Mass market paperback, 354 pages
Published 2006 (originally 1959)
Acquired and read June 2017
It's okay if a James Bond adventure starts with a low-key escapade where Bond discovers the villain cheats at cards-- even if Fleming already pulled this one in Moonraker, he's good at it. It's also okay if a James Bond adventure starts with a low-key escapade where Bond discovers the villain cheats at golf-- though even Fleming struggles to make golf exciting. What's not okay is having 143 pages of your 354-page novel taken up by Bond rooting out cheaters. It's decidedly low stakes stuff, like the old Superman story where he stops someone from fixing up Ivy League football matches. I guess it oughtn't surprise me, though, because this James Bond novel is more about Bond versus people who violate English social norms than most: in addition to people who cheat at gentlemanly pursuits, this book is Fleming's most racist yet, with some really awful stuff about Koreans, plus Bond "cures" a lesbian, and Bond blames the death of one woman (in this book, two "Bond girls" die which seems a pretty poor showing; actually are they the first women to die in the series since Vesper?) on the fact that she wouldn't listen to him, and the fact that she wouldn't listen to him on the women's suffrage, which masculinized women and feminized men.
I found this to be a less satisfying Bond novel on the whole; in addition to the languid opening, Bond feels like a bystander for too much of the story, even if we do learn that behind the scenes, something he did caused contingencies to be put into motion that saved the day. The best part of the novel is the long car chase where Bond tales Goldfinger from England to Switzerland; as he usually does, Fleming makes something that could be dull in other hands quite tense through his explication of minute details. If the rest of the book had been this good, it would have been great. As it is, alas. I am still looking forward to the film.
(I was surprised that the story's most famous image, death by gold paint, doesn't actually appear on the page; Bond is just told it has happened by the victim's sister. It's on the cover and of course in the movie regardless.)
Next Week: I'm all caught up on James Bond novels, so I'm cycling onward to another reading project. Join me for three months of a return to Oz!