This week I dove into Ian Fleming’s fifth James Bond novel, and the one that was most closely adapted for the big screen, though SPECTRE is slipped into the film version, whereas in this tale it is simply east versus west as SMERSH, the Russian spy organisation comes up with a plan to humiliate the English Secret Service, and their target is James Bond.
Rosa Klebb, the head of SMERSH, with the help of the organisation’s chief planner, a chess grand master named Kronsteen, concoct a fool-proof plan to lure in 007. A beautiful, young spy, Tatiana Romanova has supposedly fallen in love with a picture of James Bond from his file. She wants to come over to the other side, to meet him, to be with him, and to make the deal worth it, she promises to bring the new Russian cipher machine, the Spektor.
Klebb has also sent out SMERSH’s best killer, Red Grant to eliminate Bond when it is time – after the pair have made their ‘escape’ from Istanbul aboard the Orient Express.
In fact for anyone who knows the film, this book was very closely adapted, with some moments being expanded on to make them bigger, and to not have Bond be quite so passive as he is for his time in the novel.
Which is the other thing. 007 doesn’t show up in this tale until halfway through. Fleming takes us behind the Red Curtain, into SMERSH, into Grant and Romanova’s lives filling them out before throwing us into Bond’s side of things.
With his Q branch issued attache case in hand, Bond thinks the mission is going to be a piece of cake, and throughout the piece, Fleming reminds us that Bond has been off dangerous duty for about a year, it’s been quiet in the spy business, and consequently he’s a little off his game.
His boss M. takes us into James’ personal life by asking if he’s currently free to give Tatiana the attention she is going to want when the two meet. Here we see continuity from novel to novel as we learn that Bond and Tiffany Case from the previous novel, Diamonds Are Forever, have called it quits, and she’s gone back to the States, freeing James’ emotion, and libido up for this adventure.
And speaking of continuity, Mathis shows up at the end of the tale, and he’s on site when Bond and Klebb have a final confrontation. And we all know how dangerous her shoes will be before the end of the story.
And let me tell you about the end of the story or not really, because unexpected spoilers. I was absolutely delighted with how Fleming ended this one. It could be seen as a cliffhanger or just an ending.
We know, now, that it was a cliffhanger because there are more books to come. But reading this ending at the time of release? WOW!!
Never fear, James Bond will return in…