Book Review: From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming

Like most people in Britain I’ve had James Bond on my pop culture map from a very young age. As a kid they used to have a Bond movie on pretty much every Bank Holiday, and I loved them. My first exposure to Bond were the Roger Moore flicks, and despite the cheesy vibe of these movies I still have a soft spot for Moore’s flicks. My Dad is a Connery man, and the only Bond movie we owned on VHS was the one based on this book, and it’s one of my favourite films in the series (it also features two things which I’ve grown up to find pretty hot- belly dancers and catfights).

However, I’d never actually read any of Fleming’s source novels, partly because I’d heard mixed things and that they were extremely dated, but when I found a copy of this knocking around for 50p I decided I’d check it out.

from russia cover

The plot is pretty much the same as the film, only with a few changes. SMERSH, the spy hunting wing of the Russian secret service, decides that they need to weaken the British secret service’s reputation and so hit on a plan to take out one of it’s most skilled agents, James Bond.

The plan is orchestrated by sadistic Colonel Rosa Klebb and ruthless chess champion Kronsteen, and will see Bond not only killed but disgraced by scandal that will also hurt the secret service. Their plan is for a young, attractive Russian girl Tatiana Romanova to pretend to have developed a crush on Bond from seeing a picture and reading his file and decided to defect. She will contact the operative in Turkey and ask to meet Bond, adding further bait to the hook will be the promise of providing Britain with a Russian encryption device.

Bond and his boss M are suspicious, but bored and eager for excitement and rather curious, Bond heads to Istanbul, figuring that the gamble will be worth it if they get the machine. In Istanbul he works with the head of operations, the gregarious Darko Kerim, who he quickly warms to and becomes friends with.

Bond is wary of Tatiana, and plans to eliminate Kerim raise suspicions, but with the machine in hand they must flee back to the West. But can Bond stay focused on the job or will his attraction to Tatiana cloud his judgement? How much does the Russian girl actually know about the plot? And when will Klebb’s psychotic assassin Red Grant come into play?

Despite knowing pretty much how it was going to play, I have to say that I found this to be a really gripping thriller. Fleming has a great knack for keeping the story moving, and it’s a real page turner.

The characterization is quick, but effective, and I found myself warming to Kerim a lot, with his kind of larger than life, carefree approach to the world of spying. Bond is far more interesting than I expected, with the character experience doubt and actually seeming to develop genuine feelings for Tatiana as the novel progresses.

He’s also a badass, handy in a fight and quick witted, he’s a good hero for this kind of pulpy novel, and Fleming writes him in an engaging manner that shows the contrast between his ruthless devotion to his job and ability to kill, and his slightly more sentimental traits which are evident throughout. Bond finds killing a man in cold blood distasteful, but during a fight he doesn’t hesitate. Bond is also much more fallible and  human than I’d expected, and a likable hero.

It has dated in places, especially with regards to the female characters, who are a fairly pathetic bunch- superstitious, vain, emotionally fragile- and some of Bond/Fleming’s attitudes towards the Turks are horribly un-PC, but its still all rather good fun.

The plot is kept tight and fast moving, and is extremely gripping and there’s a sly wit in Fleming’s writing which is a nice touch, and I found myself smiling frequently as I read it.

I’ll definitely be checking out more of the series.

Verdict: A fun and gripping thriller, Fleming is a gifted writer who’s mix of pulpy thrills and subtle humour make it a great page turner. Dated in places but still able to keep you hooked. 7/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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