Thursday, February 28, 2013

007 Reloaded: The Spy Who Loved Me

Vivienne Michel is your typical French-Canadian-girl-who-was-orphaned-and-therefore-sent-to-England-to-become-a-lady-but-ended-up-losing-her-virginity-and-worked-in-a-newspaper-office-where-she-had-another-love-affair-before-that-ended-in-an-abortion-and-so-she-returned-to-Canada-and-decided-to-go-on-a-road-trip-via-her-Vespa-which-she-bought-in-England-all-the-way-to-Florida. There, I just saved you from reading Part I of this book. By 'this book', I mean Ian Fleming’s The Spy Who Loved Me, and it’s supposed to be a James Bond adventure. So where is Bond? Who is Vivienne? And who are the nasty characters who are holding her hostage at the Dreamy Pines Motor Court, a motel in the Adirondacks?

The Spy Who Loved Me is a bit of an interruption in the “Blofeld trilogy” of novels where Bond chases after Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his organisation SPECTRE. Blofeld never appears in this novel, but reference is made to SPECTRE and that is why Bond eventually comes onstage. He stumbles across the Dreamy Pines Motor Court by accident, and finds there Vivienne Michel being held hostage by two nasty-looking gunmen. A fight ensues, St. Patrick drives the metaphorical snakes out of the motel, and claims his prize.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

007 Reloaded: Thunderball

M summons James Bond into his office and delivers a stern lecture. It seems that Bond’s last physical exam was a disappointing one – not surprising when the man drinks excessively and smokes up to sixty cigarettes a day. So M decides that Bond has got to look after his health more. And he sends him off to the Shrublands health clinic to regain his strength, get off the alcohol and cigarettes, and get back on the track to good health!

But while there, Bond comes across the mysterious Count Lippe, a man with a secret to hide. It turns out he is a member of the Red Lightning Tong, which operates in Macau. Soon after he makes the discovery, an attempt is made on Bond’s life by tampering with a spinal traction machine. Luckily, Bond survives the attack and retaliates against the Count. Unknown to Bond, this childish game of revenge delays a major conspiracy, Plan Omega, that is about to rock the Western world…

Sunday, February 24, 2013

007 Reloaded: For Your Eyes Only

Today I will be reviewing the James Bond collection For Your Eyes Only story-by-story. This is one of only two short story collections involving James Bond, and this one contains only five stories. It’ll probably be best if I discuss my impression of the collection as a whole after I’ve reviewed the individual stories. So without further ado, let’s get started.

From a View to a Kill
This is far from Fleming’s most inspired story. It’s actually a pretty boring way to open the collection. James Bond investigates the murder of a secret service motorcycle rider. He was going on his usual route from SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) to his base when he was attacked and his secret documents were stolen. Bond doesn’t have much trouble finding the assassin, and you wouldn’t exaggerate much by calling the story a celebration of predictability. It’s just not all that creative nor interesting, especially when you consider that Bond’s previous adventure was the wild romp Goldfinger.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Caesar moriturus est

We all, of course, know about the death of Julius Caesar. According to Shakespeare, the doomed dictator was warned by a soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March”. But Caesar did not heed this warning, and on that day he was stabbed 23 times by a group of conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus (Et tu, Brute?). Sic semper tyrannis and all that rot.

At least that’s what the historians think, and let’s leave them to worry about facts and historical accuracy. Instead, let us contemplate what really happened on that fateful March in 44 B. C.. Have you heard, by any chance, of Manlius Scribo, the star reporter for the Evening Tiber—an early success in journalism, edited by Q. Bulbous Apex? Perhaps you have heard of the barbaric British slave who served Scribo: Smithicus? But more important than that, do you know that the events leading to Caesar’s death were all started by the murder of the actor J. Romulus Comma? No? Then, my boy, you must run along to your nearest bookstore and acquaint yourself with Wallace Irwin’s The Julius Caesar Murder Case.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

007 Reloaded: Goldfinger

Goldfinger said, ‘Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action.”’

Goldfinger opens with an unexpected reference to Casino Royale, the first James Bond adventure. It starts with Bond running into a man he met during the events at Royale-les-Eaux: Junius Du Pont was one of the men at the card table on the night when Bond memorably cleaned out Le Chiffre’s funds. Now, seeing Bond at the airport by coincidence, Du Pont leaps at the chance to make conversation. And before long, he makes Bond a job offer.

It turns out that Du Pont has been losing heavily at cards with a man named Auric Goldfinger. This man Goldfinger is incredibly rich; he’s simply rolling in money. He’s one of the richest men in the world. Yet he consistently beats Du Pont in canasta, and Du Pont is a pretty good card player. He’s convinced that Goldfinger must be cheating somehow, but he can’t figure out how. And so he hires Bond to investigate. And thus, with the simple affair of a man cheating at cards, James Bond is launched into his wildest adventure in Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

007 Reloaded: Dr. No

It’s interesting to look back on the story behind Ian Fleming’s sixth Bond adventure, Dr. No. After taking a major risk in From Russia With Love, Fleming decided to play things a bit safer in the follow-up. Many of the plot elements were taken from a proposed TV show, Commander Jamaica, where the main character was supposed to be named James Gunn, and his great enemy would be the half-German half-Chinese Dr. No. The project never came to fruition and so Fleming incorporated several of these ideas into Dr. No. And I must admit here that Dr. No is not my favourite James Bond novel. But it sure comes close.

It begins quite simply, with a murder. Commander John Strangways and his secretary are both gunned down one day, right before they are to make an urgent call to London. Strangways represents the Secret Service in Jamaica, you see, and he had an impeccable record with his calls. He had a habit of playing bridge with a few other men, and would leave the game every day at the same time to make the standard call to London. “It was an iron routine. Strangways was a man of iron routine. Unfortunately, strict patterns of behaviour can be deadly if they are read by an enemy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What a Tangled Web we Weave!

I haven’t really tackled Polish mystery novels all that often on this blog. I wrote something about them as a guest post for Beneath the Stains of Time— which was still known as Detection by Moonlight at the time. And last year I read a book by “Joe Alex”, a Polish author named Maciej Słomczyński who was the only person to have translated all of Shakespeare’s works. I hope that this year I’ll be able to cross the language barrier a bit more often and give readers a small taste of the stuff that is currently being written in Polish… and hey, we might even get a novel that slips through the cracks and gets translated into English.

What are the odds of that happening, you might ask? Well, the odds are better than you might imagine, because I’ve found one. Zygmunt Miłoszewski is an award-winning Polish author, author of one of the few Polish crime novels to cross the language barrier into English. The novel is Uwikłanie, translated as Entanglement and published by the Bitter Lemon Press in 2010.

The setting is modern-day Poland and our hero is Teodor Szacki, a public prosecutor in the nation’s capital, Warsaw. He’s about 35 or thereabouts, and he’s married and has a daughter. He’s also got a tough job, one that can get depressing as hell. Take this latest case, for instance. A body was found in a Catholic convent, rented as a retreat centre. At the time, it was being used by a psychotherapist for a weekend of group therapy sessions, where each session revolved around a different person. The point of each session was for the participants to role-play as important people in X’s life, and X would have to come to terms with [insert your favourite psychological issue here]. One pseudo-scientific explanation later, we find out that a child’s heart disease can be caused by his father’s failure to attend his parents’ funeral. Sounds like a fun time!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Apathy. Sheer Bloody Apathy.

The Agatha Awards noms have been announced, and looking over the nominations list, I am overcome with a wave of emotion. That emotion is sheer apathy. I just don’t care about any of these nominations. I read plenty of new books in 2012, and I enjoyed myself for the most part. But come awards season, it seems to be a celebration of the bestseller lists and of the underappreciated art of mediocrity.

But don’t worry, I’m just being a jackass today, and after I finish writing this piece I’ll go to a corner, sulk and cry myself to sleep, all while pondering on my various psychological issues, caused by my mother not hugging me enough when I was a child. At least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with. I should be excited! It’s award season! We’re celebrating the cream of the crop— the very best that the mystery field had to offer in 2012! I should turn that frown upside down, grab a martini (shaken, not stirred) and talk about how brilliant all these novels were.

Well, no. I refuse. I’m reminded of a scene in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Our heroes were subjected to the third-worst poetry in the universe, and are asked by the poet, a heartless Vogon, what they thought of it. And they babble on about how the rhythmic devices counterpointed the surrealism of the metaphors and nonsense like that. I’ve taken English classes before, and I have written essays praising some unreadable crap as masterful literature. You can do that with anything. There’s just no honesty in it.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

007 Reloaded: From Russia With Love

SMERSH, the top-Secret Russian Murder Bureau, is furious. It has been involved in failure after failure, and the results have been disastrous for their reputation. So they have decided to strike back. Their target? The English Secret Service. They want to create a major scandal, one that will cause the public to go into an uproar and permanently stain the service’s reputation. And they have one particular target in mind. He’s an agent who has given SMERSH plenty of trouble in the past. And his name? James Bond.

SMERSH appoints Colonel Rosa Klebb as head of this operation. And the plan is a complex one, a brilliant piece of work designed by the world-class chess grandmaster Kronsteen. For this plan, Klebb needs a few elements. One of them is a mad killer named Red Grant, a vicious, amoral psychopath whose homicidal urges coincide with the full moon. But there’s also a role for a beautiful woman in this plan, and Corporal Tatiana Romanova is recruited for that part. And this forms the basis for the plot of Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Paradise Lost

Charlie Gowen isn’t a monster by instinct. He’s a sensitive and caring person. He doesn’t want to hurt people. And he loves children. He doesn’t want to hurt them. He wants to protect them from harm. Take Jessie, for instance. She’s taken a few nasty spills on the playground and her hands are all bruised up. Charlie sees this, and he follows Jessie and her friend Mary Martha home, intending to warn Jessie’s parents to take good care of her.

Only he doesn’t follow the girls to Jessie’s house, he follows them to Mary Martha’s. And he doesn’t warn anyone, he keeps the knowledge of the address to himself. You see, Charlie isn’t entirely normal. I mean, the doctors said it was okay for him to go out into the world, but he has been warned to keep away from children. His brother Ben is supposed to take care of him, make sure nothing else happens like it did that one time. You see, Charlie is a pedophile.

Friday, February 01, 2013

007 Reloaded: Diamonds are Forever

Diamonds are being smuggled into the United States of America, and millions of dollars are being lost every year as a result of these criminal activities. The British Secret Service has finally got an idea of how the job is being done: they’ve intercepted a member of the gang who was supposed to help ferry an illegal load of diamonds from London to New York. But they haven’t let on that they know anything about this transaction: instead, they’re sending one of their top men in his place. His name’s Bond. James Bond.

Bond’s mission is simple in theory: find out how the diamond pipeline works and then report back. Bond is rather bored with the assignment. He has a low opinion of American gangsters, thinking they’re nothing but a bunch of Italian men stuffing themselves every evening and then knocking off a liquor store on the weekend to finance the next week. But as he finds out, those are the only gangsters who are ever noticed: there are gangsters behind these gangsters and more gangsters behind those. The landscape of criminal life in America is far more complex—and dangerous—than Bond could have ever dreamed…