Dr No is my favourite James Bond book; not by much, but enough to make it superior even among a superior series. I honestly don’t know what it is about it that I like so much but for some reason everything about it seems to click perfectly in place. This was the first Bond book I ever came in contact with. One Christmas I received the audio book of Dr No read by Rufus Sewell. First a little background. At this point I was a huge fan of the James Bond films and Dr No ranked among my favourites. Secondly I adored Rufus Sewell for his brilliant work on Dr Sin (Note to self, write a “Why-I-Love-Dr-Sin” article). I spent a whole day blitzing out on the CD and I was hooked on James Bond novels from there on.
But it isn’t just because Dr No is my first Bond book that I love it so much. Oh no. It’s because everything in it is inspired writing with Fleming at his very best. The Jamaica setting is always his best place to write about the premise is brilliant, the description is beautiful but concise and the action comes thick and fast. Fleming manages to blend Literature with a capital “L” and the same much loved conventions of James Bond to create a thriller to beat all thrillers.
From the superb opening assassination scene which I have eternally attempted to reproduce in my own writing to the final brutal “assault course of death” which Bond must defeat this is a thriller without match. Honey Ryder, the girl, is surely described as the hottest of all Bond girls and the fact that she parades around in nothing more and sometimes slightly less than a bikini makes her especially alluring.
Above I mentioned the setting. Fleming might as well have been a native of Jamaica as he lived there for many years on and off and knew the place like the back of his hand. In Dr No we get the best feeling of Jamaica in any Bond book and after reading Dr No you can almost claim to have visited such is the local detail shown in this book.
The plot is much the same as the film’s. The idea is that a villainous Chino-German mastermind attempts to sabotage the American missile program from his Jamaican island base. Bond is dragged into it while completing a supposedly “soft” mission investigating the disappearance of MI6 operative Strangeways.
The titular Dr No is a fascinating, viciously evil villain with the best backstory of the series. A Chino-German criminal who made his fortune by embezzling money from the Tong crime syndicates, No had his arms chopped off and his left chest (his heart is on the right) stabbed by the vengeful members of the Tong. Rather than, like a normal person, getting a fully functional pair of prosthetic limbs he instead decided to place powerful steel pincers on his arms capable of crushing metal.
The villainous Dr No is also a sort of perverted scientist obsessed with pain. He wishes to continue his studies by placing Bond in a lethal assault course on his island kingdom of Crab Key. This features all manner of horrors including flames, spiders and a giant octopus. I’m still amazed the film makers chose to not include what is, for me, one of the best plotted and written sequences in any Bond book. The villain’s death at the hands of Bond and a crane full of bird faeces is a step more disgusting even than the character’s death in irradiated water in the film version. You always can tell whether a villain is well written or not when you get the unique balance of admiring his skill and ingenuity but also cheering when he dies. Both of which occurred when I listened to Dr No.
A final note must be made on the superior quality of Rufus Sewell’s expert reading of the book. With skill and talent he brings to life the understated quality of Fleming’s work brilliantly and delivers the action to pulse pounding perfection.
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve placed an In Her Majesty’s name article up here today as well. Hopefully this’ll make up for the three (or is it four?) week hiatus. I don’t think this will happen again but what can I say, the perfect storm of long holidays and computer failure.
This is Frontline Armchair singing off.