I continue to make my way through Ian Fleming’s Bond novels – and this time it’s the mysterious Dr. No.
Set after ‘From Russia with Love’, Bond has recovered from the deadly poison attack and is put on a ‘routine’ checkup of a reporting station that went silent in Jamaica. In what is supposed to be an easy R&R assignment, he discovers the evil Dr. No has people infiltrated large sectors of the locals and is likely behind the disappearances of the reporting station. He is also apparently up to something on, and behind other mysterious disappearances at, his private Crab Key island. Bond pairs up with the local Jamaican Quarrel and investigates. We meet the beautiful and wild Honey Rider who’s grown up by her wits in the tropics gathering shells. He is captured and after given luxurious treatment and dinner with Dr. No; he is subject to physical abuse as he is beaten, burned, and attacked by sea creatures on Dr. No’s torture course. And of course we also meet the mysterious and evil Dr. No who wastes no time extolling his own prowess and intellect in true evil genius style. Can Bond escape the torture course, rescue the girl, and destroy Dr. No?
Dr. No is another case in which the movie actually follows the book pretty closely – and in some ways – surpasses the book. The characters are the same, but there are a few differences. The pipe that the movie Bond crawls through in the movie is actually a torture course in the book. Dr. No doesn’t have any nuclear reactor in the book, and his hands are simply claws, not the mechanical apparatus of the movie. The death of Dr. No in the nuclear reactor of the movie was almost more cool than the ‘ironic’ death he gets in the book buried under a pile of guano. Dr. No’s reasons for keeping people off the island are due to his use of slave labor in the book, and his missile interception is secondary to profits from the island’s guano mining.
Technically, the writing shows it’s ‘pulpy-ness’ for sure. Like usual Fleming novels, you’re not going to find any Pulitzer depth or anything resembling literary prose; but you will find a tight little book that keeps the action moving. His dated concepts of ‘good breeding’ and disdain of the Chinese and those of African-American descent are typically prejudiced and bigoted. Bond’s in-servitude and only passing concern about the death of poor Quarrel leaves a particularly bad taste in your mouth. Quarrel helps him, protects him, is more fit, stronger, of better character, and would follow Bond anywhere. Yet barely half the love Quarrel should have got was given. As in other Bond novels, we see the book Bond’s flaws much more clearly – he’s got far more imperfections than ever show in the suave movie Bond.
Yet there are some great parts. In true stereotypical fashion, Bond is captured and taken to a beautiful dinner where Dr. No spills his life story because he believes only Bond is ‘smart enough’ to understand his achievements. There is a great window into the ocean that is a technical marvel Dr. No built to show off his genius. But one of my favorite parts is the introduction of another spy-era villain fax-paux. When Bond is put through the torture maze and Honey is tied up outside to be devoured by crabs, nobody actually watches them or checks to make sure the job is done. They just wander off at the critical moments and leave them to their oh-so-obvious escape. Reminds me of the quote, “Now I’ll leave you alone to your almost certain doom by this complex apparatus with that innocuous looking pen and one inept guard.”
So, overall, we have the classic maniac and Bond must destroy him. A great little book, but you won’t get much more out of this than just seeing the movie. It gets a B because it’s good, but you can get all of that and more out of the 2 hour movie.