From Russia, with Love by Ian Fleming

My James Bond Challenge continues with From Russia, with Love, the fifth Bond novel written by Ian Fleming, in 1957. 

Once again, my book review style is just a brain dump of my thoughts and comments whilst going through the book. From Russia with Love is one of my favourite Connery Bond movies so I was interested to read what the book would be like.

  • Really interesting start, with Granit. Fascinating backstory he has, particularly with the full moon.
  • p31 – I love how the General puts his cigarette butt into the ‘basket for secret waste’.
  • p31 – I’m no expert at Cold War history, but given that the Cuban missile crisis was only 5 years in the future I wonder if it was risky at all Fleming writing about Russian generals talking about war.
  • p38 – As a Scot, it rankles me to hear the Soviets say, or Fleming write, ‘England, being an island’. Obviously Great Britain is an island, but England borders Wales and Scotland.
  • p41 – Interesting how all the top brass Russians all know Bond. Not very secret!
  • p78 – It is 78 pages of a 206 page book before we see Bond. And the first line is “The blubbery arms of the soft life had Bond round the neck and they were slowly strangling him.”
  • p78 – It’s interesting to hear that Bond had had no assignments for a year. In the movies you kind of eel that the action is non-stop
  • p79 – “…The Times, the only paper Bond ever read.” I always wonder when an author writes something like that, praising an actual publication, if that means that Fleming favoured that paper as well.
  • p86 – I love the silent banter between Bond and M when talking about the girl in love with Bond.
  • p89 – The cipher machine is called ‘The Spektor’. This again is really interesting. The organisation of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. won’t make an appearance for another few novels yet, but in the last novel, Diamonds Are Forever, we had a location called Spectreville. Again it seems like Fleming has the term at the forefront of his brain.
  • p91 – ‘London airport’. Strange to hear this term, as London now officially has 6 airports these days… Heathrow, Gatwick, City Airport, Luton, Gatwick and Southend (which actually appears in the filming of the Goldfinger movie). London airport here is referring to Heathrow. Gatwick wasn’t in operation yet at the writing of the book.
  • p91 – It’s hilarious reading about Bond getting his bag through airport security with knives and ammo etc.
  • p92 – Interesting that Bond flushed his cyanide pill away. Even if he didn’t agree with it, maybe he was just being careful not to take it by accident!
  • p95 – I love the description of Bond’s hurricane room. Really interesting to hear how he handles a stressful situation like a very turbulent flight on Friday 13th with thirteen passengers! Going into his internal panic room. This is why I love reading novels because you wouldn’t get that sort of internal dialogue or information in a movie.
  • p96 – “Should he tell Lil that perhaps she had almost been right? He decided that if he could find a rude enough postcard in Istanbul he would”. That made me chuckle. He does have great banter with his secretary.
  • p100 – “not the banana skin handshake of the East”. Ok, I’d classify that as a properly racist comment by Fleming! It actually does seem that his most derogatory descriptions and racial stereotypes are towards the eastern countries.
  • p102 – Nice reference to Annigoni’s portrait of the Queen. This was a famous painting of Queen Elizabeth II painted only two years before, in 1955, so it must have been well known at the time.
  • p143 – Bond only now meets the girl. Nearly three quarters into the book.
  • p150 – Bond gets photographed having sex! That’s a new photo for the Russian files. Great description of the photographers. “…the breath rasped out of the open mouths of the two men and the sweat of excitement trickled down their bulging faces into their cheap collars.” Fleming really does make great use of simple adjectives.
  • p172 – I was very sad about Kerim. I had grown fond of him.
  • p178 – After so many chapters about Grant at the start of the book, we don’t really see him again until now.
  • p188 – “Danger, like a third man, was standing in the room.” Fantastic line. Love that.
  • p195 – Bond wishes he had some trick gadgets like an exploding cigaratte. “If only his Service went in for those explosive toys!”. Funny to read that in the novels, when that is obviously what the Bond of the movies is famous for.
  • p208 – Great to get the Rosa Klebb scene, and with the shoe knife too.
  • p208 – It ends on a cliffhanger!

I thoroughly enjoyed From Russia, with Love. Perhaps the best one yet or very near to Moonraker. Hard to separate them. Perhaps I slightly edge Moonraker still. The first half of the book is spent setting up the villain’s plot, and it works. Although it is perhaps slightly an anti-climax to have Grant so hyped up as a killer at the start and then just appear as a person in disguise who keeps saying ‘old man’ at the end.

Right after I read this book I scored it a 9.5/10. I obviously enjoyed it at the time. It’s very much a spy story and there are some really great bits in it. But in retrospect I do wonder whether I should have it so far ahead of Moonraker. I’m going to give them both 9/10 just now and I’m going to list Moonraker at the top. My heart is with that book. We will see how I organise my final listing after reading them all.

Current ranking and scoring out of 10
Moonraker – 9
From Russia, with Love – 9
Casino Royale – 8.5
Live and Let Die – 7
Diamonds are Forever – 6.5

Original article