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An abridged Bond Audio CD from 2002 read by Rufus Sewell, in this case Dr No, the sixth book in the series by Ian Fleming and first published in 1958. The story immediately picks up from the events of From Russia With Love where Bond was left with a nasty case of poisoning after his encounter with Russian agent Rosa Klebb. After being diagnosed and cured, a still shaky Bond is given an easy assignment by M to ease him back into his duties and also humiliate him slightly for nearly being killed on his last mission. Bond is rather insulted by this but the apparently innocuous assignment turns out to be anything but easy. Bond is asked to look into the disappearance of Jack Strangways, the SIS Head of Station Jamaica. Strangways and his secretary have gone missing and the general assumption is that they've run away together. On arrival in the West Indies though, Bond soon begins to discover that the mysterious Dr Julius No may be involved. Dr No is a secretive Chinese-German bird-dung merchant with a heavily guarded and mysterious private island known as Crab Key and it is said that any ornithologists who venture too close to Crab Key with their binoculars and flasks of soup have an unfortunate habit of vanishing. What in the name of George Lazenby is this enigmatic, er, bird-dung millionaire up to?
On the whole, Dr No works works very well as an audio book, better in fact than some of the more languid and rambling entries in the series. This is Fleming at his most surreal and macabre and the strange atmosphere of the book is rather cosy and enjoyable to listen to through your earphones. Fleming spent most of the year in the West Indies at Goldeneye, his Jamaican retreat where he wrote the Bond novels on an old typewriter with a drink always to hand. He was a something of an authority on the area and the story here is laced with evocative and enjoyable descriptions of locations, beaches, wildlife and the sun drenched atmosphere of life in this part of the world. This all makes Dr No work wonderfully well as a story to read at times and if the abridged format means that some of the atmosphere of these books is slightly lost it does at least have the advantage of sparing us some of Fleming's more encyclopedic and unnecessary descriptive flourishes where he talks about the history of porridge for three pages or something. The hangover elements here from the previous book (From Russia With Love) are fun too at the start. Bond has been poisoned with tetrodotoxin, a toxin taken from a type of Japanese fish. I hate it when that happens!
I tend to like the simplicity of these adaptions and find them pleasantly introspective and low-key to listen to. The full cast James Bond radio adaptions I've listened to have been quite disappointing and you always have a couple of voices in there that get on your nerves. They tend to be a bit more showy too with background noises and music, something which can sometimes be a plus and sometimes be a weakness. It helps the story here that Dr No (based on Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu) is an enjoyably bonkers Fleming creation for Bond to match wits with. No's mysterious island contains spiders, crabs and a fiendish obstacle course that makes anything on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here look like an absolute doddle. He tries to kill Bond by putting a deadly centipede in his bed and is obsessed with the limits of human endurance. And anyone who thinks James Bond is supposed to be incredibly worthy, miserable and serious BAFTA baiting fare (and yes I'm talking to you Barbara Broccoli) must have forgotten the part here where Bond wrestles with a giant squid! In typical Fleming style, Dr No has grotesque physical characteristics plus metal claws for hands. Like all good Bond villains though, he's quite refined and suave in his own nutty way. 'Let us proceed with our talk,' says No to Bond. 'It is a rare pleasure to have an intelligent listener.' He's so right!
The story has a memorable Bond girl too in Honeychile Rider (forever immortalised by Ursula Andress in the film version) and Ryder's first appearance in the novel is Fleming at his cheekiest. Dr No is interesting because it feels like a pivotal point in which the Bond universe as we would come to know it is all falling into place and creating a world with fixed points that could be returned to again and again. We have Q - or Major Boothroyd - as Bond's gadget supplier and armourer and some of Bond's more familiar traits are established, like his favourite tipple for example. 'A medium Vodka dry martini with a slice of lemon peel. Shaken and not stirred, please.' Sadism, that other Fleming staple, was introduced to the series right from the start, but the author further explores this particular element with the devious games No has in store for Bond, describing the pain our hero endures with great relish and detail.
This is a sadistic, far out and superior thriller by Ian Fleming and enjoyably conveyed by Sewell in this audio adaption. Sewell is not the greatest reader I've ever encountered but he does certain accents well and isn't too irritating. I quite like him in these on the whole. While these are truncated I think they generally do a decent job in deciding what to trim and the more dated elements of the book are negated somewhat - if never completely erased. Ian Fleming books are not the most politically correct stories you've ever read but they are very much of their time and that is of course both a strength and a weakness today. It's fun to be taken back to the fifties and plunged into an adventure with James Bond and also a teensy bit jarring to encounter the odd term or line that would appear rather racist or sexist to us today. This version of Dr No is not bad at all and worth a look if you see it at a bargain price.
James Bond and his beautiful, vulnerable girl Friday, Honey Rider, have been captured by the evil, sadistic Dr No, a sinister recluse with a fascination with pain - other people's pain. Now Dr No holds Bond in his steely grasp, having found him trespassing on his Caribbean island. Intent on protecting his clandestine operations from the British secret service, Dr No sees an opportunity to dispose of an enemy and further his diabolical research. Soon Bond and Rider are fighting to win a murderous game of Dr No's choosing.