Classic Corner – From Russia With Love

Name: From Russia With Love

Author: Ian Fleming

Year: 1957

Genre: Spy, Thriller

For this week’s classic corner review, I will be continuing the recent theme of reviews of the James Bond novels with the review of the fifth novel in the series, From Russia With Love.

Plot

In the opening chapter of the novel in what is quite a bizarre scene a masseuse has come along to visit a Englishman at his apartment to give him a massage. We quickly learn however that this is behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union and that this Englishman is in fact one of the main killing machines for SMERSH – Russia’s secret police and that he has been summoned to take on a new assignment.

It appears that the heads of state in Russia have become increasingly angry at the poor performance of Russia’s secret service in helping to spread Communism throughout the West and undermine Western powers so they set them the task of creating a konspiratsia that would be completely shocking to the secret services and would also cause a huge public scandal.

The chief strategist Kronsteen, comes up with a clever solution. His aim is to make it appear that a young Russian woman has apparently fallen in love with a Western spy after seeing their file, and is willing to steal the Spektor machine for the opposition, one of the Soviet Union’s greatest secret weapons, provided that this spy will give her safe passage to the West. The secret service scandal would be the machine doesn’t work and when the female spy and the male spy are found dead shortly afterwards, a film of them making love would cause a huge public scandal.

Following the input of SMERSH’s head of operations, Rosa Klebb, it is decided the British agent chosen to have their reputation smeared by the conspiracy is James Bond after he killed some of SMERSH’s key operatives (in Casino Royale, Live and Let Die and Moonraker). The woman chosen is the beautiful Tatiana Romanova and the location Istanbul.

Following this the action shifts to Britain where Bond is called into M’s office and is sent to Istanbul to investigate Romanova’s claim’s and to retrieve the Specktor machine. However will he unravel the conspiracy in time or is he walking blindly into such a perfectly devised honeytrap.

Thoughts

On reading From Russia With Love, one of the first things that struck me is how Fleming once again changed the structure of the novel. In both of the previous two entries in the series, Fleming pretty much made us see the entire plotline through Bond’s eyes as he investigates the villain’s plot. However in this novel the entire first section takes place completely in Russia (in fact Bond only enters the novel at around the 10th chapter). This unusual structure means that the reader is more or less omniscient in the novel long before Bond gets to the same place. In some respects this may put off some readers who like to be kept guessing but it does make the book more readable as you can see Bond is walking blindly into the traps set out for him by the Russians.

The novel is once again very glossy and glamorous and features many of the usual elements to keep fans happy – the exotic location of Istanbul (and the exciting final chapters on the luxurious Orient Express), the action sequences (special mention again to the Orient Express and also the chapter set at the gypsy camp), a beautiful leading lady in Tatiana Romanova – it all once again comes together to make a very taught, complex thriller novel.

Also as a little side note for people who are fans of the 1963 movie adaption (and having only saw it again myself recently) the novel is one of the more accurate adaptions with most of the material having made it from the book onto the silver screen. This is probably because unlike the previous three novels which were only adapted on film some years after they were initially published – From Russia With Love was only 6 years old when it was filmed with Sean Connery so many of the elements would still have been very relevant.

Also, unlike the previous entries in the series, the novel actually ends on a cliffhanger and doesn’t have a completely closed ending in the same way as the previous two entries, how that is picked up in the next entry in the series remains to be seen (though you know by now I won’t actually reveal the cliffhanger here, right?).

There are however a couple of things which will grate some readers. In a similar way to the previous entry in the series, Diamonds Are Forever with Wint and Kidd being the two villains in a homosexual relationship, there is a massive suggestion once again that Rosa Klebb is in fact a lesbian when she comes on to Romanova in one of the earlier chapters. This may have been coincidence but it may grate that the villains in the last two novels are both homosexual so there seems to be the start of a theme here.

Also the novel frustratingly takes another back step with its leading lady with Tatiana probably being on a similar par in terms of usefulness to the plot as Live and Let Die’s Solitaire i.e. not very. This was a little frustrating for me after Tiffany Case and Gala Brand elevated the female presence in the novels beyond mere damsel’s in distress for Bond to rescue. This does provide insight into Bond’s character however in his protective instincts over seemingly vulnerable women and probably suits the plot of the conspiracy more than a character like Tiffany Case or Gala Brand would.

Verdict

From Russia With Love is a searing spy thriller and a worthy entry into the Bond series.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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