Memorable for introducing Ernst Stavro Blofeld as the head of SPECTRE – the organisation responsible for many of James Bond’s deadliest capers – Thunderball has the potential to be the secret agent’s most spectacular mission yet. But with its glacial opening chapters – interesting because Fleming shines the spotlight on Bond’s excessive lifestyle when he’s off-mission, and how this exorbitance affects his health and therefore his usefulness to the ’00 section,’ – Bond’s eighth adventure never gains any real momentum.
SPECTRE has hijacked two nuclear bombs from a fighter jet, a Villiers Vindicator, and plans to destroy two major cities unless a £100,000,000 ransom is paid. With the clock ticking, 007 is dispatched to the Bahamas to investigate, where, in tandem with faithful ally Felix Leiter, he encounters Emilio Largo and his mistress, Dominetta “Domino” Vitali, who is also the sister of dead pilot Giuseppe Petacchi.
Thunderball is by-the-numbers stuff, festooned with the requisite villainy, and peppered with fleetingly dramatic moments. If you’re happy to tread water for a while, the finale – an undersea battle between allied forces and SPECTRE – is on par with Fleming’s greatest action set-pieces. More impressive is Domino; not just a pretty face, a woman for Bond to bed and rescue. She gets to kick arse in the final pages, and it’s refreshing to see Fleming’s formula tweaked.
This isn’t a bad thriller, by any means; it’s just middle-of-the-pack stuff, particularly for a writer whose last full-length novel, Goldfinger, was one of his best. There’s entertainment to be had; just mind the potholes.