3* (out of 5*)
M.’ s voice was gruff. ‘007 was a sick man. Not responsible for his actions. If one can brainwash a man, presumably one can un-brainwash him. If anyone can, Sir James can. Put him back on half pay for the time being, in his old Section. And see he gets full back pay and allowances for the past year. If the K.G.B. has the nerve to throw one of my best men at me, I have the nerve to throw him back at them. 007 was a good agent once. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t be a good agent again. Within limits, that is. After lunch, give me the file on Scaramanga. If we can get him fit again, that’s the right-sized target for 007.’
The Chief of Staff protested, ‘But that’s suicide, sir! Even 007 could never take him.’
M. said coldly, ‘What would 007 get for this morning’s bit of work? Twenty years? As a minimum, I’d say. Better for him to fall on the battlefield. If he brings it off, he’ll have won his spurs back again and we can all forget the past. Anyway, that’s my decision.’
There was a knock on the door and the duty Medical Officer came into the room. M. bade him good afternoon and turned stiffly on his heel and walked out through the open door. The Chief of Staff looked at the retreating back. He said, under his breath, ‘You cold-hearted bastard!’ Then, with his usual minute thoroughness and sense of duty, he set about the tasks he had been given. His not to reason why!
It is with a little bit of sadness as well as a little bit of relief that I am jotting down my notes on The Man with the Golden Gun, the last novel in the original Bond series.
The sadness is most definitely a result of reading the series with an awesome buddy, who never lost his patience when I needed to rant about the stupidity of the main character or of the author or both, and who is one of these awesome fans of the franchise that impart additional information about Fleming and the books, who was (at least seemed) happy enough to just geek out on some of the aspects of the stories, and without whom I would not have continued the series.
The relief is largely caused by the fact that, on the whole, the books are not great, and in some cases are just pure terrible and made me wish for brain bleach.
Of the 13 novels and 2 short story collections, I would only recommend two of the novels (Diamonds are Forever and Dr. No) in addition to the short stories to unsuspecting novice Bond readers.
(Although, saying that, I recommended Dr. No to a colleague and he DNF’d it…because the racism was too much – I’m glad he didn’t try Live and Let Die…)
Anyway, what about The Man With the Golden Gun?
Well, the book Scaramanga is no Christopher Lee and there is no Nick-Nack (at all!!), but let’s start at the beginning:
The Man with the Golden Gun was the last book written by Fleming and it appears that his writing process was to jot down the major plot, some random ideas and topics he may want to pick up on or not, depending on how he felt during the next rounds of edits. During subsequent revisions, he would perhaps also add the descriptions of characters and their natural surrounding which are always highlights of the Bond reading experience.
Unfortunately, Fleming died after he finished his first draft, and before he could add edits. I am not sure to what extent his publisher edited Fleming’s text (there is one sentence about an em-dash which made me think an editor inserted it as a joke), but the book reads really disjointed. Well, like a rough draft.
Other parts read like Fleming – uncut:
“Distinguishing marks: a third nipple about two inches below his left breast. (N.B. in Voodoo and allied local cults this is considered a sign of invulnerability and great sexual prowess.) Is an insatiable but indiscriminate womanizer who invariably has sexual intercourse shortly before a killing in the belief that it improves his “eye”. (N.B. a belief shared by many professional lawn tennis players, golfers, gun and rifle marksmen and others.)”
This leaves us with a story of different parts. I believe there is a distinct difference between the first part in which Bond returns to London after being MIA.
This part includes a quite thoughtful discussion of the Cold War, and especially of espionage during the time.
‘Well, if you found these people so reasonable and charming, why didn’t you stay there? Others have. Burgess is dead, but you could have chummed up with Maclean.’ ‘We thought it more important that I should come back and fight for peace here, sir. You and your agents have taught me certain skills for use in the underground war. It was explained to me how these skills could be used in the cause of peace.’
Fleming knew the Cambridge Spies, or at least he was friends at school with Kim Philby, but it is a reasonable assumption to say the Cambrigde Spies scandal was on his mind, considering he even put Bond in a situation where he, too, could be a double-agent.
And maybe it is this turn where Fleming chose to show M’s true character (see opening quote), which by the way was so well played by Dame Judi Dench that I now cannot see anyone else in the role of M.
So, shorty after his return, Bond is sent to investigate the villain of the piece Francisco Scaramanga. Unlike the suave, intelligent villain portrayed in the film, the book Scaramanga is a modern day version of a Wild West gun slinger. And this is where the book quickly loses its original promise and descends into the Western genre, complete with the following scene:
The Rasta quickly pushed up the lever and the speed of the train gathered back to 20 m.p.h. He shrugged. He glanced at Bond. He licked his lips wetly. ‘Dere’s white trash across de line. Guess mebbe it’s some frien’ of de boss.’ Bond strained his eyes. Yes! It was a naked pink body with golden blonde hair! A girl’s body! Scaramanga’s voice boomed against the wind. ‘Folks. Jes’ a little surprise for you all. Something from the good old Western movies. There’s a girl on the line ahead. Tied across it. Take a look.
Yes, you read that right.
So, why did I still enjoy the book?
My main reason is that this last work of Fleming is so incredulously craptastic that I could not take it seriously. It is such a spoof Western that it was quite fun to try and predict which cliches Fleming was going to throw in there. And for this alone, I liked it.
She went towards him like the Queen Mother opening a bazaar, her hand outstretched.
But other than this, the book suffered from the same problems as any other Bond novel: The portrayal of women, Jamaicans, …. well, anyone who is not white, straight, male, and British or American is just plain awful.
Now it may only be myth, and it is certainly not medical science, but there is a popular theory that a man who cannot whistle has homosexual tendencies. (At this point, the reader may care to experiment and, from his self-knowledge, help to prove or disprove this item of folklore! C. C.)’ (M. hadn’t whistled since he was a boy. Unconsciously his mouth pursed and a clear note was emitted. He uttered an impatient ‘tchah!’ and continued with his reading.)
But since I cannot take this book serious AT ALL, I am going to say that the main problem with The Man with the Golden Gun is that it lacks a certain Nick-Nack.
What can I say, I’m glad I’ve read them, and I have had fun with the gifs, but I look forward to kicking Bond into touch.
For anyone, who has not lost the will to live yet after this meander of a “review”, I’ll update my Bond Project page shortly with all the relevant links to reviews.