Reading “Doctor No”

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I used to think that the James Bond novels and short stories were merely mass-produced potboilers that were churned out by Ian Fleming in order to keep him in the sybaritic lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. Then I decided to read some of the books. Turns out he’s actually a very good writer in terms of his descriptions and plotting. What I can’t swallow, though, is some of the preposterous detail he includes in a story with the hope that readers are so engrossed that they won’t notice that the villains he has come up with are like stick figures. Bond himself is not difficult to work out. He’s a simple man with simple pleasures. Sex and violence seem to be the main ones, which is why the books are so easily adaptable to the big screen, I guess.

I recently finished reading “Doctor No.” I’d read it before years ago but this time I marveled anew at both Fleming’s skill in description and his ineptitude at creating believable villains. As he is recovering from being poisoned on a previous case, James Bond is sent to Jamaica to investigate the disappearance of two MI6 operatives. His superior, M, views it as a rest cure, but Bond, it seems, is determined to whip the whole mission up into a cause célèbre that will prove to M that he still has what it takes to be a pain in the ass to master criminals the world over. Archvillain Doctor No has an installation on the island of Crab Key for mining guano – yes, you read that right, bird-shit-shoveling. He is very secretive and anyone who goes to the island is never seen or heard from ever again. Predictably, Bond goes to the island. There he meets the love interest, a young lady with the unlikely name of Honeychile Rider, Honey for short. Among her many accomplishments she seems, for no apparent reason, to have developed a severe clothing allergy, because throughout the book she tediously appears in various situations wearing various combinations of nothingness and scraps of cloth, much to the delight of Bond and no doubt the reading public. After being chased around the Island of Shit by an outlandish flame-throwing armored swamp buggy in the shape of a dragon (sigh), Bond and Honey are captured by the mysterious Doctor No. No treats them to a sumptuous dinner, during which he regales them with his own brand of megalomania, which includes ruining the U.S. nuclear arms program, developing his own weapons and, of course, ruling the world.