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Now this is what I call a proper novel! This is my favourite Bond novel, and Fleming is at his literary best!
Right, first off, if you've ever seen the film, forget it. I watched all the films before reading the books. When I was younger, I was completely hooked on them when I mail-ordered the entire collection on VHS! But as I got older, I began reading the books. And I haven't looked back since. But I won't go into the details of the film, seeing as I'm reviewing the book.
Moonraker is unique in the Bond series. Bond, and MI6 agent, is sanctioned to operate in the UK for this mission. Which is to investigate goings on around the construction of Moonraker, and make sure it's first launch goes off without a hitch.
Moonraker is the brain-child of Sir Hugo Drax. This colourful character has an intriguing history. Found horibly disficured in a joint US-British HQ in Germany during the Second World War, Drax is shipped home. After losing his memory, he is quized and shown pictures to try and establish his identity. He shows interest in the file of Hugo Drax, and when he is well enough is released from hospital. He goes on to become a mutli-millionaire, dealing in columbite (a metal used in the manufacture of jet engines). Eventually, he decides to make a gift to the UK; an intercontinental missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to all major threats in Europe.
But he only employs German scientists at his construction sight near Dover. And, after one German shoot the British security officer assigned to Drax in a local pub, with a cry of 'Heil Hitler', Bond is put on the case. And what he discovers sets off a race against the clock to avert a major catastrophe. But, I won't spoil the ending for you....
Drax is a classic Bond villain; unusual and flawed. He has shocking red hair, and a garish dress sense. He is a very brash and abbrasive person; yet commands the awe and respect of the nation. And, as M quite simply puts it, "Sir Hugo Drax cheats at cards." Why? The traditional Bond villain's greed and quest to be the best there is? The thrill of winning? All will become clear though....
As usual, Fleming's writing style shines through in this novel. His knack of using great detail and an expert knowledge of the subject matter of his story really do bring this novel to life. You feel you are living the adventure with Bond. And you won't want to put this marvellous story down! It's well structured, and leaves you wanting to know more at every turn of the page. Fleming builds up suspense and doubt in the readers mind, bring the story to it's thrilling climax.
Oh, and there is a big twist to this story. One that you won't see coming until you move further through the book. Fleming's literary genious is so apparent in the way he twists the story. It starts out innocently enough, and looks like it could be a pretty boring mission for Bond. But as you read on, you question the 'facts' already presented, and the mystery unfold infront of your very eyes with alarming consequences! Thrilling just doesn't do it justice!
Overall, this is a cracking book, full of the usual elements of Bond; adventure, mystery, suspense, girls and an element of the unknown. Once you start reading this book, you'll be hooked! This is an absolute must read!
'Moonraker' is the third book in the James Bond series by Ian Fleming. After the first two books, establishing the evil network of SMERSH, I expected further developments in that storyline however this is more of a standalone, one-off story.
This story picks up with Bond's boss, M, asks Bond for a favour. He is a member of a gentlemans' club and suspects that one of the members is cheating at the card table. This member is winning every time he plays which makes M assume that he is cheating in some way. Knowing that Bond is an expert card player he hopes that he will be able to spot the method of cheating and teach the member a severe financial lesson. The issue is complicated by who the member is. The mysterious Sir Hugo Drax is a multi-millionaire who is adored by the British public and government alike. He is a former World War II soldier who returned from combat injured and with amnesia. M cannot risk Drax's reputation being tarnished and has a delicate situation on his hands as Drax is currently working on a nuclear missle which he is donating to British defence. This missile will ensure that none of the enemies of the time will consider attacking Britain. M is desperate to stop the cheating without exposing it. This battle at the card table forms a distinct part one to the book. The second part of the book finds Bond taking the place of a recently murdered undercover agent who was working on the Moonraker project. Bond must find out who was behind the murder and ensure that no-one can sabotage the very public test launch.
As mentioned above the story has two distinct parts, although the book is split in three parts. The first at the card table is engrossing. The battle of wits and wills between the two men is captured brilliantly by Fleming and you really feel like you are experiencing the game. However, my only complaint with this part of the book was that I felt you needed a fairly good knowledge of Bridge to fully appreciate what was going on. When Fleming wrote Casino Royale he gave a crash course on Baccarat through the story so that when it came to the game you knew exactly what was going on. Here there is no explanation of even the basic rules so I was lost. It was a real shame as one page even goes as far as showing you all the cards each player has and I imagine a good Bridge player could have seen what was coming. Unfortunately I was clueless and even once the hand played out I couldn't see why it had. Perhaps Bridge was a lot more popular in the 50s when this was written and Fleming's audience of the time would have followed it but I definitely felt I had missed out on a fairly important piece of this part of the book. Having said that this part was definitely my favourite.
The second part of the story was very readable but wasn't up to the very high standards of the first. There isn't a huge amount in this part other than the fairly natural conclusion of the story. There is a bit of a mystery around who is sabotaging the Moonraker project but I think the answer was fairly obvious so this element perhaps was a little disappointing. The second part plays out quite well and once again we see Bond, the man, exactly as that. He is fallible again. This is the consistent thing from reading the early books. He makes mistakes, relies on others and has to encounter painful lessons. All these things make the story far more complete.
This book was a little dated but a lot less than you would expect bearing in mind it is over 50 years old. Indeed there were elements in it which are still relevant today. For example the evil doers investing in a stock market and currency fall prior to the launch was exactly the plot used at the beginning of the Casino Royale movie a few years ago.
Another interesting aspect is that the ballistic nuclear missile would have been futuristic in the 50s and a weaker story would have relied on the fascination with the technology. However, the story still works today even though such things are now very much part of our current times.
What I also liked in this was the way that the attention to detail was so complete. The story and reasoning behind Drax's men's extravagant moustaches was extremely clever and made a lot of sense. Small things like this made me enjoy the story a lot more.
The last page of the book, for the second time in three novels, was absolutely brilliant and unexpected. It wasn't a major twist in the story, more a brilliant insight into Bond's character and his assumptions and was totally unexpected. It left me with a smile on my face and showed that Fleming wasn't infatuated with Bond in the way that a lot of authors are with their lead character.
I am finding that as I read more of these novels you get more and more into them in terms of not noticing how set in the past they are. It's like you become immersed in the time and I think you get more from them if you can read them as a collection, rather than as one-off books. As a one-off you would inevitable be reading with Connery, Moore or Craig in mind where I now disassociate the literary character with any of these actors.
It would also be an expensive business buying them individually. This book is £5.49 on Amazon but I bought it as part of the James Bond collection when it was available from www.thebookpeople.co.uk for £14.99. I have also seen it in Tesco for the same price. My copy came in a boxed set and each book has an introduction from a fellow author. In this case it's Michael Dibdin.
James Bond returns in Diamonds are Forever.
Moonraker was the third James Bond novel in the series of books written by the great Ian Fleming and originally published in 1955. The story revolves around a mysterious tycoon called Sir Hugo Drax. Drax, in a move regarded as an altruistic gesture to the British Government, is the driving force behind a nuclear missile project called 'Moonraker' which he is developing in Kent near the coast. The revolutionary missile contains top secret elements that only Drax controls. It will safeguard the security of Britain in the unstable and uncertain era of the cold war.
When M, the head of the British Secret Service - MI6 - discovers that Drax may be cheating at Bridge, in M's club Blades of all places, he asks James Bond to go and confirm or deny his suspicions by gambling with Drax. Bond lays a trap and discovers that Drax is indeed cheating. But why? He's a millionaire building a top secret weapon for the Government. Can he be trusted? When a Government official assigned to Drax's Moonraker project is killed, M decides that James Bond must travel to the Kent coast and unravel the mystery of Hugo Drax once and for all...
Moonraker is a Bond novel I've always had a soft spot for. It's slightly underrated perhaps because of the more fantastical nature of the plot with missile malarkey and a big revelation. This is James Bond in the rocket age. A considerable portion of the first half of the book does contain though one of Fleming's most famous and effortless set pieces that is low key but very absorbing. At M's club, Bond pits his wits agaisnt Drax at the gaming tables.
007's novel preparation for his evening of Bridge with Drax is very unique and Fleming.
'Benzedrine,' said James Bond. 'It's what I shall need if I'm going to keep my wits about me tonight. It's apt to make one a bit overconfident, but that'll help too.' He stirred the champagne so that the white powder whirled among the bubbles. Then he drank the mixture down with one long swallow. 'It doesn't taste,' said Bond, 'and the champagne is quite excellent
Fleming's attention to detail, style, love of colour, gambling, food (You will be reaching for the Gaviscon just reading the Blades passages), and love of the high-life adds a considerable amount of atmosphere and interest to a scene that is fairly uneventful on the face of it. Fleming loved to create colourful villains who play cat and mouse with Bond in refined surroundings before the nefarious masterplan is revealed and Drax is a good example of this trait.
Another nice thing about Moonraker is how the M - Bond relationship is fleshed out. At the start Bond is investigating Drax as a favour for his boss. A sort of after hours casual assignment;
"M lifted his yes from his pipe and cleared his throat. 'Got anything particular on at the moment, James?' he asked in a neutral voice. 'James.' That was unusual. It was rare for M to use a Christian name in this room."
The mutual respect and fondness these two characters feel for each other, despite their sometimes edgy relationship, is pleasantly illustrated in little moments like this.
Bond himself is drawn in a bit more in Moonraker. We get more of a flavour of his day to day life. These nuggets are fascinating for Bond fans. His office, target practice on the shooting range. His Bentley. And of course we meet his beloved Scottish housekeeper and get an insight in his home life. Bond has a comfortable flat on the King's Road and we learn that he likes to spend money because he wants to leave nothing when he dies. Double-O agents had to retire at 45 but Bond did not expect to reach that age in his profession. He expected to be killed on a mission any day. We also learn that Bond is 37 and earns £1,500 a year.
One of the interesting things about the book is that it is set in Britain, and principally Kent. Some readers prefer to see Bond in some far flung location and find this a drawback to the book. For me the locations of Moonraker are a big part of the charm. I know Kent fairly well and I enjoyed Bond's drive from London to Dover a grat deal because I was familiar with some of the places and Towns. Fleming describes the backdrops and little scenes with his usual attention to detail and it's great fun for me at any rate.
Moonraker picks up the pace when Bond travels to Romney Marsh to investigate the Moonraker Project and more specifically Drax. He meets Gala Brand there. Brand is undercover investigating Drax for Scotland Yard and she teams up with Bond to unravel the secret of the Moonraker project. Brand is not the best female Fleming ever wrote but she's pretty interesting and plays a big part in the story. In a way Brand is unique amongst Bond girls but I won't spoil the story by revealing why. She has a susprising moment in Moonraker.
There is some good cloak and dagger stuff in the final parts of the book with car crashes and punch-ups. Fleming also injects his usual quota of sadism into Moonraker with a few passages that will have the reader wincing, including a brutal interrogation scene.
The author, you suspect, has great fun writing about missiles and rockets and secret defence projects. The notion of Britain developing a super missile that was beyond anything the Soviets had must have appealed to him a great deal. Personally I enjoyed the addition of a slightly more fantastical element to the literary series and the fact that the book was written in the fifties adds to the retro charm.
Overall, Moonraker is an entertaining and typically stylish addition to the literary Bond adventures written by Fleming. The author is gloriously at home in the Blades Club and clearly enjoyed painting a portrait of locations closer to home than usual. It gives the reader a sense of Bond's country and patriotism. Of what Bond is ultimately there to safeguard.
The real charm of course is in entering the refined, heightened world of Fleming's imagination through a hero who lives each day as if it might be his last.
Bond is dashing, brave, tough, suave, sometimes depressed, but a man who lives the high life. He eats the best food, drinks vintage labels, and cops off with women who you'd never meet in real life.
He's just a fun, interesting and cool character and his adventures remain a wonderful escapist refuge.
At M's request, Bond has gone up against Sir Hugo Drax at the card table, on a mission to teach the millionaire and head of the Moonraker project a lesson he won't forget, and prevent a scandal engulfing Britain's latest defence system. But there is more to the mysterious Drax than simply cheating at cards. And once Bond delves deeper into goings on at the Moonraker base, he discovers that both the project and its leader are something other than they pretend to be.