This book, which was the first installment of the James Bond series by Ian Fleming, was published in 1953. (Interesting fact: Fleming chose the name "James Bond" for his protagonist from an ornithology guide--author's name). My introduction to 007 was through the films, not the books, and so this novel came as quite a surprise to me. The films are very tongue-in-cheek, packed with humor and extravagant thrills and spills, and very little real suspense. It's pretty obvious that Bond will save the day, and the girl, etc etc. The actors who have portrayed Bond over the years were really chosen to create a metrosexual character....a dandy who likes his clothes and cars and romancing gorgeous women. David Niven, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan had that vibe.
Fleming's Bond may have been obsessed with fast cars and elaborate cocktails, but he was first and foremost an ice cold killer and machine. There is none of that trademark humor from the films in this book. It is a fascinating portrayal of a spy and how he must live in order to survive. All the things that we take for granted in 2012 (spies hiding things in the toilet, putting a hair or piece of tape on the door to see if anyone broke into the room, leaving messages in code, etc) were all brand new to readers in 1953. And so Fleming spends a lot of time describing, in great detail, how Bond goes about his business. In particular, there was an astronomically large number of pages devoted to his gambling strategy at the casino.
Bond is meticulous with everything in his life...his clothes, his drinks, his surroundings, and how he plans for his job. Everything is in its proper place. He assesses people the same way. They fit tidily into a niche. That's it. I have seen complaints from readers about how misogynistic Bond is. Two things about that. One, it's 1953. And two, I think his feelings about women reflect more about self-preservation with his occupation. There is no room for shades of grey in his life. Or feelings of protectiveness or empathy. Women are good for one thing....sex. He is uncomfortable with them professionally, and he is unable to function as a stone cold killer with emotional complications. And so, one moment he is planning a seduction as an amusement. The next he is thinking that if his female colleague is raped and tortured, that's her own problem. She signed up for this job. She knew the risks.
Bond's state of mind is fascinating. I really enjoyed this book. It paints an intriguing portrait of this man and how he functions. Of all the actors who have portrayed Bond over the years, I think Daniel Craig is the best fit for the real character from this book. (And of course, Craig starred in Casino Royale, the film). He is able to balance a certain elegance and ruggedness and intensity that I think captures James Bond from Fleming's original novel.
And of course, he looks totally bad-ass in boy-short swim trunks, too. :^)