Book Review: “From Russia with Love” by Ian Fleming (1957)

[Classic Reads: 2012-05]

“Doesn’t do to get mixed up with neurotic women in this business. They hang on your gun-arm, if you know what I mean.”

This book has been my introduction to the real James Bond. Admittedly, I have never even sat down to watch one of the original movies, though during my high school years I watched the Pierce Brosnan versions. Let me just say that it does not take an expert to recognize how horrible those things were. It is not that I have been traditionally averse to this branch of fiction and movie lore, but my parents never really encouraged me to put godless playboys on my list of heroes growing up, so Bond’s was not a literary avenue I had ever been intent on pursuing. But once this classic-reads idea came along for me and my brother, well, I had to throw a good spy novel into the mix. From Russia with Love seemed as good an option as any.

This book follows James Bond into a trap of romance and scandal induced by Russia’s formidable (and real) SMERSH division. These torturers and murderers of the Soviet intelligence community wrangled an attractive young recruit into seducing Bond (James Bond) through sex and greed, all with the end goal of framing him for a passionate and embarrassing murder-suicide. Hot on Bond’s tail is also SMERSH’s favorite assassin, so the stakes in Russia remain consistently high throughout the book.

With regards to the read itself, I was surprised at how long it took Fleming to fit James Bond into the book. Although he had been discussed by Russian higher-ups in the earlier chapters, it was not until Chapter 11 that James Bond actually showed his face. This being my first experience of Bond, one might think that I would be annoyed by such a slow-moving plot, but actually, I quite enjoyed it. For ten chapters, I got to peak inside the Soviet intelligence community of the late ’50s and uncover some of the craziness that occured there. It was enlightening, and it was a cunning move by the author Fleming. Whether or not all his books are this, I simply cannot say. But from this initial taste, I can see why the .007 have been such a smash-hit.

The morality of James Bond certainly leaves something to be desired, as I am sure most believers know. He is pretty much a hedonist, though certainly he has a unique way of hiding it beneath his cleanly-pressed tuxedo, keeping all his urges neatly within the bounds of business. But his life represents one in which there are no moral consequences for actions, unless of course those actions go against the country, or if they happen to attract the attention of another country’s intelligence community. So in my estimation, James Bond might be a highly entertaining character (or at least a character in highly entertaining books), but he is no hero for the believer and, thus, not someone who ought to be given hours of one’s day. I will therefore recommend the book for entertainment purposes only, but be sure to supplement James Bond with books that encourage ethical living and, even better, that emphasize moral consequences for actions.

©2012 E.T.

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