Ian Fleming’s fourth James Bond novel, Diamonds are Forever, centres on the British Secret Service agent’s infiltration and subsequent destruction of a diamond smuggling operation. And while it’s a solid entry in the series, boasting a memorable finale aboard the Queen Elizabeth, after the high-stakes of Moonraker – the near-destruction of London – here, Bond’s opposition is comparatively modest; the villains, The Spangled Mob, lack the flair of their contemporaries. By this stage, 1956, Fleming had clearly identified the Bond ‘formula,’ and while Diamonds are Forever ticks all the requisite boxes, it does so industriously rather than zealously. Bond is initially dubious about his opponent’s – but while he eventually reconsiders his assessment, readers won’t be entirely convinced.
The novel’s greatest asset is its ‘Bond Girl,’ Tiffany Case, but not without a major misgiving. Her hideous backstory feels contrived – she was gang-raped as a teenager, and developed an antipathy towards men – is seemingly included only so Fleming could demonstrate Bond’s macho charisma and garner the adoration of any woman he sets his eyes on. But beyond that, she’s the most charismatic woman in Bond’s life to date – tough, funny, sarcastic; beautiful, obviously. It’s no wonder that Bond falls for her, and starts questioning to whom he has the greater allegiance: Tiffany, or the Service? It’s an interesting inner conflict, but its barrel is barely scraped.
The thrills are few and far between, kept in reserve for the finale, on board the Queen Elizabeth, which unfortunately sees Tiffany again reduced to a victim, and Bond called in to pull off an impossible rescue; outmanned and outgunned, it requires a daring act, and Fleming pulls of his passage with aplomb. If only there was more of it! The novel takes Bond from London, New York (again – hello, Live and Let Die), Las Vegas and finally Sierra Leone, and while Fleming appears to delight in detailing these locales, the plot loses steam at various intervals.
Diamonds are Forever is Fleming’s tamest and most padded book in the quartet so far; the series is showing signs of staleness already. Hindsight suggests Fleming recognized this, because his next novel, From Russia With Love, modified the formula. And in doing so, Fleming crafted one of my favourite thrillers of all time…