Another Bond audio book, this time an abridged adaption of Diamonds Are Forever, once again read by Rufus Sewell in 2002. I quite like the simplicity of these adaptions and they are fairly pleasant if you need something to listen to when you are walking somewhere or waiting for a train. Diamonds Are Forever was the fourth book in the famous series by Ian Fleming and published in 1956. It isn't regarded to be one of the most inspired things Fleming wrote but does have some good moments. The story revolves around a highly efficient diamond smuggling ring that is snaffling diamonds in Africa on a large scale and secretly transporting them to the United States. This is costing the British government a lot of money so MI6 (as usual) send James Bond 007 to New York to look into this crooked scheme. Bond is warned that the culprits are most probably the mafia - specifically a brutal crime organisation known as 'The Spangled Mob' and led by Seraffimo Spang. Allied with the beautiful Tiffany Case, Bond must investigate and infiltrate the diamond smuggling operation and the very dangerous characters that are behind it...
One problem that many have with the story here is that the villains lack the grand nefarious schemes, sophistication, scope and larger than life appeal of the more memorable baddies in the 007 series. The villains in Diamonds Are Forever are essentially American mobsters. They aren't trying to hold the world to nuclear ransom, stealing Vulcan bombers or living on a sun drenched private island. They are just criminals trying to make money. While it perhaps makes the story more grounded and believable than some of the more far out Bond plots this does feel like one Bond entry that is missing a classic nemesis for our martini guzzling hero. Seraffimo Spang is basically a mob boss obsessed with the Old West. He's not a bad villain but he's hardly Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Fleming's depiction of these American mobster types isn't always terribly convincing and it's one Bond book where he sometimes doesn't quite seem sure of his footing. It's not quite so noticeable in an abridged audio version than it is reading the whole novel but it is detectable. Fleming is definitely more convincing with some urbane SPECTRE type swanning around Europe in casinos than he is with these period Tony Sopranos.
Diamonds Are Forever is a slightly strange Bond novel at times and therefore never works quite as well as an Audio CD as some of the other books in this series. The story is set in the United States and American set Bonds never quite have the same panache as the more European and globetrotting entries. Another thing about this novel is that it has quite a languid jet-lagged atmosphere at times and this quality is slightly reigned in by the abridged format. Ian Fleming was famously a very descriptive writer and it was both a strength and a weakness. He could paint a wonderful picture of a certain place or location but also waffle on far too much when describing something technical or a particular object. In Diamonds Are Forever though Fleming's descriptive obsessiveness is often a strength and the audio version loses something by trimming his more elaborate flourishes and scene setting at times.
Rufus Sewell is quite good at the low-key stuff and although there is a good sense of time and place here just a bit more of the dreamlike atmosphere of the novel would have been nice. What descriptive passages there are that dwell on some of the locations Bond visits are amongst the best things for Sewell to read. 'The first thing that struck bond about Saratoga was the green majesty of the elms, which gave the discreet avenues of colonial-type clapboard houses some of the peace and serenity of a European watering place. And there were horses everywhere, being walked across the streets, with a policeman holding up the traffic, being coaxed out of horse-boxes around the sprawling groups of stables, cantering along the cinder borders of the roads, and being led to work on the exercise track alongside the race-course near the centre of town.'
I like the unobtrusive nature of these particular adaptions and while this is not one of the strongest stories for Sewell to read to us it still becomes very absorbing even if you've read the novel a couple of times. There are some decent supporting characters too, even if the villain isn't that great. Tiffany Case is a good Bond girl with some decent lines ('I don't often date a good-looking Englishman and the dinner's going to live up to the occasion!') and Wint & Kidd make memorable henchmen for Spang. Wint & Kidd are obviously supposed to be gay but Fleming's more dated flourishes around this are understandably negated and excised in this audio version. A mention too for Felix Leiter who makes a welcome return and is now a 'Pinkerton' detective. This is a competent adaption on the whole but suffers a little from not being one of Fleming's tighter and more memorable novels. I got this out of the library and would say it's worth a look if you saw it for around a fiver like most of the Audio CDs in this series. It's a bit more than that at the time of writing so I would buy some of the others first and wait for a more tempting offer on this to appear.
Tiffany Case is the sort of beautiful, devil-may-care blonde who could get a man into deep trouble - if he wanted. She stands between James Bond and the leaders of a diamond-smuggling ring that stretches from Africa via London to the States. Bond uses her to infiltrate this gang, but once in America the hunter becomes the hunted. Bond is in real danger until help comes from an unlikely quarter.