Classic Corner – Moonraker

Name: Moonraker

Author: Ian Fleming

Year: 1955

Genre: Spy, Thriller

For this week’s review, I have decided to continue with the James Bond theme of recent weeks on the blog by following my review of Live and Let Die a fortnight ago with its sequel, Moonraker.

Plot

Moonraker begins with Bond on a Monday morning, stuck in between missions where his job is more akin to that of a civil servant rather than a spy. It is not long however before M is calling him into his office, yet this time the mission is more of a personal interest for M than a globe-trotting quest for an agent of SMERSH.

M would like Bond to accompany him to a session of cards at the Blades club, a sophisticated club in London. It appears one of the members there is Hugo Drax, a former soldier in World War Two who since the war has managed to earn millions and become a huge celebrity virtually out of nowhere. Drax is working on a project of huge national importance, the titular Moonraker, a rocket equipped with an atomic bomb capable of destroying any European city and Britain’s main defence mechanism from it’s enemies. M would like Bond to accompany him as there is a belief in the club that Drax maybe cheating at cards.

Bond quickly confirms Drax is cheating by using his silver cigarette case as a mirror for the cards on his draw. Therefore Bond plays him at his own game by cheating himself and wins.

The next morning, the plot thickens when we learn that the Moonraker is due for a test flight on Friday from it’s launching site in Dover, and one of the security men employed by the Ministry of Defence to protect the Moonraker is murdered.

Why did the security man’s killer shout out that only he can love Gala Brand? Who’s behind a potential dark plot to sabotage the Moonraker and is Drax who he says he is?

Thoughts

In writing my review of Moonraker, it is natural for me to compare it to it’s two predecessors and overall I think it is definitely a massive improvement on Live and Let Die and possibly the novel even surpasses Casino Royale.

It is clear in this novel Fleming is far more comfortable in writing them and was prepared to experiment and take risks. In both of the first two novels we pick up the story with Bond mid-mission and in chapter two or three Bond (and us) are given the lowdown on the villain of the novel. I did worry that if this was the case with Moonraker then I was going to find it increasingly formulaic – however Fleming took the decision to start the novel right at the beginning of the mission and it is only as the plot progresses that we learn the full story. This makes the novel far more exciting as we follow Bond’s own suspicions and thought processes as the novel progresses more so in this novel than in it’s predecessors.

Fleming also took the risk of setting the entire novel within Britain rather than in the more exotic settings of France and America. This will for most Bond fans shy away from the traditional formula but it works to create a much more focused and fast-paced novel (also the fact the novel’s events take place across a few days makes it even more frenetic).

Fleming also manages to solve one of my gripes with the previous novels (well partly) by being less sexist. Gala Brand, this novels’ Bond “girl” is a tough policewoman and has far more presence in the novel than the previous two female leads. Though Bond still calls her “girl” numerous times, Fleming writes their relationship in such a way that Bond still respects Gala far more so than Solitaire and Vesper. Gala is also more fierce and independent than the previous two leads and their relationship rarely dips into anything romantic which is a refreshingly different dynamic.

I also loved how Fleming dips some extra information in for fans of the previous two novels (and probably for fans of the film series too). We find out what Bond is like outside of a mission and the novel gives a few knowing references to both of the two previous novels – for instance M discusses the gold from Live and Let Die at the start of the novel and we learn Bond during World War Two wrote a report on ways to cheat at cards which obviously comes in useful during the chapters set at Blades and probably may have been of use to him in Casino Royale?)

I think the only real gripe I had with this novel is that occasionally the plot twists are a little bit peculiar for a modern audience. For instance, the fact M and Bond are onto Drax’s case in the first place is because he cheats at cards, which in their eyes does not make him a very “good sport” is as laughable and as pompous as that description sounds but probably for the quintessentially British audience of the 1950s it probably worked.

Verdict

Moonraker comes on in leaps and bounds in comparison to Live and Let Die and is a very exhilarating third novel for the series.

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