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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-07 20:20
Summer of Spies - Terminated
The Scarlet Pimpernel - Stephen Crossly,Emmuska Orczy
Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 - Stella Rimington
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold - John le Carré
They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie
Berlin Game - Len Deighton,James Lailey
Night Soldiers - Alan Furst
Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene,Jeremy Northam
Above Suspicion - Helen MacInnes
Black Roses - Jane Thynne,Julie Teal
The Moneypenny Diaries: Guardian Angel - Kate Westbrook

Memorial Day Weekend -- Labor Day 2018

 

The Books:

Fiction

Eric Ambler: The Mask of Dimitrios (new / print) ****

Phyllis Bottome: The Lifeline (new / ebook-to-printed-PDF) ***1/2

John le Carré: The Tailor of Panama (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) ****1/2

Agatha Christie: N or M? (revisited on audio, narrated by Samantha Bond) ***

Agatha Christie: They Came to Baghdad (new / audio, narrated by Emilia Fox) ***1/2

Paulo Coelho: The Spy (new / English print version + German audio, narrated by Luise Helm and Sven Görtz) ***1/2

Len Deighton: Berlin Game (new / audio, narrated by James Lailey) ****

David Downing: Zoo Station (new / print) ****

Alan Furst: Night Soldiers (new / audio, narrated by George Guidall) ****1/2

Graham Greene: Our Man in Havana (audio, narrated by Jeremy Northam) ****1/2

Graham Greene: The Captain and the Enemy (audio, narrated by Kenneth Branagh) ***1/2

Rosalie Knecht: Who Is Vera Kelly? (new / audio, narrated by Elisabeth Rodgers) ***1/2

Helen MacInnes: Above Suspicion (new / print) ****1/2

Francine Mathews: The Cutout (new / audio, narrated by Trini Alvarado) **1/2

Valerie Plame Wilson, Sarah Lovett: Blowback (new / audio, narrated by Negin Farsad) ***

Jane Thynne: Black Roses (new / audio, narrated by Julie Teal) ****

Patricia Wentworth: The Traveller Returns (new / print) ****

Kate Westbrook: Guardian Angel (new / audio, narrated by Eleanor Bron) ***1/2

 

 

Emmuska Orczy: Adventures of The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel (revisited on audio, narrated by Stephen Crossly) ****1/2

I Will Repay (new / audio, narrated by Johanna Ward) ****

 

 

John Le Carré: George Smiley Cycle

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (revisited on audio, narrated by the author) *****

The Looking Glass War (new / audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) ***1/2

Smiley's People (revisited on audio, narrated by Michael Jayston) *****

 

 

Stella Rimington: Liz Carlyle Series

Secret Asset (new / audio, narrated by Rosalyn Landor) ****

Illegal Action (new / audio, narrated by Emma Fielding) ****

 

 

Ian Fleming: James Bond Series

Quantum of Solace (short story only; new / audio, narrated by David Rintoul) *1/2

Dr. No (new / audio, narrated by Rufus Sewell) ***

 

 

Nonfiction

Stella Rimington: Open Secret: The Autobiography of the Former Director-General of MI5 (new / print edition) ****

Peter Finn & Petra Couvée: The Zhivago Affair (new / audio, narrated by Simon Vance) **1/2

Valerie Plame Wilson: Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government  (new / audio, narrated by the author) ****

 

 

 

 

Mission Assessment:

Loads of fun; thanks to Moonlight Reader Madness and Wanda for coming up with the idea!  In addition to advancing my "Women Writers" project because of a certain focus on the Women of Intelligence, I've discovered several new writers and series to take a closer look at, reconnected with some "old familiars", got to take a trip down memory lane to Cold War-era Berlin, got to travel the world and back in history -- from revolutionary France to WWII era (plus pre- and post-WWII) Iraq, Turkey, the Balkans, Russia, Spain, France, Britain, Austria, and Germany, and post-WWII as well as more recent Latin America and the Caribbean -- and I've seen some of my literary prejudices pleasantly upended (looking at you, Dame Agatha and They Came to Baghdad); even if others were, however, unfortunately confirmed (looking at you, Mr. Fleming).

 

Side note: My personal library now needs a new, separate "espionage" shelf: Lumping in spy books with mysteries, thrillers, and other suspense fiction clearly won't do any longer ... they've just grown too numerous for that sort of approach.  Ah, well.  A serious reorganization is overdue anyway -- I've only got to find the time for it ...

 

 

The Hits:

* Emmuska Orczy's Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel.  The first book was a revisit, but I finally got around to reading book 2, which -- though not chiefly focused on Sir Percy and much more overtly a romance than book 1 -- confirms why this whole series has a loyal following to this day.  And of course, it gets kicked onto yet another level once Sir Percy makes his appearance.  I'm sort of familiar with some of the later entries in the series, but I'm now going to make a concerted effort to read the whole thing in order.

 

* John le Carré's Smiley Cycle and Tailor of Panama.  This was largely a revisit, too, but I just can't help it -- nobody writes spy fiction like Mr. Cornwell.  Even Stella Rimington, the ex-"K" (head of MI5) herself, acknowledges that he gets it right ... and although he does have the odd duds, when he hits the spot, he's second to none.

 

* Stella Rimington's autobiography and Liz Carlyle series.  Speaking of "K" (also likely the inspiration for Judi Dench's "M" in the Bond movies), even though her autobiography is necessarily short on detail as far as actual secret service operations and policy are concerned, it gives great insights not only into her personal history but also into the actual work done by MI5 (and to a lesser extent, MI6, and secret service organizations in general), particularly in the final four decades of the 20th century.  Moreover, like le Carré, she has very successfully capitalized on her experience and translated it to fiction.  Rimington can write -- both fiction and nonfiction -- and her autobiography and fictional series nicely complement each other in providing an even greater understanding of "the business of spying" in days past and present.  (In the first Liz Carlyle book, At Risk, which I read -- and liked -- a few years ago, she was maybe still in the final stage of finding her voice, but both Secret Asset and Illegal Action, Liz Carlyle books 2 and 3, are fine examples of mature writing that clearly draw on Rimington's personal experience.)

 

* Helen MacInnes: Where has this author been in my life until now?  Once more thank you to Moonlight for bringing her to my attention.  I immensely enjoyed the one book by her that I read during the Summer of Spies -- Above Suspicion -- and have already ordered several more (the three Colin Grant books plus Accident in Place).  Great historical and political insight and characters that you can easily (and very much want to) empathize with, all built into a suspenseful narrative arc -- what more can you possibly ask for?

 

* Len Deighton: Between his Berlin Game and le Carré's Smiley books, man, what a trip down memory lane to Cold War Berlin.  And Deighton, like le Carré, gets it exactly right, down to individual Berlin locations and settings (I was tempted to compile a post just on those at one point), life style, attitudes, you name it.  Another author I'm definitely going to follow up on in the future.

 

* The group read of Agatha Christie's They Came to Baghdad. What a fun group read that turned out to be!  I'm not the biggest fan of Christie's spy fiction (most of it -- especially the books where she actually "means it" -- range between somewhat unrealistic and completely over-the-top-and-out-there preposterous), but if, like here and in The Secret Adversary (as well as some of the stories in Partners in Crime), she decides to poke fun at the genre, she can be very entertaining indeed.  At one point I thought the plot of They Came to Baghdad was going to veer off in the same direction as that of Destination Unknown, which has to be one of her worst books ever, albeit not counting those she wrote in the last years of her life, but fortunately my fears were unfounded.  If only she'd written more spy books like this one!

 

* Patricia Wentworth's The Traveller Returns.  Speaking of Golden Age mystery novelists trying their hands at spy fiction, I'm tempted to point to Ms. Wentworth's contribution to the genre and tell the rest of them -- the whole lot, from Christie to Marsh, Allingham and beyond: "See: This is how you do it!"  For the first half or so, the book looks like a simple variation on the Martin Guerre theme, which I confess is not one of my favorites, but just when I thought I was going to be somewhat underwhelmed, the spy element kicked in and we were off to a whole lot of fun.  So, many thanks to Tigus for yet another great "Miss Silver" recommendation!

 

* Jane Thynne's Clara Vine series.  A huge shout-out to Mike Finn for mentioning this -- yet another series I have every intention to follow up on after having read the first book (Black Roses).  Extremely well-researched and well-written; easily on par with David Downing's much more acclaimed Zoo Station (which is likewise chiefly set in Nazi-era Berlin).  Now if only they'd picked an audio narrator who had actually put some effort into finding out how to pronounce the multiple German words and place names figuring in the story ...

 

* The Carribbean and Latin American setting.  I confess I'm not particularly drawn to Greene's African fiction and only a minority of those books of his set in England, but I have a soft spot for his fiction set in the Carribbean and in Latin America.  In part, surely, that's because I have a penchant for that part of the world anyway, but those particular books by Greene also have more of a pull on me topically -- I suppose I'm just more interested in reading about the morality and choices associated with politics and the economy (read: corruption) than with the morality of purely personal choices (read: religion) ... at least where it comes to Greene's writing.  (It certainly also helps that the particular Carribbean branch of this easily lends itself to satire -- it's not a coincidence that le Carré's Tailor of Panama covers large parts of the same ground as Our Man in Havana, and from a very similar writerly perspective, too.) -- Rosalie Knecht's Who Is Vera Kelly? provided for an interesting and well-written additional side light in its focus on Argentina and the Malvinas / Falklands, from the point of view of a heroine who is coming to terms with her personal history at the same time as she is trying to decipher what is happening in the country where she has been sent. (Another shout-out to Mike Finn for finding this one.)

 

* The Bond Connection.  By which I don't mean Fleming's books themselves, but those books (all written by women) unearthed by BrokenTune -- one more shout-out! -- as tangentially related to Ian Fleming and his super-spy, all of which turned out vastly more engaging and entertaining than Fleming's own: Phyllis Bottome's The Lifeline, the book that is said to have inspired the creation of James Bond's character (and which incidentally bears a certain superficial topical likeness to Helen MacInnes's Above Suspicion, in likewise featuring its English protagonist's involvement with an underground resistance network in Nazi-occupied Austria), and Kate Westbrook's Moneypenny Diaries, which intelligently use both Ian Fleming's real biography and the plots of some of his James Bond novels for a series of three spinoffs interweaving a look back from present-day England to what might have happened if Jane Moneypenny had been more than M's faithful secretary ... and eternally, fruitlessly infatuated with Bond.

 

* The "Eastern Theatre".  Since most spy fiction (well, at least most spy fiction published in English or German) focuses on what, post-WWII, would be considered a Western perspective, I made a certain point to also include books -- albeit written by Western writers -- set in pre-WWII Russia, the Balkans, and Turkey (in addition to Christie's They Came to Baghdad, that is).  Although I am familiar with the general interwar history of those countries (and areas), Eric Ambler's Mask of Dimitrios and Alan Furst's Night Soldiers filled a lot of gaps, and I also liked the fact that both of them deliberately chose organizations other than a Western intelligence service as their focal point.  Plus, both of them include extended sections in Paris / France (as well as Civil War Spain, in Night Soldiers) -- the city of cities when it comes to WWII intrigue (with the possible exception of Lisbon).

 

* Valerie Plame Wilson: Fair Game.  The subtitle of Plame Wilson's memoir ("How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government") sounds more than a bit sensationalist, but in fact, in the current crazy political climate her experience seems more on point than ever and serves as a healthy reminder that the power structures currently at play didn't fall from the sky in January 2017: at their core, they were already in place in the early 2000s, and it's certainly not a coincidence that one of the first persons to be pardoned post-2016 was Scooter Libby.

 

The Misses:

* Ian Fleming.  Not that this one was unexpected; the early Bond movies alone (and in particular), for however great liberties they may be taking with the plotlines, make it clear that the books are bound to brim with casual and not-so-casual sexism and racism.  Both of these are innately written into Bond's character.  Fleming was a talented writer; I'd just wish he'd employed his talents somewhat differently.

 

Peter Finn & Petra Couvée: The Zhivago Affair. Oh, I had so much higher hopes for this one.  A look at how the CIA used Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago in their subversive activities in Russia in the 1960s and 1970s and at the American and Russian inforwars of the day -- what's not to like, right?  Except that ... the vast majority of this book actually consists in a biography of Boris Pasternak and an extended work history of Dr. Zhivago, with a detailed analysis how Pasternak drew on his personal life experience (and the real life people in his life) in creating the novel.  Only in the second half of The Zhivago Affair do we even get to the CIA's involvement (the actual story how the manuscript was smuggled into the West occupies a mere few pages of the preface) -- and even there, while the Russian-American infowars are covered in some detail, the better part of the focus still seems to be on Pasternak himself, and on how the Russian government treated him as a result of the publication.  Also, while the authors do seem to have had access to (and cite in the annex) certain previously unpublished sources, the vast majority of the material they're using is not only not new, it's easily accessible in major libraries and online.  All in all NOT, therefore, the new and unprecedented focused analysis of the CIA's activities and the Cold War infowars promised in the book's subtitle ("The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book") and in its advertising. -- As a side note, my enjoyment might at least have been marginally enhanced if the audio narrator had been anyone other than Simon Vance.

 

Francine Matthews's The Cutout.  A fairly ludicrous plot, set in Germany and various Eastern European countries and written by an American author who seems to have spent her entire time in the region concerned among Americans.  The name-dropping of streets, tourist attractions and other random geographical features replaces the genuine building of atmosphere and setting, and "the locals'" actions, reactions and attitudes are built straight from cookie cutter cliché -- if Mattews ever had any in-depth conversations with anybody in the areas where she was posted as an agent, she obivously learned nothing at all from them (or she is completely unable to translate what she learned onto the page).  This is a shame, because her book (published in the early 2000s) actually has an interesting and timely premise: A Germany and Eastern Europe where the neonazis are on the rise.

 

Valerie Plame Wilson & Sarah Lovett: Blowback.  Plame Wilson shows in her autobiography that she clearly can write, but either (unlike Stella Rimington) she had trouble translating that ability into fiction writing or she was talked into some pretty nonsensical plot and character choices by her co-author Sarah Lovett (or by an editor).  I'd almost DNF'd by the time the book finally gained a sense of direction and of "self" -- and I was brought to thinking about quitting not least when I hit a big boo-boo that Plame Wilson, as an ex-CIA agent, really ought to know better. 

(There is a character clearly modelled on Stella Rimington, down to the fact that this character is the [fictional] director of MI5 ... only trouble is, this character gets involved, on the British side, with a CIA operation against a foreign government and on the ground in that foreign [Middle Eastern] country -- i.e., an operation that is neither within the remit of domestic intelligence in Britain nor in America, and which would therefore have to be handled by MI6 in the UK, not by MI5.  Since Rimington's autobiography was one of the books I'd just recently finished by the time I got to Blowback, this authorial snafu was impossible for me to miss, and it instantly made me question what other inaccuracies might be contained in Plame Wilson's & Lovett's book.)

(spoiler show)

  Still, Blowback did find its feet towards the end at least in terms of the thriller element, so I at least won't entirely rule out reading its sequel -- maybe it simply took Plame Wilson a while to translate her nonfiction writing skills to fiction.  I just hope I won't run into any more errors of the kind that she really should know better.

 

All in all, though, the number of my Summer of Spies "misses" is infinitesimally small compared to its many hits.  So I'm going to declare this project a rousing success and right on target!

 

 

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review 2018-09-04 17:05
Goldfinger / Ian Fleming
Goldfinger - Ian Fleming

Auric Goldfinger, the most phenomenal criminal Bond has ever faced, is an evil genius who likes his cash in gold bars and his women dressed only in gold paint. After smuggling tons of gold out of Britain into secret vaults in Switzerland, this powerful villain is planning the biggest and most daring heist in history-robbing all the gold in Fort Knox. That is, unless Secret Agent 007 can foil his plan. In one of Ian Fleming's most popular adventures, James Bond tracks this most dangerous foe across two continents and takes on two of the most memorable villains ever created-a human weapon named Oddjob and a luscious female crime boss named Pussy Galore.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

I spent part of the Labour Day weekend finishing up my Summer of Spies and finishing up Goldfinger. I’ve had fun with earlier installments of Bond, but found this book a bit of a grind. It started, Goddess aid me, with card games yet again and then continued on with one of the only subjects that I consider more boring than cards, golf! There was much eye rolling and boredom on my part, but I realize that these subjects excite other people, and certainly were passions of Mr. Fleming.

Add to that statements like Koreans being “the cruelest, most ruthless people in the world” and a criminal organization consisting of lesbians under the direction of Pussy Galore, and well, this one went way off the charts of the stereotype-meter. I’ll take the TV show “Kim’s Convenience” over Oddjob any day for an example of Koreans in our society. Next time I’m feeling down about the role of women and minorities in our society and feeling like change is taking for-bloody-ever, I’ll pick up the next Bond book for a reminder of exactly how far we have come.

I will reiterate what I said in my review of Casino Royale, that I am surprised and pleased at the caliber of Fleming’s writing. I shouldn’t be so surprised, I guess, as he read a lot and spent a fair amount of time with literary people, including one of my favourites, Raymond Chandler. I guess that I’ve unfairly absorbed the literary judgements of his wife’s literary circle, who looked down their noses at Fleming’s work. I’m glad to have read several of the books that have created their own enduring niche in popular culture.

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review 2018-08-28 17:33
The Spy of Venice / Benet Brandreth
The Spy of Venice: A William Shakespeare Novel - Benet Brandreth

When he's caught out by one ill-advised seduction too many, young William Shakespeare flees Stratford to seek his fortune. Cast adrift in London, Will falls in with a band of players - but greater men have their eye on this talented young wordsmith.

England's very survival hangs in the balance, and Will finds himself dispatched to Venice on a crucial embassy. Dazzled by the city's masques - and its beauties - Will little realises the peril in which he finds himself. Catholic assassins would stop at nothing to end his mission on the point of their sharpened knives, and lurking in the shadows is a killer as clever as he is cruel.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

William Shakespeare as a character was the hook that persuaded me to pick up this historical espionage novel, but really virtually any well-known man from the period could have substituted successfully in the role. I kind of turned off the “Shakespeare detector” in my brain in order to enjoy the novel as much as I did.

Picture Shakespeare as kind of an Elizabethan James Bond, learning his way around Venice and Venetians and trying to fulfill the mission that he inherits from the assassinated nobleman who recruited him to travel to Italy. The plot was decent—twisty enough to be interesting, but with a few thin spots. For example, I think two actors from a ragged company would be hard pressed to impersonate the English ambassador and his aide. But once you’ve allowed yourself to accept those unlikely situations, the novel is simply fun.

Brandreth seeded a lot of phrases throughout the novel that would presage some of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and sonnets. Most of the time, I found them amusing, but occasionally they grated on me a bit. The author is an actor and a specialist in Shakespearean language and history, so his choice of Shakespeare as character makes sense. I also found the language used in the writing to be appropriate—not too obviously 21st century, for example.

I certainly liked this tale well enough to read Brandreth’s sequel, The Assassin of Verona.

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review 2018-08-26 20:23
"London Rules - Slough House #5" by Mick Herron - highly recommended.
London Rules (Slough House) - Mick Herron

I think "London Rules" is the best Slough House book so far. It brings together the same elements used in the earlier books but each element has grown stronger, is used with greater assurance and has been combined with its peers perfectly to make the ultimate Slough House book.

 

"London Rules" has a violent prologue that reminded me of one of those young woman / old woman optical illusion drawings. I saw the scene perfectly in my head,   tragic but familiar, up until the last paragraph, when everything changed and yet everything remained the same. This way of leading me to see the familiar differently and surprise me while he does it, it what makes Mick Herron's Slough House books so appealing.

 

After the prologue, the book returns to the usual pattern of starting and ending with an almost whimsically lyrical description of Slough House. This time it is not the wind that is visiting Slough House but personifications of Dawn and Day and Dusk. These pieces are well enough written to be memorable in their own right but they are more closely integrated into the story's content and tone than in earlier books so that what might seem sardonically decorative becomes a kind of Greek Chorus, obliquely guiding the reader.

 

One of the things I enjoy about the Slough House books is how fearlessly, sometimes even viciously, they comment on the current British political culture. The most brutal and most nuanced assaults are made by Jackson Lamb and so might be seen as part of his irascible persona ("There's a Donal Trump Junior?", Lamb said, "And just when I thought things couldn't get any worse.") but the disdain for the people who made insanity of Brexit and Trump possible is shared by most of the characters in the book except for the shamelessly self-serving Pols themselves.  

 

This contemporary pulse-taking is also more than decorative. It provides the issues that drive the plot, giving the plot more credibility and showing us the damage that these people of "middling ability but supreme self-confidence"  are doing to us.

 

The plot is clever and is rolled out with such skill that events continue both to make sense and to surprise. The tension is high right up to the final page. There is intrigue and violence and betrayal and that's just between people on the same side. The terrorist threat here is sadly credible and disturbingly plausible.

 

I've seen American booksellers refer to the Slough House books as the "Jackson Lamb Series". This labelling demonstrates the same unwillingness to embrace what English books are really about that led to US publishers changing "Rivers of London" to "Midnight Riot" and "The Philosopher's Stone" becoming "The Sorcerer's Stone", because the crowning glory of the Slough House books are the characters that populate them.

 

Jackson Lamb's gravity bends the orbit of the people around him and sets the rhythm of their lives but these books are not really about him. They are about the idea behind Slough House, a purgatory for spook screw-ups, the people that would stay in such a place and the culture that would find such a place necessary.

 

The result is an ensemble cast inside both Slough House and Regent's Park (where the shiny, haven't-screwed-up-yet spies live) that gets stronger with every book. 

 

In "London Rules" we do see more deeply into Jackson Lamb but we spend most of our time looking through the eyes of broken spies, whether they live in Slough House or not, and see how they live with the war between their weaknesses and their hopes. We learn a lot about desperation and self-delusion, leavened occasionally with a little hope. I particularly enjoyed seeing Roddie Ho so deeply engaged in self-deception that he becomes impervious to interrogation techniques designed to play on his fear and doubt. 

 

"London Rules" is an excellent spy novel and a good action-packed thriller but it is also a mirror to our current times and an invitation to recognise that self-delusion, confidence without ability and the pursuit of personal power at the expense of personal integrity are a plague on our society.

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review 2018-08-24 20:14
Dr. No / Ian Fleming
Dr. No - Ian Fleming

James Bond travels to the Caribbean to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a secret service team. As he uncovers the astonishing truth about strange energy waves that are interfering with U.S. missile launches, he must battle deadly assassins, sexy femmes fatales, and even a poisonous tarantula. The search takes him to an exotic tropical island, where he meets a beautiful nature girl and discovers the hideout of Doctor No, a six-foot-six madman with a mania for torture, a lust to kill, and a fantastic secret to hide.

 

***2018 Summer of Spies***

Probably the silliest Bond that I have read so far, with Dr. No being a caricature of a villain, very over-the-top! Fleming must have read some of Sax Rohmer’s Dr. Fu Manchu, another super-villain of the early 20th century (and a character who drew protests from the Chinese embassy and Japanese-Americans for the overt racism).

However, I’ve awarded half a star more than I did for the other Bond novels that I’ve read so far, both for the depiction of Jamaica (a place that Fleming obviously loved) and for the accurate ornithological information. When Fleming describes Jamaica, he does so lovingly—his time spent at his home there, Goldeneye, must have been some of the most peaceful and productive time in his life. Quarrel, Bond’s partner in both this novel and Live and Let Die was based on a Jamaican fisherman who took Fleming shark-fishing.

From reading Andrew Lycett’s biography of Fleming, I know that Fleming was taken on a field trip to a flamingo colony in the Bahamas. This must have started his creative process, beginning with the fictional island of Crab Key, which is also a haven for birds until the advent of the fiendish Dr. No, whose guano-harvesting business is a front for espionage activity. Fleming certainly gets the mangrove habitat and the guano business details right, probably as a result of his travel with two experts on this expedition. Small islands are indeed a haven for colonies of sea birds and their guano has been exploited for fertilizer since the 1800s at least.

I have to also acknowledge Fleming for being willing to change things up on the advice of experts—Bond gets new guns in this story, on the advice of a Bond enthusiast who was also a firearms expert (Geoffrey Boothroyd). As a result, the Armourer in this novel acquires the name Major Boothroyd. Fleming, however, can’t resist one last snark on the matter at the end when Bond cables M: “REGRET MUST AGAIN REQUEST SICK LEAVE STOP SURGEONS REPORT FOLLOWS STOP KINDLY INFORM ARMOURER SMITH AND WESSON INEFFECTIVE AGAINST FLAME-THROWER ENDIT.”

I have ranted about other books where the author has included inaccurate bird information (Dragonfly in Amber, for example), so I will even forgive M for dismissing one of my favourite birds, the Whooping Crane, because of the birdy accuracy of this novel.

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