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Octopussy and The Living DaylightsOctopussy and The Living Daylights by Ian Fleming

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Whether it is tracking down a wayward major who has taken a deadly secret with him to the Caribbean or identifying a top Russian agent secretly bidding for a Fabergé egg in a Sotheby’s auction room, Bond always closes the case—with extreme prejudice.”

Ahh, the world of international espionage. Thanks to Fleming, being a spy has never been so attractive. He single-handedly painted the otherwise secret world of Mi5 operatives in gold gilt. The genre itself became synonymous with the Christian Dior style of 1950’s glamour thanks to titles like ‘Diamonds are Forever‘, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun‘ and ‘Casino Royale’. Fleming wrote 14 Bond novels altogether, and is said to be his last. Unfortunately he didn’t live long enough to see his beloved character hit the bigtime; but word has it most of what he wrote came from his own life as a jet-setting, suave intelligence officer.

This is my first taste of Bond, and the four short stories or ‘scraps’ as I came to see them, was a nice introduction to Fleming’s work. I say ‘scraps’ because some of these stories have a distinct ‘unfinished’ quality about them; as if they were fleeting scenarios penned-down in the heat of the moment. In a little over 100 pages we have ‘Octopussy‘, ‘The Property of a Lady’, ‘The Living Daylights‘ and ‘007 in New York’. Two of these titles were made into full-length films only because they were the only two that had half-decent endings and enough of a back-story to build a script around. ‘The Property of a Lady’ had a very good premise, but needed a stronger ending in my opinion. I would have loved it if the secret bidder was sitting right next to Bond and he was thwarted just this once. It would have made for a killer cliff-hanger ending. ‘007 in New York’ was more of a thinly disguised personal view of the city rather than a Bond story (and Fleming admits as much).

What I enjoyed about the stories were the flashbacks into the world 50 years ago. In ‘Octopussy’ I got a real flavour of the Caribbean with all its drug-running gangster culture. ‘Property of a Lady’ transported me to the elegant auction rooms of Sotheby’s, when a rare Faberge egg would take you back £100’000 and ‘The Living Daylights’ of the days when Germany had an East and a West and a border like no-man’s land that still reeked of the dregs of Hitler’s threat.

Bond stories are not so much about the intrigue, the flashy cars (you get to read about one in this book), the women or the spoils of spydom. The real star of the show is the countries. I was more seduced by the scenery than the characters. Fleming has a gift for ‘painting’ the world around him and if you like that sort of thing then this is right up your street.

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