I dig into another classic James Bond novel by Ian Fleming this week. Up this time is the sixth novel in the series, and one that served as the basis for the first film. The story stays fairly close to what has been explored in the film, with a subplot involving bird guano and conservation, but really takes a turn for the fantastical when it reaches the climax, and would never have worked believably on screen.
Recovering from his poisoning in the last novel, From Russia With Love, M. decides to assign Bond a bit of, what he believes is, an easier case. It seems head of station in Jamaica, Bond’s acquaintance, Strangways, has gone missing with his secretary. The local authorities want to chart it up to the two running off together, but Bond doesn’t buy that.
In keeping the continuity of the novels, M. asks for Bond’s Beretta, as it jammed on him in the previous novel, and it is replaced with a Smith & Wesson, and the oh-so-familiar Walther PPK, though he doesn’t take it on the adventure with him.
Arriving back in Jamaica, his first visit since Live and Let Die, he catches up with his friend Quarrel, and begins an investigation into something Strangways was looking into, an island called Crab Key, and a mysterious Chinese man calling himself Dr. No.
The story begins a little slower, but you can see a lot of things, including lines that ended up in the film, though the novel doesn’t feature, Leiter. Which makes sense considering his condition, and that he is now working with the Pinkertons.
Bond soon finds himself a target of Dr. No, dodging a poisonous centipede attack (changed to a spider for the film) and poisoned fruit. Convinced now that he’s on to something, and possibly more dangerous than M could have predicted, 007 and Quarrel head out to Crab Key.
There they meet Honeychile Rider, who does not come out of the water in a bikini, but just a belt and a knife, and a broken nose to mar her beauty, or enhance it as James comes to believe. The trio encounter the island’s ‘dragon’ and investigate the birds, before getting captured and drawn into No’s lair.
Here the confrontation continues, but after the dinner, much the same as in the film, things take a drastic change. Honey is staked out in the middle of the night, right in the path of black crabs, and Bond has to work his way through a deadly obstacle course that even if he survives, the final coup de grace will kill him… when he has to confront a giant squid.
I kid you not.
Once we get to the climax of the story, this one is undeniably the most fantastical of the bombs, and the rocket toppling that serves as the crux of the investigation in the film, isn’t even mentioned until No and Bond are in conversation at dinner.
It’s a fairly enjoyable read, however, though not my favourite of the bunch, and Quarrel’s fate has more of an impact here than in the film because of the prior relationship the characters have.
There’s some racism running through the book, again, but with the simplicity of the story, barring the squid, and obstacle course at the end of the book, it is definitely a fairly simple story and you can see why it was the first to be adapted for the screen.
James Bond will return in…