I was handed a stack of Ian Fleming novels a couple of weeks ago, and I finally got around to reading through one of them.
“From Russia With Love” is the story of a well-planned, well-executed trap, one into which Secret Agent James Bond walks blindly, right up until the jaws are snapping shut. It’s a gentleman’s travelogue with occasional violence and one instance of sex. The book’s more interested in the meals and cigarettes than with setting and story, let alone characterization. The most meaningful relationship in the book isn’t between James Bond and Tatiana Romanova, but between James and his Turkish friend, Darko Kerim.
In short, it’s not at all what I expected. Bond’s hardly the supercool hero who has everything figured out from the start. For one thing, he’s a bit squeamish about cold-blooded killing. Perhaps this is because it’s ungentlemanly… as is smelling of rat tunnels. He makes an entire series of strategic blunders throughout, and in fact only survives through a combination of dumb luck, some preparation from Q Branch, and a suddenly stupid and self-absorbed opponent. Even then, at the very end of the book, he botches things again and is left for… well, not quite dead, but he’s in bad shape.
I mean, what?
It’s a very odd book, and certainly not timeless. A bit of research after-the-fact tells me that this is one of the best-regarded selections from the series. I think that’s my cue not to pursue Ian Fleming’s books further, don’t you?