I started reading the Bond books when I was twelve (along with Tarzan and Doc Savage) and have been through the whole series at least four times. On my latest trip, I’m listening instead of reading, and they’re still damn good. And this time, I’ve been more impressed with Fleming’s prose than with his character. This is especially true having read so many books by the pastichers, none of whom are quite up to snuff.
This book, the first collection of 007 short stories (published in 1960, between Goldfinger and Thunderball), is one I’d dang near forgotten. It includes four James Bond adventures, plus a random short story framed to masquerade as one.
What I didn’t know until googling is how these stories came to be. Turns out four of them began life as treatments for episodes of a proposed U.S. TV series in 1959. You’ve probably seen the pilot episode (from 1954), a quickie version of Casino Royale starring Barry Nelson as an American secret agent Jimmy Bond.
The series, of course, never materialized, and Fleming repurposed his treatments as short stories.
The first in the book, “From a View to a Kill,” is my favorite of the bunch. It involves motorcycle messengers getting knocked off and state secrets stolen by Russians. The film of that title, with Simon Templar/Beau Maverick impersonating 007, bears no resemblance. According to Wikipedia, the idea was originally planned as the WWII backstory for Moonraker villain Hugo Drax.
In the title story, Bond’s mission to kill the killer of two of M’s old friends is complicated by a babe with a bow and arrow. The babe, under a different name, and the stuff with the bow and arrow later were used sparingly in the 1981 movie. Not bad, but I found the ending lame.
“Quantum of Solace” is the joker in the bunch. Bond just sits and listens to a story about a cheating wife and her vindictive husband. This one, first published in Cosmopolitan in 1959, was supposedly an homage to W. Somerset Maugham, and written in Maugham’s style. Been so long since I read Maugham, I couldn’t say. The film with Daniel Craig not even bothering to pretend to be Bond ripped off the title and nothing else.
“Risico” is the most movie-like of the bunch. Too bad Fleming didn’t give it a move-like title. It has a typical Bond villain, a babe in a bikini, drug smuggling, Russians and a good amount of shooting, but once again the ending failed to grab me. A little of this stuff reportedly made its way into the For Your Eyes Only film.
Though Bond is little more than a spectator in “The Hildebrand Rarity,” I found it the second most satisfying tale of the book. 007 is undercover as a deckhand on the yacht of a mildly-crooked millionaire. The unpleasant owner is hunting a rare fish (hence the title), and the tale turns into a murder mystery of sorts. It has the distinction of the only Bond story originally published in Playboy.