Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Dr. No: Ian Fleming

At the end of From Russia with Love, James Bond had been poisoned. At the point that Dr. No begins, Bond has just returned from months of recuperation and M is eager to send him off on an assignment.

M and Bond are having relationship problems. M thinks that Bond may have lost his nerve or made poor decisions in the last case. The doctor does not want Bond put out in the field so soon after his recovery, but Bond is ready and willing to get back to work. However, he does resent it deeply when M forces him to use a new type of gun, a Walther PPK instead of his Beretta.

M asks Bond to go to Jamaica to follow up on the disappearance of two agents, one of them being the Head of Station in Jamaica, John Strangways. This is considered a "soft" assignment, almost a test of Bond's abilities, and thus Bond feels even more resentment. When Bond decides to investigate some suspicious circumstances on Crab Key island, he sets out with a guide and doesn't bother letting M or anyone else in Jamaica know his plans. Thus when the situation on Crab Key gets rough and dangerous, there is no hope of rescue.

This was a very entertaining novel. Now that I am used to the fantastical aspects in the James Bond novels, I can just go along with that and enjoy the fun. There are some standard elements in each James Bond book: a powerful supervillain, a beautiful and sexy love interest, and lots of action and violence.  Here we have the sinister Dr. No on Crab Key island and Honeychile Rider, the young and naive woman collecting shells on the beach at Crab Key. Quarrel, a Cayman Island fisherman, first met in Live and Let Die, takes Bond to the island. Bond, Honey, and Quarrel discover Dr. No's nefarious plans but don't realize how much of a maniac he is.

Other elements that routinely show up in the Bond stories are racism and sexist attitudes, and this book is full of those. If you can get past those, it is a fun adventure novel, with a fairly accurate view of the place and the time.

I was also biased towards this novel because Dr. No is one of the films that I am most familiar with. As the first adaptation of a Bond novel, it is extremely memorable and I am very fond of it. I was glad to see that the novel and the film are very much alike.

One difference is the presence of Felix Leiter, CIA agent, in the film, and my favorite actor in that role, Jack Lord. The action starts to diverge some after Bond and Quarrel get on Crab Key island, and Dr. No's motivation is somewhat different in the film. Ursula Andress as Honey is very fitting in the role. Since this was the first film adapted from the books, it also benefits from the absence of an overload of gadgets or unbelievable physical prowess on Bond's side.

Other resources: See this post at Killer Covers which features many different cover illustrations for Dr. No.  Also Moira's post on this book at Clothes in Books.

Next I will be moving on to Goldfinger, maybe before the end of the year.



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Publisher:   Bantam Books, 1971 (orig. pub. 1958) 
Length:       216 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       James Bond, #6
Setting:      Jamaica
Genre:        Spy thriller
Source:      I purchased this book.

29 comments:

  1. When I get to these, I will start with this one. Can you read these out of order? Thanks for the great review. - Keishon

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    1. I don't think order makes any difference in this case, Keishon. Their may be references to earlier cases but really doesn't affect the story. I have that some of the later ones are of lesser quality but I don't know that from personal experience.

      This comment got put in Spam, Keishon, I will check that folder regularly so I won't miss your comments.

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  2. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Tracy. I think you do have a good point that you have to let go of your disbelief and just go along for the ride with this series. If you do, they really can be awfully enjoyable.

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    1. Live and Let Die and Moonraker were just total surprises for me, Margot, not at all what I expected. Once I got used to the series, it has all been good.

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  3. I expect I'll start this series at some point, though not sure when I'm afraid. Not 2017 that's for sure.

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    1. I have so many books I planned to read this year that I haven't made it to, Col. I found Casino Royale to be the most straightforward spy story so far (I read it before I blogged).

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  4. I've always been a bit "anti" Bond and I don't really know why - perhaps it stems from growing up in a house of boys who wouldn't let me join their Bond-inspired games...but you are tempting me to at least give one of the books a go

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    1. Bernadette, you could easily have a problem with the treatment and attitude towards women in these books, but I think it is worth it to try at least one.

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  5. I read this on a Sunday in 1961 when I was 14. I saw it one morning on my father's nightstand, and the back-cover copy made it sound intriguing. I grabbed it, sprawled out on my bed, and didn't put it down until I finished it in the afternoon. It was the first Bond novel I ever read (this was before JFK touted Ian Fleming's work and made him and Bond household names), and has always been my favorite.

    The movie was good and reasonably faithful to the book in many ways, but I found a couple of things disappointing about it. The book's terrific torture tunnel sequence was reduced to a couple of minutes that had nothing to do with Dr. No trying to torture Bond, and the way Bond dispatched Dr. No in the movie was lame compared to the great and appropriately--you'll pardon the expression--batsh*t crazy way he did in the book.

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    1. How lucky you were to have a parent who read that kind of fiction, Elgin. Although my father read a lot of books, they were all non-fiction, history and art related. No one in my family read fiction besides me. I did read Rex Stout and Erle Stanley Gardner in my teen years, so the library must have stocked them.

      I was surprised at the way that Bond escaped from Dr. No was handled in the movie, since it was a long involved sequence in the book. Bond always gets a lot of physical punishment in the books.

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    2. Sorry, Barry, used the wrong name. Old age, I guess.

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    3. No problem, Shirley. A little identity crisis never hurt anyone. ;-) Yes, my father was an avid reader, often going through a couple of paperback novels, usually of the mystery/suspense variety, in a single evening. It was through him, in part, that I discovered many an author and series--e.g., Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm, Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott, and Stephen Marlowe's Chester Drum. I wasn't into stand-alone noir novels back then, which is a shame. If I'd kept some of the Gold Medal and other paperback originals he read, I'd have had a treasure trove of good reading AND a small fortune in collectibles.

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    4. Oh, my goodness, you were VERY lucky, Barry. I sympathize with you about not keeping all those vintage paperbacks, I would love to have them too. My husband is always regretting the old Erle Stanley Gardner paperbacks that he got rid of.

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  6. Dr.No is my favorite of all the Bonds--book and movie. I haven't read it (or seen the movie) in too many decades, but you've awakened my nostalgia for both, Tracy!

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    1. Good, Mathew. The movie is always fun to revisit.

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  7. This was the first Bond I read, so I have a great affection for it. Fleming said he thought he perfected the 007 formula with this one in fact. Not my favourite though as it does seem a bit too close to the Fu Manchu world frankly!

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    1. At the moment, Sergio, my favorite is From Russian With Love, with Casino Royale a close second. But it has been a few years since I read Casino Royale, so I have to read it again to know for sure. Probably after that it would Diamonds are Forever. (But I haven't read past Dr No so may have to change my mind along the way.)

      Interesting comment about the Fu Manchu world, I have no familiarity with the books, and have only seen only one movie.

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  8. I've never read any Bond books, Tracy. Maybe I should start, you've made this one sound pretty good. I did love the film version of DR. NO and GOLDFINGER is my favorite.

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    1. I think you should try one, Yvette, and I hope that you pick one you like. I did have to get accustomed to some of the fantastical elements of his earlier books.

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  9. Interesting that Sergio saw the Fu Manchu element. One of the reasons the book attracted me was its title precisely because I'd read a number of Rohmer's Fu Manchu novels. The other thing was the Signet paperback edition's back cover blurb, which read something like "British secret agent James Bond tangles with a honey blonde and a six-foot-six madman with a mania for lust and torture."

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    1. That is a perfect description, Barry. I do need to try at least one of the Fu Manchu novels.

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    2. Start with the first, THE INSIDIOUS DOCTOR FU MANCHU. You can find it and many other Rohmer titles for free at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=Sax+Rohmer

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    3. I will do that, Barry. I might try for a paper copy first. I am going to a big book sale next Friday and there is a slight chance there would be a copy there. And the copies at ABEbooks are not too high.

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  10. Bond has never appealed to me but you do make this sound worth reading. And thanks for the link to the excellent covers. The millipede wrapped around a rather gruesome heart is particularly arresting. Does this actually relate to something in the book or was the illustrator feeling overly lateral?

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    1. I do love all the Bond covers, Sandy, but I did not notice that one particularly. There is a connection to that cover in the book; at one point someone attempts to poison Bond with a deadly centipede.

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  11. Apologies, centipede: my entomology is lousy. But the villain should have known better. No self-respecting Bond is going to succumb to death by garden pest.

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    1. I agree, Sandy, although I have no real knowledge of insects and which ones could be poisonous. In the film they used a tarantula, which isn't deadly either. Oh, well, good entertainment anyway.

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  12. Hello, Tracy! One of these days I'm going to have to pick up Ian Fleming paperbacks and start reading them. I don't know why I stuck only to the movies.

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    1. Hi, Prashant. It is so good to hear from you. I am sure you would enjoy a Bond novel by Fleming, but you may still prefer the movies. No problem with that. I have so many authors I plan to read and they just sit on the shelves.

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