The latest of my Ian Flemming reading is “From Russia With Love”. It was his 5th Bond book and considered one of his best. I don’t know if I totally agree, but it’s still a very good read.
The plot is full of great early cold-war era intrigue. Russia’s intelligence agency has recently suffered some embarrassing failures and setbacks. They decide to enlist their lethal SMERSH to come up with a plan to embarrass the west and also eliminate an enemy agent at the same time. They target Bond for the elimination; and cook up a plot to do so in the most publicly embarrassing way possible by framing him. SMERSH enlists the irresistible Tatiana Romanova to lure 007 to Istanbul promising to give the west a top-secret Spektor cipher machine. But when Bond walks willingly into the trap, a game of cross and double-cross ensues.
Overall, the story is not bad and right in line with Flemming’s other novels. The plot in this book is probably the most complex. There are many different story lines all working their way towards a resolution and the exact details of the plot are hidden from view until the very end. Some of those lines are working so completely unseen to the reader that it gives a great bit of excitement as you wonder where and how those spinning wheels will come crashing into view again.
Oh sure, there is plenty of bigotry and nationalism as usual in the Bond series. Flemming gives great little unfiltered opinions of various Western countries of his day via the comments of the Russian’s during the plotting phase. He doesn’t seem to think much of the French for sure. There’s the usual dose of sex and even some lesbianism which would certainly have been as racy as it came back in the day. There are gypsies that he considers near sub-human, and so forth. Certainly cringe-worthy for people sensitive to political incorrectness – but I still always find these books amazing insights into exactly what people of 70 years ago used to honestly think.
One notable point in this novel is that Bond walks pretty much right into the Russian trap when there are buckets of warning signs. The concept of Bond being some invincibly omnipotent agent as we see in the movie versions is not present in most of the actual books. Yet this book really shows the flaws. Several times Bond even says to himself that this might be a trap and unsuccessfully tries to sort out the plots that appear to be SCREAMING that it’s a trap (you dolt!). Yet he goes right along with it anyway and seems to think the power of his masculine intuition over this Russian agent he is making love with is all-powerful. Oh how wrong he turns out to be.
There are some great villains. The head of SMERSH is vile and cringe worthy. The assassin himself is a great character; and painted as dark as one could imagine. The depths of his murderous and homicidal tenancies are nearly unparalleled in other works I’ve read of this era. He’s a genuinely nasty and downright psychopathic killer. Still, I found myself laughing out loud though when it came to the point of the kill. He actually wakes up his completely vulnerable victim to tell them the WHOLE plot ad-nausium before making what should have been an easy kill. It introduces the classic faux-pax of having your enemy completely in your power, stopping to spill the whole plot, and then flub it because you gave the victim a window of opportunity. Truly classic.
Overall, it is a good book. I think I might still give the nod to Moonraker, but this one has much more intrigue and dynamism to it. I give it a A- for the adventure, with the minus points for Bond’s walking right into a trap WE all saw coming.