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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER - A James Bond book by Ian Fleming 

There's this scorpion, see. And he lives in a bush in West Africa where the frontiers of three African nations meet. And a guy waiting for a helicopter steps on the scorpion.

Squiiiish!

The guy is German or Dutch or something. He works as a dentist at the nearby British-owned diamond mines, and he is very near to the front end of a diamond smuggling operation. The helicopter arrives, the guy exchanges diamonds for money, heads back to his dentist job, and all the characters in the first chapter disappear until the last chapter.

Thus begins Diamonds Are Forever, the fourth James Bond novel. Bond travels to such exotic locales as a race track in upstate New York and various casinos in Las Vegas, posing as a diamond courier and trying to break up the diamond-smuggling ring. He gets mixed up with a bunch of gangsters, meets up with a girl named Tiffany Case who hates men because of a tragic childhood, and breaks up the smuggling ring in a way that I can't really explain because it didn't really make a whole lot of sense.

Diamonds Are Forever is not very good. The bit with the scorpion is probably Fleming being poetic or something. Fleming's observations about America are not particularly objective or clever, and there is not enough action to cover over a few glaringly unlikely incidents.

Felix Leiter is back. You may recall that he was eaten by a shark in Live and Let Die. But the shark didn't damage anything vital, like his racism gland. Bond reminisces about his fun-loving racist Texan friend when he is about to get a mudbath and a massage, enabling Fleming to dazzle us with such witticisms as this:

"Be right with you," said the Negro casually, his big feet slapping against the wet floor as he sauntered off about his business. Bond watched the huge rubbery man, and his skin cringed at the thought of putting his body into the dangling pudgy hands with their lined pink palms.

Bond had a natural affection for coloured people, but he reflected how lucky England was compared with America where you had to live with the colour problem from your schooldays up. He smiled as he remembered something Felix Leiter had said to him on their last assignment together in America. Bond had referred to Mr. Big, the famous Harlem criminal, as "that damned nigger." Leiter had picked him up. "Careful now, James," he had said. "People are so damn sensitive about colour around here that you can’t even ask a barman for a jigger of rum. You have to ask for a jegro."

The memory of Leiter's wisecrack cheered Bond up.


Well, it looks like Mr. Fleming forgot to include one of his favorite jokes in Live and Let Die, so he just inserted it rather gratuitously into Diamonds Are Forever. Thank you, Mr. Fleming.

There are a few good scenes. Later in the novel, Bond is taken to the Mob's ghost-town hideout, in the middle of the desert. The big boss has used his ill-gotten gains to build a railroad track between the ghost town and another community a hundred miles away. At one point, Bond escapes on a handcar with the vintage locomotive in pursuit, and the way he takes care of the bad guys is pretty neat and very flashy. Perfect for the movies. But this scene was never used in any of the films.

Also interesting in the book is a scene on a cruise ship. Bond and Tiffany think they are safe, but the homosexual torpedoes, Wint and Kidd, have followed them on the ship to wreak vengeance in the name of the mob. This scene is used in the movie. Both versions are pretty interesting.

Overall, I much prefer the movie version of Diamonds Are Forever. The book just didn't do a whole lot for me. I read Moonraker in two days. Diamonds Are Forever took me over a week. I just wasn't that engaged.

Next: From Russia With Love (Book)

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