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'Every major foreign government has a file on James Bond, British secret agent. Now, Russia's deadly SMERSH organization has targeted him for elimination - they have the perfect bait in ravishing agent Tatiana Romanova. Her mission is to lure Bond to Istanbul and seduce him while her superiors handle the rest. But when Bond walks willingly into the trap, a game of cross and double cross ensues - with Bond both the stakes and the prize...'
From Russia With Love is the fifth James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming and was originally published in 1957. The book begins with the heads of the Soviet intelligence organisations plotting to put one over on their Western counterparts by murdering a Western agent in a particularly audacious and embarrassing fashion. The Western agent they eventually choose to assassinate is of course none other than James Bond 007 of the British Secret Service. The plan involves luring Bond to Turkey where he will be led to believe that a female cipher clerk wants to defect to the West with a much prized secret code machine. The Soviets assign the mission of terminating 007 to their deadliest assassin Donovan 'Red' Grant and the luring part of the equation to beautiful agent Tatiana Romanova. Romanava is planted to seduce Bond in front of a hidden camera to suggest a sordid affair and ruin his reputation after death. The final part of the plan will involve Red Grant eliminating Bond and Romanava as they make their way back to Britain on the Orient Express. They will both be murdered by SMERSH and it will be made to appear as if a crazed Bond killed the woman himself and then committed suicide.
One of the stronger Fleming novels, From Russia With Love has one of the greatest and most dangerous Bond villains ever in Red Grant and plenty of suspense and intrigue. It's probably no coincidence that the subsequent film version of From Russia With Love was arguably the best James Bond film of all time and certainly in the top three alongside Goldfinger and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The first part of the novel finds James Bond absent and is devoted to SMERSH and their new masterplan, absorbingly introducing us to Red Grant, Rosa Klebb and Tatiana Romanova along the way. It's an effective enough ploy from Fleming who begins the book with the unemotional Grant receiving a massage in an elaborate private garden. 'He was the Chief Executioner of SMERSH,' writes Fleming. 'The murder apparat of the MGB, and at this moment he was receiving his instructions on the MGB direct line with Moscow.'
The passages dealing with SMERSH and their clandestine discussions are enjoyable here for readers of the series because Bond's exploits in earlier books are mentioned as the main reason why he has been singled out. Bond has become a slightly mythic figure in these murky but powerful circles and the SMERSH bigwigs remind each other that he is a great danger and irritant who has already terminated the activities of Le Chiffre (Casino Royale) and foiled the schemes of Hugo Drax (Moonraker) and Mr Big (Live and Let Die). 'The headquarters of SMERSH,' writes Fleming. 'Is a very large and ugly modern building on the Sretenka Ulitsa. It is No 13 on this wide, dull street, and pedestrians keep their eyes on the ground as they pass the two sentries with sub-machine guns who stand on either side of the broad steps leading to the big iron double door. If they remember in time, or they can do so inconspicuously, they cross the street and pass by on the other side.' The notion of SMERSH out for revenge on Bond and desire for him to be killed with ignominy is a enjoyable one that supplies our enduring hero with an intriguing challenge and plenty of apprehensive moments through the story.
The book has some great characters, especially Darko Kerim, the SIS Station Head in Turkey, who becomes like a father figure to Bond and has a periscope which rises into a corner of the Soviet Consulate planning room from a hidden tunnel. There is a nicely atmospheric set-piece where they visit a gyspy camp and Bond witnesses a fight and some cold blooded behaviour which makes him reflect on his own attitudes and experiences. 'These Russians are great chess players,' advises Kerim. 'When they wish to execute a plot, they execute it brilliantly. The game is planned minutely, the gambits of the enemy are provided for.' Tatiana Romanova is also a memorable character and said to look like Greta Garbo. 'Fine dark silken hair brushed straight back from a tall brow and falling heavily down to the shoulders, there to curl up slightly at the ends (Garbo had once done her hair like that and Corporal Romanvova admitted to herself she had copied it), a good, soft, pale skin with an ivory sheen at the cheekbones.' Red Grant is asexual and becomes more murderous with the onset of a full moon. He is one of the most dangerous people Bond is ever likely to tangle with.
We gain a little more insight into Bond here and, enjoyably, pay a visit to his comfortable King's Road flat where he is having breakfast and chatting to his beloved Scottish housekeeper May. Bond feels bored when we first meet him, the only vice he truly condemns. He only reads The Times and breakfast includes Norwegian Heather Honey from Fortnums and Cooper's Vintage Oxford marmalade. He is over six foot tall and speaks fluent French and German, began working for the Secret Service in 1938 and in his teens climbed the Aguilles Rouges in Switzerland. For the purposes of his mission here he is given a briefcase containing ammunition, throwing knives, a silencer in a tube of palmolive, and a cyanide pill. Fleming's food obsession - he once said he always attempted total stimulation of the reader all the way through, even to his taste buds - is also present and correct. 'The yoghurt, in a blue china bowl, was deep yellow and with the consistency of thick cream. The green figs, ready peeled, were bursting with ripeness, and the Turkish coffee was jet black and with the burned taste that showed it had been freshly ground.'
The book moves towards an exciting final showdown between Bond and Grant where you actually begin to wonder how 007 is going to get out of this one. From Russia With Love consistently proves one of the stronger Bond novels. Possible criticisms? Well, Fleming, as he was prone to now and again, contradicts himself here - and the events of Casino Royale - by stating Bond has never killed in cold blood. There are also, unsurprisingly for a book written several decades ago, a few dated elements. "I though we all agreed homosexuals were about the worst security risk there is," says a character. Bond's line of 'If there was a bit more room I'd put you across my knee and spank you' to Tatiana probably wouldn't pass any stringent PC examination today either!
From Russia With Love has a good story, some wonderful descriptions and a nice air of intrigue and danger. One of the better novels in the enduring series of books written by Ian Fleming.
After the defeat of SMERSH operatives Le Chiffre, Mr. Big and Hugo Drax, head cheese General Grubozaboyschikov, otherwise known as General G., has decided to disgrace British Intelligence once and for all by eliminating and embarassing their top spy and threat to Russia: James Bond.
Recruiting their top thinker, the world-renowned chess champion Tov Kronsteen, and the most barbarous of interrogators Rosa Klebb, they come up with a plan to tempt M. and MI6 to send Bond to Instanbul to be ensnared in their little trap.
Of course it is a trap, Bond and M. can smell it a mile away, but the temptation of a Russian turncoat called Tatiana Romanova falling in love with the spy while in possession of a Russian Spektor, a cipher machine the boys back home would love to get their hands on, this is perhaps too good an opportunity to miss.
After all, all she wants is to be taken back to London in the arms of the man she loves.
With head of operations in Instanbul Kerim Bey at his side, Bond boards the Orient Express from Instanbul to Paris in an effort to get Tatiana safe, but the Russians have released their top field operative, SMERSH's head executioner Donovan Grant, on their tail.
Can Bond get the girl and the Spektor back to London in one piece, or has SMERSH finally got the upper hand on the British spy?
"From Russia With Love", published in 1957, is the fifth novel in the long line of Bond's adventures, following on from "Casino Royale", "Live and Let Die", "Moonraker" and "Diamonds Are Forever", and we return to the exploits of the Russians with their evil plans under the guise of SMERSH: 'Death to Spies'.
What is truly masterclass about Ian Fleming's writing is in his attention to detail and the ease he has in transporting the reader into what feels like a living, breathing world.
His characters are so well drawn that more often than not the supporting players are much more interesting than the actual Bond character, and that comes across strongly here in "From Russia With Love" as James takes a backseat to the firey killer Grant, the beautiful Tatiana, the nasty Rosa Klebb, and the larger-than-life Kerim Bey.
The surprise here is that Bond isn't actually mentioned for a good portion of the book, as the first part (the first ten chapters), set up the plot and the characters that are working behind the scenes to bring our hero down.
While this may sound like a long and drawn out opening, it is actually rather interesting and perhaps the best part of the novel as we are slowly introduced to each of the villains and how they are going to play their part in Bond's downfall.
The first is the blonde-haired brute Donovan Grant, an Englishman who crossed the border to join the Russians due to his thirst for blood and murder, now employed by SMERSH as their top assassin and executioner.
With wide shoulders, a dangerously muscular body and a quick mind, he is very much the anti-Bond, a man that would have the talents to be a part of MI6, but one that actually enjoys killing to fuel his blood-lust.
We see him as very much a man who could readily challenge Bond from the off.
Next up is the nasty piece of work that is Rosa Klebb, supervisor of operations and executions, a short brute of a woman who enjoys her work torturing enemies of the state.
As the blurb on the back of my edition suggests, she is "not the kind of lady Bond would choose to tangle with", and with her cruel mouth, dark history and knife-concealing shoes, she is more than a match for Britain's finest.
The head thinker and designer of the trap is chess champion Tov Kronsteen, who comes across suitably cool and calculated, even able to play the head honcho General G. with his quick thinking, but he does not have a big on-paper part to play in the novel.
Nor does General G. actually, only appearing for a few chapters, and he mostly sits around scaring and intimidating those that come to Moscow's SMERSH headquarters, making them squirm under his gaze.
These four characters do not appear much, if at all, after the first part of the novel, but we as readers are very much conscious of them working behind the scenes, pressing buttons and pulling levers, setting up Bond's demise and eventual humiliation.
As the love-interest and 'Bond girl' is Tatiana Romanova, a lowly corporal working for Soviet intelligence.
Young and naive, she rarely thinks outside of her own life and remains scared of her superiors, as anyone would, playing the common Russian girl trapped in the bubble of Moscow's Communism.
Her initial meeting with Rosa Klebb is perhaps one of the highlights of the novel, introducing us to a nervous young girl asked to do a dangerous job for Russia, and also letting us in on the world of Klebb's sexual perversions and advances as she tries to gain Tatiana's confidence with chocolates and champagne.
It is relatively difficult to read and is some dark stuff.
James Bond, stripped of the witty remarks from Roger Moore's interpretation, comes across a little dull, especially in the presence of all these more interesting characters, and we learn little that is new about him.
He is very much a puppet here, controlled by the forces around him that he can't quite see or understand.
While the novel drags a bit in the middle as Bond is led around Instanbul by the natie Kerim Bey, the pace picks up quickly once he is introduced to Tatiana and they board the Orient Express.
In true style, the claustrophobia of the situation, of spending four dangerous days confined to a metal box rushing along at 70mph, is well written and to the credit of Fleming is never explicitly explored.
After all, it is something more than obvious, and the feeling that the walls are closing in is piled up and up and up, as we learn about secret Russian operatives on the train, of Bond having to stay up all night to protect Tatiana and the Spektor, and continued questioning of who may yet be a double agent.
This is easily my favourite of the James Bond novels so far and it shows that Fleming has truly hit his stride by this point in the series.
Compared with earlier efforts, "Casino Royale" had that really drawn out, boring ending, "Moonraker" had the dull middle, etc, Fleming's works have been a real mix of sheer brilliance and slightly dull moments.
In "From Russia With Love", however, even though some of the middle seems a bit out of place and you can't quite figure out why it's been included, the first and final thirds of this novel are truly gripping stuff.
A great novel and a definite must-read for fans.
[The book can be purchased from play.com for £5.99 (at time of writing), including postage and packing]
Every major foreign government has a file on James Bond, British secret agent. Now, Russia's deadly SMERSH organization has targeted him for elimination - they have the perfect bait in ravishing agent, Tatiana Romanova. Her mission is to lure Bond to Istanbul and seduce him while her superiors handle the rest. But, when Bond walks willingly into the trap, a game of cross and double cross ensues - with Bond both the stakes and the prize.