So, the other day I read my first James Bond novel. I'd been wanting to try one for ages, as I like the movie version of Bond (sometimes, and with reservations), particularly the Daniel Craig and Connery interpretations, and for years I'd heard good things about the original Ian Fleming novels. And so, this:
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And Fleming can write. He has some pretty sharp lines, though there were a few clunky easy-way-out lines as well.
But that wasn't really the problem.
And the problem wasn't even the somewhat silly approach to women. I mean, it's a Bond novel, and I sort of entered the experience with the idea I'd have to forgive Fleming on this count.
And it wasn't even the novel's more problematic implications in terms of race (I mean, the endless use of animal descriptives for black people? The overbearing condescension even when trying to say something nice? And the fact that the beautiful female lead from Haiti, who has second sight and is rooted in Haitian culture and mysticism, is, of course, seemingly white?). It couldn't have been entirely easy for a British writer, in that time period (50s, I think), to write about African American characters in a realistic way (and some of the dialogue from the black characters was, um, not good). Now, that's not necessarily an excuse, but considering the cultural context of the writer does make it easier to forgive.
What I couldn't get over was that James Bond was sort of stupid.
So, the bad guys know who Bond is, what he looks like, and that he's after them.
So, Bond knows that they know.
So, he and his American partner, Felix, decide to go looking for Mr. Big, the greatest black crime boss in Harlem (and the world), who's Bad Guy #1.
So, they take a cab into Harlem.
So, they blithely go around from black club to black club, where there basically aren't any other white people, having a bunch of drinks. (And after watching black people drink and dance for a couple hours, Bond decides that he knows everything there is to know about the culture, everything that he might need to understand and take down Mr. Big and his crime ring. Apparently they were very informative dances. And cocktails.)
So, they sort of stand out in these locales.
So, their big plan for finding this all-powerful and secretive Mr. Big is to randomly stop waiters at clubs and ask "Hey, do you know where we can find Harlem's biggest crime boss?"
So, surprisingly, this plan doesn't work too well.
So, they go to Mr. Big's own club (he won't pick out the white folk there!).
So, then they get caught, like, really easily.
So, they're really surprised they got caught (how could it have happened?).
So, Mr. Big has his men bash Bond around, break a finger (this was actually well done), etc.
So, Mr. Big figures his warning has been heard and decides not to kill Bond and let him go, and tells one of his men to escort Bond out and drop him off somewhere.
So, as the man is walking Bond out to release him, this is when Bond decides it's a good time to risk his life and attempt escape, which is followed by violent derring do, gun battles, and chases.
So, okay, yeah. While he was being released. Like a convict being walked to the gate of San Quentin, to be released after twenty years of hard time, only to suddenly attack and kill the guards, and then scale the wall as the sirens go off.
James, James, James... is this really the best you can do with your superslick and superdeadly 007 spy skills?
"Do you want to point me in the direction of Harlem's most dangerous crime lord? What? What do you mean? Don't all waiters know this stuff?"