Dr. No occurs months after the events of From Russia With Love, which (for those who came in late) ended on a cliff-hanger, with 007 perilously close to death after being injected with poison by a Russian spymaster. The botched operation has landed Bond on the Head of Service’s shit-list; his reputation is tarnished, his capability is being questioned. As such, M sends Bond on an assignment he considers more of a holiday than a matter of national security. John Strangways, Head of Jamaica Station, and his secretary Mary Trueblood have gone missing, believed to have eloped for fresh pastures. Bond’s dispatched to Jamaica to tie a bow on the case, and ensure nothing untoward has happened. Of course, something has
Bond quickly discovers Strangways had been investigating Dr. No, a Chinese operator of a guano (seabird excrement) mine on the Caribbean Island of Crab Key. Despite protestations from his old friend Quarrel – the island, it is believed, is inhabited by a fire-breathing dragon – Bond makes the journey across to Dr. No’s abode, where he meets the stunning Honeychile Rider – – and learns the extent of his opponent’s insanity.
Punctuated with moments of thrilling, brutal action, Dr. No is a novel of oscillating quality. Fleming’s description of Bond’s pulse-pounding confrontation with a deadly centipede showcases his talent for producing unsurpassed thrills; so too Bond’s expedition through Dr. No’s insane obstacle course. But beyond these moments, the novel flatlines; its plot is wisp-thin, and is feeble in comparison to the brilliant From Russia With Love which came just a year before. And while Honeychile Rider is a concoction of man’s most erotic fantasies, she is cast here as a victim, never once exhibiting the ability to think or fight for herself; this, despite the fact Fleming goes to breath lengths to describe her harrowing upbringing, and how she has managed to fend for herself for many years. In this instance, Fleming tells, and doesn’t show; we never actually witness Honeychile’s strength, which diminishes the novel from a contemporary reader’s perspective.
So, while not demonstrative of Fleming’s best – – still reserved for Moonraker and From Russia With Love in my eyes – – Dr. No possesses enough excitement to keep readers’ eyes glued to the page.