Wednesday, March 22, 2006

From Russia With Love, by Ian Fleming

(pb; 1957: fifth book in the original 007/James Bond series)

From the back cover:

“Every major foreign government organization has a file on British secret agent James Bond. Now, Russia’s lethal SMERSH organization has targeted him for elimination. SMERSH has the perfect bait in the irresistable Tatiana Romanova, who lures 007 to Istanbul promising the top-secret Spektor cypher machine. But when Bond walks willingly into the trap, a game of cross and double-cross ensues, with Bond as both the stakes and the prize...”

Review:

It’s been a year since the events of Diamonds Are Forever. Bond is bored with office work and slightly depressed, living “the soft life.” Tiffany Case, his lover from the previous novel, has recently left him for another man.

That’s the least of Bond’s problems. The Russians have put a hit out on him, a hit that would not only end his life, but publicly embarrass the British Secret Service. Enter Donovan “Red” Grant, aka, the “Moon Killer,” a serial-killer-turned-SMERSH-assassin, who’s set to fulfill that fatal contract.

There is also Tatiana Romanova, whose allegiances are questionable...

This has always been one of my favorite Bond novels: it has lots of action (compared to the earlier novels), tons of plot twists (many of them born of well-established character quirks), perverse characters (even for a Bond novel) and an ending that absolutely electrifies.

The plot set-up is different, also (a refreshing change). The first quarter of the novel shows the Russians – military politicians, Grant, Rosa Krebs (a SMERSH torturer with sapphic leanings) and Tatiana – gearing up for Bond’s violent, public death trip. Then the action kicks in, when Bond goes to Turkey to meet Tatiana, where Kerim “Darko” Bey, an outgoing gipsy and Head of the Turkish Secret Service, helps Bond with his mission: transporting Tatiana and the Spektor machine to France, via the Orient Express.

(Side-notes: Rene Mathis, a French government agent in Casino Royale, makes an appearance in From Russia... as the Head of the Deuxieme, the French equivalent of the CIA... Espionage gadgetry, a hallmark of the Bond films, is also in evidence, employed mostly by the Russians.)

Exotic, clever, action-packed and romantic, this is one of the best Bond novels, up there with Live And Let Die.

Followed by Doctor No.

From Russia With Love was released stateside as a film on May 27, 1964.

Sean Connery played Bond. Daniela Bianchi played Tatiana. Robert Shaw played Donald “Red” Grant. Lotte Lenya played Rosa Klebb.

Bernard Lee played M. Lois Maxwell played Miss Moneypenny.

Terence Young directed the film, from a script by Richard Maibaum, which was adapted from the novel by Johanna Harwood.

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