Ian Fleming - From Russia, With Love (1957)
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
'My name is Bond, James Bond.' There are few characters of the 20th century that can boast the kind of global renown of Ian Fleming's British secret agent. Widely regarded as the best of Fleming's novels (JFK rated it among his top ten favourite books) From Russia With Love centres on a plot by SMERSH (the Russian organisation dedicated to wiping out foreign spies) to murder 007 in as ignominious circumstances as possible to ensure maximum embarrassment for the British Secret Service. Under the watchful eyes of Colonel Rosa Klebb, a trap is laid in Istanbul with a code machine and the delectable Tatiana Romanova as bait and the sociopathic Red Grant as the assassin in waiting.
What is striking about Fleming's work is its economy; in all his novels there is a strict linear pattern, no extraneous characters and a merciful lack of unnecessary subplots to pad out the proceedings. Like chess pieces, the characters are carefully placed on the board before they are moved toward their inevitable conclusions. Fleming has a wonderful way with characterisation, with each individual an integral part of the plot and given a comprehensive expression of emotions and mannerisms. The level of detail that is dedicated to each one lifts From Russia With Love to such a degree that there is a sense of humanity even in Klebb and Grant, two of the more grotesque Bond villains.
For those whose only experience of Bond is through the silver screen, you are in for an altogether different experience. Written in 1957, this is a lean, atmospheric Cold War thriller. Starting in Moscow and culminating in a taut four-day journey from Istanbul to Paris on the Orient Express, it is spectacular entertainment that is only heightened by Hollywood's bastardisation of Fleming's work.
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