Thursday, November 3, 2011

Book Review: "From Russia with Love" by Ian Fleming

From Russia with Love was the fifth of Ian Fleming's 007 books, published in 1957. Apparently he wasn't sure whether he wanted the franchise to continue, and you have to read the sequel, Dr. No, to find out how some of the plot points in this one were resolved.

Interesting, I think, is that the movie Dr. No (based on the sixth book) was the first James Bond film, and From Russia with Love was the second. Swapping the order of the plots actually necessitated some changes to the stories. In the movie, Dr. No is part of an international crime syndicate, SPECTRE. However, the Russian coding machine (based on the German's WWII Enigma device) was called Spektor in the novel and apparently renamed Lektor in the movie. SPECTRE is nowhere mentioned in either of the novels. In the novel From Russia with Love, it is the Russian assassination bureau SMERSH that hatches the plot to kill Bond using the Spektor and a beautiful woman as bait. In the movie, the planner Kronsteen instead works for SPECTRE, which intends to steal the Lektor along with luring Bond, then kill him and return the machine in return for a big SMERSH ransom payment.

Bond is a somewhat anachronistic character now, a gentleman bad boy back when most heroes played nice. Now they're all bad boys, and worse. And he was an unabashed male chauvinist. I'll leave it for the reader to marvel at rather than explain too much, but Tatiana Romanova is a rake's pipe-dream of a character, like all of the Fleming babes. She lives to serve the fantasy image she's created of Bond in her mind, and she commits the spy's cardinal sin of starting to believe her own cover story.

This book starts very slowly, with much more expository heavy lifting than you'd expect from a spy thriller. The action only accelerates about two-thirds of the way through. Fleming's literary predecessors included Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene, and his slow storytelling pace seems like a throwback.

Also odd, it seemed to me, were his opinions of Istanbul. Fleming hates the Turkish food and finds the city dirty and under-lit at night. Contrast this image with today's Istanbul, which has a population of fifteen million and growing (larger than Los Angeles) and world-class amenities.

[Cross-posted on

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