Touching Lives One Martini at a Time
This thriller is great fun because it has a great Cold War plot, a believable romance, danger, and friendship, all along the backdrop of a city which is still exotic to Westerners. It is also plausible, unlike many James Bond novels. It is the simple story of a trap set up to avenge the death of a Russian operative using a pretty girl as bait. Along the way is a psychopath hit-man sent to kill Bond, an Enigma-type code machine, and a beautiful Russian girl who may or may not be falling in love and may or may not be defecting. Each facet of the novel is true and no one portion takes away from the other. It is a nice hat-trick Fleming pulled off here. Even a John LeCarré fan would like From Russia, with Love.
The plot is ingenious as you are given the trap first and then see how Bond is lured into it. As most present-day people saw the movies first and read the novels second, one might expect Grand Guingol set-pieces and villains. But it is a simple story, drawn out piece by piece as each participant is introduced and given their job. Unlike many Bond novels, where you only know what Bond knows, in this case we know more and that creates greater tension.
Darko Kerim is a great performance by Vance. His throaty Turkish rasp was filled with the mirth and joie de vivre you'd expect from a former circus performer who rose to become the head of the Turkish station. You grew to like the guy and could see why the Bond character, always suspicious and terse, would grow to like him also.
Fleming's novels are not terribly emotional, so it is difficult to become vested in the characters. This novel is different. As the characters are well-defined and the relationships are believable, one actually wonders what will happen to the beautiful Russian. And, frankly, despite all the torture and violence in Bond novels, this is the only one where you think he might get killed, even when you know the plot. It is very hard to put this one down.
This is the best Bond novel, hands down. Even if you don't read Fleming (and you have to be a fan to read a preponderance of them), this thriller will stand the test of time. You don't have to understand the canon to read this one and it doesn't matter if you read more stories. Enjoy a good Cold War yarn.
I read this book in high school... let's just say a long time ago, and haven't read it since. I still think the movie is the best of the series, but there's plenty that's changed. I purchased this audio book a while back and enjoyed every minute of it. I think it's one of the best of Fleming's books, right up there with ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE. In fact, I think I enjoyed it MORE now than I did 25 years ago. It's not a bad book for newbies to Fleming to start with. Then again, when you get to the end you'll want to run out and buy DR. NO right away- not that that's a problem.
Simon Vance is a wonderful reader as well. He gives each character a nice characterization and keeps them from being confusing. My only problem is the way he pronounces Romanova, but that's only because I've seen the movie a bazillion times.
If you want to listen in order, start with Casino Royale. It's a good book and great listen as well, but almost 3 hours shorter than FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Either way, you won't be disappointed.
Ian Fleming should get more credit than he does for writing fast-paced tightly-plotted thrillers. The James Bond of the books is nothing like the superhero of the movies. This is adventure fiction that stays within the bounds of reason, and it's full of (almost) believable heroes and villains and not nearly as many outrageous gadgets as in the movies either. (Bond is actually given a cynanide pill dispenser in this book; he laughs and washes them down the drain.)
The plot is basically "Get Bond!" SMERSH wants to kill a prominent rival agent to send a message to all the other intelligence agencies, intimidate double agents, and impress the Kremlin. We get lots of Russian political machinations and the background of all the villains (and the love interest, Tatiana Romanova) before Bond is even introduced. Then to the story: SMERSH lures Bond to Turkey in what's an obvious trap, baited with Romanova and a Russian decoding device, but MI6 sends Bond anyway because the potential payoff is too good to pass up. Bond meets Romanova, is completely taken in by her, and makes several other blunders that will surprise anyone who's used to the cold, flawless cinematic Bond, before he confronts the real enemy, a psychopathic Irish defector who is now SMERSH's top assassin.
The original Bond stories are fun despite being so dated. The literary 007 is a much more interesting character than he ever was on-screen. He's still a sexist pig, though, and the books are full of racist, sexist stereotypes. But if you can embrace them as the guilty pleasure they are, this book is a taut little thriller with a naked gypsy catfight, a lesbian Soviet interrogation specialist and her poisoned knitting needles, an asexual pseudo-lycanthropic serial killer, an Istanbul dungeon crawl, and a Turkish spice merchant who tells Bond how he used his harem to grow his own personal spy ring.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
From the Telegraph's Andrew Martin 06 Aug 2014:
"Scientists at the University of London have concluded that the key to happiness is having low expectations. 'They mined this conclusion from an experiment in which people gambled with small sums of money. The subjects were happiest when they won, not having expected to win.'"
This quote pretty much captures my feelings about Ian Fleming. Now five books deep into James Bond, I've just figured out how to enjoy these books. Yes, you guessed it. Low expectations. I can't pretend I'm going to be reading Graham Greene or Joseph Conrad. I'm not going to explore the soul of man or the heart of darkness. I'm also not going to be reading John le Carré. There isn't going to be any self-reflection of post-modern hand wringing. This is James Bond dammit. You are going to get James Bond. He is a known quantity. If you come to this expecting to be seduced by literature, oh boy, you are on the wrong damn train. If, however, you are looking for 00 so ‘tarnished with years of treachery and ruthlessness and fear,’ sent off ‘to pimp for England’... Well, babe, this is THAT novel and James is your man.
It all reminds me of a quote from Christopher Hitchens I recently read:
“Fleming once confessed that he hoped to “take the story along so fast that nobody would notice the idiosyncrasies.” Fat chance. His “idiosyncrasies” jut out like Tatiana Romanova’s ass. What he ought to have said was that he hoped to pile on the pace and thereby hustle the reader past the point where belief has to be suspended. The smaller details, of products and appurtenances and accessories, fulfill the function of the conjuror’s other hand. They distract attention from the glaring lacunae in the plots, the amazing stupidity of the supposedly mastermind villains, and the reckless disregard for his own safety that this supposedly ice-cold agent displays by falling for every lure.”
SMERSH has decided that it must strike back against the West. Leaders of the organization decide that in order to redeem recent setbacks that a British agent must die. The agent chosen is none other than James Bond, Agent 007. It is not enough to simply kill Bond, they need to discredit him and embarrass London as well. A clever trap is set for Bond using a beautiful Russian agent.
To do the killing SMERSH decides to use their best killer. This man is an Irish psychopath known as Red Grant who enjoys killing. It is what he lives for. This man is the perfect killing machine. Will Bond be able to see the trap before it is too late?
This has all the great stuff that makes a Bond novel. You have the beautiful woman, the cold blooded killer, the evil Soviet organization, the intricate plots. This novel was a bit different in one way. The first third of the novel tells the story of Grant and the SMERSH plot. So you don't even see the main character until the second part of the book. Overall it's a great story and is quite enjoyable.
Just as recording artists have best albums this is clearly Fleming on a role and Fleming at his best. This is certainly his finest book. The realism seemed to rub off on the film series with Connery calling FRWL a tense "spy thriller," and his big favorite of the (film) series.
Virtually everything in the book is believable, much is creepy, some is downright deranged. Read it. You won't be sorry.
I always prefer when bond goes up against Russia instead of some gang of thugs. the others are enjoyable as well but there is something in the way that Fleming details the Soviet society and spy works.
I'm open to any book as long as it is true to itself.
The Bond stories are always a reliable staple of mine - whenever I am stuck for something to listen to I can rely on a Bond book. This is a strong Bond book. Quite different from the film. I find that Bond himself is so much more interesting in print than he is on screen. I would recommend any of the Bond books, but this would be a great one to listen to if you want to try one out.