so exciting. But now the clothes were different. Instead of the severe shirt and skirt of the days at Headquarters, she was wearing a single string of pearls and a one-piece short-skirted frock in the colour of a pink gin with a lot of bitters in it – the orangey-pink of the inside of a conch shell. It was all tight against the bosom and the hips. She smiled at his scrutiny. ‘The buttons are down the back. This is standard uniform for a tropical Station.’
commentary: This is the last full-length James Bond novel, and it was published after Fleming died. It is sadly clear that he was struggling by the end – it seems that he knew how ill he was and was understandably gloomy and depressed – and it is also clear from his letters that he did not think this novel was finished. He wanted more time to work on it, and suggested that publication be delayed for a year.
But while it is not the brightest star in the Bond firmament, it’s not that bad. It starts off with a bang – the brainwashed Bond comes back to the UK to try to assassinate M. I feel it is hardly a spoiler to say he doesn’t succeed. He is then ‘cured’ of his brainwashing, and given a chance at redemption: he must try to get rid of Scaramanga, the very evil Man with the Golden Gun. Bond takes himself off to Jamaica (very much a favourite Fleming spot – he lived there half the year) and gets himself taken onto Scaramanga’s staff. Various adventures follow.
There is the usual collection of bizarre moments, the ones that keep this reader going when everything else is somewhat routine. The story of the elephant in the childhood of Scaramanga was head-shakingly odd. And then there was this, as M reads a file on the villain:
There is a popular theory that a man who cannot whistle has homosexual tendencies. (At this point, the reader may care to experiment and, from his self-knowledge, help to prove or disprove this item of folklore! C. C.)’ (M. hadn’t whistled since he was a boy. Unconsciously his mouth pursed and a clear note was emitted. He uttered an impatient ‘tchah!’ and continued with his reading.)There is a reference to ‘jippa jappa luggage’ – apparently this means it is made of straw, and an interesting scene at a brothel at 3 and a half Love Lane – Fleming suggested that this address would make a good alternative title for the book.
There is an extraordinary scene in a nightclub where Scaramanga has taken a party of visiting gangsters: it is dull, and Bond sees a ‘cruise ship evening stretching ahead’. His idea of livening it up is to shoot the pineapple headdress off one of the singers, then order up some scantily-dressed women who will strip, and, as it turns out, go to bed with the gangsters.
Bond’s mission is to take out Scaramanga, and he is almost Hamlet-like in his indecision and delaying tactics here: several times he thinks ‘well I could kill him right now. But I won’t’ – for no clear reasons. (Except it would have made the book a lot shorter...)
So: a slightly sad ending to the series, but not as bad as I had remembered. Now I will just have to polish off the Octopussy short stories, and my year-long Bond reading marathon will be over.
Bond pictures from the ever-wonderful Suits of James Bond website. Note those ‘casuals’: we found out in OHMSS that Bond abhors shoelaces.
The young woman in the pink dress – who certainly looks as though she might be dealing with a secret agent – is a 1966 photo from Kristine’s photostream. You can see my idea of HQ wear for women in this blog entry on Moonraker.
You can find all the James Bond entries on the blog by clicking on the label below.