Thunderball (1961) – Ian Fleming

The ninth book, and eighth full novel,in Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 series is up this week. And this one is a bit of a special case. It was originally concocted as a screenplay, and early editions gave sole credit to Fleming, whereas future editions, much like the film(s) that would later be developed from it, gave writing credit to Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham.

This may explain why the film is fairy close to the novel.

The novel introduces the menacing SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) headed by Ernst Stavro Blofeld, though his description does not match what it would eventually become on screen. The terrorist organisation steals two nuclear missiles from an aircraft they arranged to have stolen, through a devious arranging of circumstances, and are holding the Western governments hostage for a princely sum, with the threat of destruction if they don’t comply.

M, Bond’s boss, following his own hunch, sends Bond to Nassau to follow up a lead. He’s joined there by Felix Leiter, called back to active duty by the CIA, and the pair team up to hunt down the bombs, which are in the hands of SPECTRE agent, Emilio Largo.


Bond has a way in, the beautiful Domino, and so begins a fairly fantastical 007 adventure which is very much a blueprint for the film(s) that would come from it. This novel has the most recognisable shared beats from book to screen, though some of them have been changed and expanded upon for the cinema, and to give Bond more limelight.

In fact, the novel makes more sense as to why Bond gets sent to Shrublands, a health organisation, for some cleansing, and while there is no evil female character, a lot of the action beats will ring very familiar with the reader.

It’s a curious experience reading this novel, and knowing how close to true it is for the film. I’ve grown to enjoy the differences between the novel series and the film series and this one blurred the lines for me a bit.

It was like watching a slightly different version of the film, and where in some cases it works incredibly well, some of the additions the movie makes are solid changes. No wonder it’s my favourite of the Connery era.

That being said, there is still a lot of sexism, and touches of racism in the book, but they aren’t as prominent as in previous novels, and one wonders if that is the touch of the uncredited writers or if Bond, or his creator are slowly coming around.

This was another quick, detailed, action packed and enjoyable read that entertains, and leads me to eagerly anticipate James Bond’s return in The Spy Who Loved Me.



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