Review: The Man With the Golden Gun by Ian Fleming

Golden GunIan Fleming’s James Bond series began its descent with Thunderballand never regained traction, or ever threatened to reclaim its former glory, despite fleeing glimpses of ingenuity in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and a couple of hair-raising scenes in You Only Live Twice. At this point, both the author, and his famous protagonist seem to be running on fumes. The Man With the Golden Gun — Fleming’s final Bond novel — epitomises the disappointing turn the series had taken, with a weak villain, insipid premise, and altogether un-thrilling prose. But in this case it’s hard to point the blame squarely at Fleming, who died before he could properly edit the novel. Perhaps it was salvageable. We’ll never know. Unfortunately what we’re left with is a half-baked 007 caper, which never takes advantage of its monumental opening chapter.

When we last saw Bond, he had been posted missing, presumed dead, after events in Japan (detailed in You Only Live Twice). But at the beginning of The Man With the Golden Gun, Bond is back in London, via the Soviet Union, where he has been brainwashed, and tasked with the assassination of M, the head of the Secret Service. Allowed access to M’s inner sanctum, Bond’s attempt to kill M is unfortunately — (for the sake of the plot, I wasn’t rallying for M’s demise, I swear!) — foiled inside the first couple of chapters, and his rehabilitation almost entirely skipped over in order to transition the book’s focus to his mission to find and kill Francisco Scaramanga, an American trigger-man known as “The Man with the Golden Gun,” who is facilitating a meeting in Jamaica with a bunch of notorious gangsters.

Had Fleming chosen to focus on Bond’s brainwashing and rehabilitation — perhaps then re-targeting Bond at the men who poisoned his mind — this novel might’ve been something special, at the very least, a very different kind of 007 thriller. After all, Fleming was no stranger to changing his formula; the less-than-spectacular The Spy Who Loved Me being a key example. But what we’re left with his a very uninspired, by-the-numbers James Bond thriller. It’s tired, it’s stale, and its only saving grace is the climatic battle between 007 and Scaramanga, which isn’t enough to elevate it above middling.

The Man with the Golden Gun is a disappointing end to a series that hit its high points early and never reattained its glory. But nothing will ever take away from the brilliance of Casino Royale, Goldfinger, Moonraker and the pinnacle, From Russia With Love.

ISBN: 9780099576990
Format: Paperback (198mm x 129mm x 14mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: Vintage Classics
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 1-Sep-2012
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

GoldfingerWith his seventh James Bond novel, Ian Fleming took his craft to another level. Not only is Goldfinger a brilliant, enthralling spy novel – capped with thrills, dastardly villains, and audacious action – but here, more than ever before, 007 is presented as a complex individual; not just the callous, sardonic killer for Queen and Country, but a man, who, like the rest of us, suffers from an inner turmoil; whose propensity for death has darkened his psyche. James Bond is a man who derives pleasure from the food he eats, the women he beds, and the cars he drives; he basks in the finer things in life because his existence beyond those things is perpetually bleak.

Goldfinger begins with Bond reminiscing about the mission he has just completed. Once again he has faced danger, overcome it, and is left stewing over events alone, awaiting a flight home from Miami, with only an alcoholic beverage for company. That is, until he is recognized by a man with whom he gambled with in Casino Royale; Junius Du Pont, a rich American businessman, who is adamant he is being cheated in his daily games of Canasta with the enigmatic Auric Goldfinger. While Du Pont isn’t entirely cognizant of Bond’s profession, he identifies 007 as a man with a keen eye, and hires Her Majesty’s agent to monitor proceedings during his next game with Goldfinger. His flight delayed, Bond accepts the job, and the very next day meets one of his greatest adversaries, who, it turns out, is connected to the Soviet counter-intelligence agency SMERSH.

007’s investigation ultimately leads to the discovery of Goldfinger’s daring heist to steal the United States’ gold reserves from Fort Knox. Before that, however, Bond masterminds various gatherings with his foe, including a particularly sensational golfing scene, which sees Goldfinger attempt to cheat his way to victory. The tension and mistrust between the two men is palpable; Fleming in top form.

Goldfinger represents the crystallization of Fleming’s storytelling; perhaps its apex. It’s over-the-top, but equally grounded, finding that balance his contemporaries struggle with. And yes, contemporary readers will frown at the depiction of Pussy Galore, whose sexual tendencies, Bond believes, can be swayed by the touch of a good man – but in my mind, this just reaffirms Bond’s damned personality. Oh, sure, I love reading his adventures, but I wouldn’t want to meet the man. As M once put it in the first Pierce Brosnan Bond film Goldeneye: he is a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur.” He’s not a man – he’s a bullet. And I enjoy reading about him hitting his target.

ISBN: 9780099576938
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Imprint: Vintage Classics
Publisher: Vintage
Publish Date: 6-Sep-2012
Country of Publication: United Kingdom