Tuesday 9 May 2023

Cheating at cards... it's about the only crime that can still finish you

Moonraker (James Bond, #3) Last year the screen persona of James Bond turned 60. He made his debut in 1962 with Dr. No. I must have seen all the movies. I groaned at the awful punned names of heroines like Pussy Galore and cringed when Sean Connery forcibly kissed her. I rolled my eyes at Roger Moore's cheesy humour and cheered when Piers Brosnan met his match with Onatop. But in all this time I've never, up to now, read a single one of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels.

Thinking I should start with one of the best, I googled for a ranking of the books and chose Moonraker. Published in 1955, it's the third of Fleming's novels featuring the secret agent and consistently features in the top three. I fondly remember the 1979 movie, its villain Drax intent on creating a perfect new super-race, the breath-taking, sky-diving opening sequence, Jaws defecting to the side of the goodies and living happily ever after with his girlfriend Dolly.

The novel's plot is quite different to that of the movie, and firmly British-centric. M asks Bond to join him at his club for dinner, but has an ulterior motive. One of the members, Sir Hugo Drax, is suspected of cheating at cards. How very un-British! "What the hell does he want to do that for? Bloody millionaire. Rolling in money". Bond, having learned everything there is to know about card handling from his Casino Royale first mission, is asked to investigate and confirms the suspicion. Rather than make Drax's scandalous behaviour public, Bond uses his own card skills to teach the cheat a lesson. Next day, following a mysterious murder and suicide at Drax's Moonraker compound near Dover, Bond is assigned to find out what's going on.

Fleming breaks the story's narrative into three parts: Part 1 introduces the characters and sets the scene; Part 2 introduces the intrigue; Part 3 contains all the action and the dénouement. My eyes glazed over somewhat reading the explanations of how the Moonraker rocket worked, but otherwise it rattled along at quite a pace. Fleming's writing style is great for story-telling, but not particularly finely crafted.

The only similarity between the book and the movie is the baddie's name. Fleming's Bond and that of Cubby Broccoli are quite different and I hardly recognized them as the same character. Bond actually drives a Bentley, not an Aston Martin, and his firearms of choice are a Beretta and a Colt, not a Walther PPK. In the course of his duty he's seriously injured (but obviously battles on), whereas on screen he rarely receives a scratch and his hair and clothing are always impeccable. Nor does he get the girl. But then there's always the next time.

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