Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Man with the Golden Gun, by Ian Fleming

(pb; 1965: thirteenth book in the original 007/James Bond series)


Caveat: spoilers in this review.

A year after his disappearance -- and publicly presumed death -- at the finish of You Only Live Twice, Bond reappears at Ministry of Defense, requesting an audience with M. (aka, Admiral Sir Miles Messervy, to those who know him intimately).

Bond gets his face-time with M., and tries to assassinate him, nearly succeeding.

Bond has been brainwashed by the KGB.

The Ministry of Defence doctors set about wiping Bond's mind of that insidious Russian influence. They succeed.

M., once again figuring a real challenge will put Bond back on track, or at least allow him an honorable death, orders Bond to kill Francisco (aka, Paco, or "Pistols") Scarmanga. Scarmanga is a legendary free-lance assassin, the titular "Man with the [literally] Golden Gun," who's so bad-ass that he doesn't affect disguises or cover names when he travels.

Bond travels to Kingston, Jamaica, where he accidentally hooks up with his ex-secretary, Mary Goodnight (who was reassigned there when Bond disappeared). With her assistance, he "accidentally" bumps into the thin-skinned, trigger-happy Scarmanga at a local whorehouse, No. Three and a Half Love Lane, where Scarmanga hires Bond (working under the name Mark Hazard) to provide security at Scarmanga's next hotel investment meeting -- in truth an investment scam, and a meet with Scarmanga's KGB contact.

It goes south quickly. Fortunately for Bond, his old CIA friend Felix Leiter (from Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Diamonds Are Forever, Goldfinger, and Thunderball) and another CIA agent, Nick Nicholson, are working undercover at Scarmanga's hotel, as well.

Scarmanga, as a villain, isn't one of the more impressive ones. Not coincidentally, he reminded me of the lead villains from Diamonds Are Forever, Jack and Seraphim Spang, who were head of the "Spangled Mob" (whom Scarmanga worked for, years ago). It's Scarmanga's shooting skill, comparable (if not better) than Bond's, that makes him noteworthy, something Bond frequently acknowledges throughout Golden Gun.

Bond's final shoot-out with Scarmanga in a "cobra-infested" swamp is a wonder to read. Like On Her Majesty's Secret Service and You Only Live Twice, the quintessential 007 plot dynamics aren't turned on their collective head, but sideways, with endings that are either cliffhanger-shocking, or disturbingly gelid (like Golden Gun's, which simultaneously fuses the cold-blooded end-line of Casino Royale, Bond's womanizing attitude, and the gentling effect that Bond's dead wife, Tracy, has spiritized him with).

Great wrap-up (novel-wise) to a consistently-good series, this. Followed by a four-story anthology, Octopussy and The Living Daylights.

The Man with the Golden Gun was released stateside as a film on December 20, 1974.

Roger Moore played Bond. Christopher Lee (step-cousin and regular golfing partner of Ian Fleming) played Francisco Scarmanga. Britt Ekland played Mary Goodnight. Maud Adams played Andrea Anders. Herve Villechaize played Nick Nack. Bernard Lee played M.. Lois Maxwell (once again) played Miss Moneypenny. Desmond Llwelyn played Q (whose character, again, doesn't appear in the novel).

Guy Hamilton directed the film, from a script by Tom Mankiewicz and Richard Maibaum.

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