Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Diamonds Are Forever: Ian Fleming

I am working my way slowly through the James Bond books by Ian Fleming. And enjoying watching the associated films for each book. Although I remember reading a few of Ian Fleming's spy novels years ago, I was surprised when I started reading them again. I read Casino Royale in 2007 shortly after I watched the film starring Daniel Craig; I found the book to be gritty and action oriented, and enjoyable.  I expected the rest of the books to be about the same. After Casino Royale, the books have seemed to be more of an adventure story and have had unreal and fantastical elements.

Summary from the MJF Books edition:
Somehow, African diamonds are being smuggled into the United States via London. The British Secret Service sends Bond to infiltrate the smugglers' organization and if possible, destroy it. Bond journeys through New York City's diamond market, the race tracks and mud baths at Saratoga Springs, and the gambling places of Las Vegas, to finally penetrate the very heart of the Mob. Along the way he meets the beautiful Tiffany Case, and is assisted by his American friend Felix Leiter. From the deserts of Afrca to the deserts of Nevada, follow Bond into the scorpion's nest.
So, another book set primarily in the US. I like the settings in Diamonds Are Forever, but it is surprising to have American gangsters as the villains. And they don't make much of an impression.

In this book, it seemed like Bond was making poor decisions. His goal is to find a way to continue to be used as a courier for stolen diamonds, to work undercover to identify the forces behind the diamond smuggling. Instead he seems to go out of his way to antagonize the gangsters. He doesn't like working undercover, so he just ignores instructions. The decision to help Felix Leiter seemed irresponsible to me. Sure, they are friends and Felix has left the CIA due to injuries in a previous story, but still it is unprofessional to risk an important mission to do a favor for a friend.  At least this does show his human, fallible side (which doesn't show up much in the movies). I did enjoy the parts of the story set at the racetrack. And Felix has a Studillac, which is a Studebaker equipped with a Cadillac engine. So that part of the story has its good points.


The best part of this novel is Tiffany Case. For the most part, she can hold her own with Bond. Bond's behavior toward her is sexist and condescending, but he does appreciate her abilities and grows fond of her. This is one way that the books differ from the movies. In the movies, Bond may be intrigued  by the main Bond girl but he is not committed to her. In the books, at least so far as I have read, he grows very fond of and sometimes wants to commit to a relationship with the woman he has been adventuring with. The reader may eventually figure out that this will really never happen, but Bond is serious about it at the time. In Tiffany's case, even though they work well together, he finally realizes that they want different things in life.

All in all, this is not my favorite book in the series so far. It just seemed too complex and meandering. But it was still a lot of fun and a fast read. You just have to stifle any irritation with the views of the time towards women, ethnic groups, anyone who is different.




The Adaptation Starring Sean Connery


As usual the movie is very different from the book. A good bit of the movie is set in the US, as in the movie, but most of the time in the US is spent in Las Vegas; Saratoga and the race track is skipped entirely. The villain becomes Blofeld instead of American gangsters. That at least makes a bit of sense, to stay more on track with the movies.

I was excited to finally be reading a book where James Bond would be played by Sean Connery, but this was the last official Bond movie that featured Connery and doesn't compare well to the others that he starred in. This may be due to a switch to a very camp approach to the story, which continues in the Roger Moore films. Connery seemed much older to me here, but he was only 41 in 1971 when the movie came out.

However, I have found all the Bond films I have watched so far to be entertaining, and Sean Connery will always be my favorite. All I am saying is that this one was not in the same league as From Russia With Love and Goldfinger.

Other resources:


See these posts on Diamonds Are Forever (the novel):
at Vintage Pop Fictions; at Clothes in Books; and At the Scene of the Crime.

Also interesting are these posts on Diamonds Are Forever and Saratoga Springs:
at Literary 007 and Fleming's Bond.

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Publisher:   MJF Books, 1993 (orig. pub. 1956) 
Length:       217 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       James Bond, #4
Setting:      Africa, US
Genre:        Spy thriller
Source:      I purchased this book.

27 comments:

  1. Actually, I liked Diamonds Are Forever a lot. There is a melancholy tone to the book that I found impressive, which comes to a head in the speech by the man whose blood group had been F. I have not read the book again in 20 years. I don't need to because my recollection of the plot is very sharp. That is one of the signs of a good book. Fleming, like Spillane, is a much better author than some people give him credit for.

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    1. I envy you your good memory of this book, I forget so much about the books I read. Fleming definitely has something that pulls the reader in (at least this reader) and he created a very memorable character.

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    2. There is a melancholy tone to the book that I found impressive

      I think there are touches of that throughout the books. Being a spy isn't all it's cracked up to be. It might be glamorous and exciting but there's a price to be paid.

      Bond likes being a spy mostly because it's the one thing he's good at. Which is a bit autobiographical. Fleming himself failed at everything he attempted until the war came along and he discovered, to his own surprise, that he was very very good at intelligence work.

      But there is that price to be paid and espionage is a world of betrayal of treachery. Which Bond doesn't like because he isn't really like that.

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  2. It's interesting, isn't it, Tracy, that some of the film adaptations of these books are closer to the original than others. In this case, I can see why there would be differences; I'm not sure the book as is would have translated as well to the screen.

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    1. There were parts of the plot in this movie that I did not care for at all on this watching, Margot, the Willard Whyte storyline and Bambi and Thumper. And I would have preferred that they stick with the original storyline. But I have yet to see a Bond movie I disliked. They are all fun, just in different ways.

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  3. I haven't read any of the books, maybe I should, but I agree with you about Sean Connery. I've always disliked Roger Moore as an 'actor' and particularly as Bond.

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    1. You should read one of the books, Katrina, just to see what they are like. But each seems to be a bit different. I prefer the grittier Bond actors, and Connery will always be my favorite. I do like Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig too. Roger Moore is OK, just a different interpretation that doesn't work as well for me.

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  4. In the movies, Bond may be intrigued by the main Bond girl but he is not committed to her. In the books, at least so far as I have read, he grows very fond of and sometimes wants to commit to a relationship with the woman he has been adventuring with.

    Very much so. Just as Bond dislikes the betrayals that are part and parcel of espionage work he also dislikes romantic betrayals. He wants to find one woman, get married, have kids and eventually settle down in the country somewhere and retire from the spy business. His first problem is that the kinds of romances that a spy gets involved in don't usually work out that way. His second problem is that he doesn't have the money to set himself up as a country gentleman.

    So he flits from woman to woman but it's not a lifestyle that suits him.

    There are serious undertones like this throughout the Bond books that most critics blithely overlooked. Fleming took his writing quite seriously. He wanted to make money but he wanted to write high quality spy fiction as well. He actually succeeded but he suffered the fate of so many thriller and mystery writers (Alistair MacLean comes to mind) - his achievements were ignored by critics who thought that fun and good writing were incompatible.

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    1. Your comments make me want to read more about Ian Fleming, dfordoom. You suggested Andrew Lycett's biography in comments on an earlier post and I am going to have to find a copy.

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  5. I can't recall the film, but I was never a fan of Bond or Connery in anything. I have the book somewhere, but not tried Fleming yet, unsurprisingly!

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    1. I like Sean Connery a lot, Col, although other than the Bond films, I only remember him in The Longest Day and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Oh, and The Hunt for Red October. I love that film and the book.

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  6. One of the first ones I read, and I really enjoyed it. I still have a very old copy of it.

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    1. I wish I could remember the ones I read, Charles. I do know I read On Her Majesty's Secret Service because the heroine was named Tracy and at the time that name was not in use much. I keep adding old paperback editions to my collection, but they are sometimes hard to find. Usually I just luck into them at the annual book sale.

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  7. I don't know if the Bond books count as literature, any more than I know whether the Sherlock Holmes stories count as literature, but they may be something more important: they are permanent additions to our popular culture.

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    1. Yes, it amazes me that the Bond novels written by Ian Fleming have stayed in print, and that the movie franchise has lasted so long. I have not read any of the continuation novels. Eventually I may try a few of those.

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  8. Fleming's contribution to the genre is indelible--at least, as long as our planet survives. My favorite of the Bond novels is DR. NO, which was the first one I read when I was fourteen, and which subsequent first Bond film was fun but at the same time disappointing for completely skipping crucial moments from the novel--e.g., the way Bond dispatched the titular villain. My favorite films in the series are "From Russia, With Love," "License to Kill," and those starring Daniel Craig (not counting "Spectre," which I haven't seen as of this message) because Craig and his scripts seem to embody Bond as portrayed by Fleming as originally conceived: someone who shot first and took names afterwards.

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    1. Barry, From Russian with Love is my husband's favorite Bond film and we have watched it many times. I am looking forward to reading it next. That one and Goldfinger and GoldenEye and all of the Daniel Craig films are favorites for me.

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  9. I read all of the Fleming Bonds when they came out, and saw all of the movies. The only one I reread some years later was Dr. No, which was the first Bond movie and the only plot I remember much of. I do remember enjoying all of the novels and movies at the time. I guess my tastes started leaning more toward realism with the advent of Deighton's The Ipcress File, and then, the most realistic of all, LeCarre.

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    1. I lean more toward the realistic spy fiction, Mathew, but this is good escape reading. Now I want to watch all the movies I haven't ever watched, and try some of the continuation novels to see how close they stay to the Bond of Fleming's books, or the Bond in the movies. Not that I have the time to do all of that.

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  10. I know I've seen the movie version, but I remember nothing about it.

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    1. Ryan, even though I had watched the movie 3 times before (over the years) I did not remember much either, but as soon as I got into the movie this time I remembered some elements. The pair of hit men who are at the beginning and end of the movie are memorable.

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  11. I'm so glad you're reading some of these too, I love benefitting from your perspective. I can feel myself getting sucked into the films too...

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    1. Me, too, Moira. This has been and continues to be a great experience for me. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE next. I am excited.

      It is funny, I am more critical of the movies now that I am reading the books, but I still enjoy them. Both the books and the movies are good, just a different experience.

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  12. Tracy, I have not read the book but, strangely, I watched the film in the theatre when I was young, probably in my very early teens. Which was surprising since the movie would have been released with an 'A' certification. This was also my first Bond film.

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    1. I was not that much into Bond movies when the Connery films came out, Prashant. Now i wish I could go back and see them in the theater. Although I cannot remember exactly, I don't think I saw a lot of the Bond films until they were on VHS tape or DVD. I did not really get into action films at all until I was in my 40s.

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  13. I had to think of you today while enjoying some coffee and my book "The Devil's Chessboard" (D. Talbot). It is about the 'dark side of USA politics" (1950's Allen and rise of CIA). Talbot mentions the 'real' Jamses Bond, British William Stephenson. Churchill sent this spymaster' to US 1940 b/c UK needed to persuade US to help them win WW II. Churchill made it clear to WS that he was quite willing to engage in 'ungentlemanly warfare.' Wonderful stuff...great book too. Now I am going to start my very first James Bond book! Thanks for all the Ian Fleming reviews.

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    1. The Devil's Chessboard sounds very interesting, Nancy. I do hope you enjoy reading a James Bond novel. All of the ones I have read by Fleming are a bit different.

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