Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Review: Doctor No

Dr No by Ian Fleming (1958)

The Secret Service officer in Jamaica and his female No. 2 go missing and James Bond is sent out on what seems like a routine investigation of a man and a woman who've probably just done a runner, but missing files, mysterious tails and an assassination attempt point Bond to the island of Crab Key–the private kingdom of the incredible Dr. No.

The sixth of the James Bond series, Dr No, is a direct irect continuation of From Russia With Love, taking up right after Bond returns to duty after a near-fatal poisoning by Smersh agent Rosa Klebb.  Where Russia was a straightforward Cold War story, Dr No is far more fantastic as Bond and his West Indian friend Quarrel follow the leads that end in a clandestine visit to Dr No's island.  There Bond encounters Honeychile Ryder, a strange girl who is a mixture of resourcefulness blended into a childlike nature.  Their attraction for one another against the backdrop of eluding Dr No's men is already interesting, but when they are captured and escorted into the lair of the mysterious madman with steel claws for hands, the novel takes on an almost surreal quality.  This is heightened by No's entertaining Bond and Honey to dinner and polite conversation in luxurious surroundings that Bond is all too aware are just an ironic prelude to an evening of torture and murder.  Worse, he learns the reason behinds No's madness and that it involves more than just preserving his evil wonderland.

Though not well received on its first publication, Dr No has aged well over the years–not the least because the film adaptation formed the template for all later Bond villains right down to the sumptuous lair and the Nehru jackets.  It's full of the usual blend of "sex, sadism and snobbery", but added into the mix is the friendship between Bond and Quarrel that ends in tragedy, the strange protective/sexual relationship with Honey and the delicious banter as Bond and Dr No cross swords over drinks.

Not the finest of the Bond series, it is nevertheless a straight plot with a satisfying conclusion that puts it firmly in the middle rankings of the books.

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