Thursday, November 12, 2009

Devil May Care

The James Bond character has become an iconic part of Western culture. Invented by writer Ian Fleming in the heat of the Cold War, Bond was the quintessential British spy, fighting evil wherever it is found, using state-of-the-art gadgets created by the best technical minds in the service of good, doing it all with a flash and style that women swoon over and men strive to emulate. At least in the books his women swoon.

In those Cold War days there was a lot of fear, and readers of the Bond books could take comfort in knowing our side was doing what it could to save the world. These were the days of Spy vs. Spy comics in Mad magazine, and of fallout shelters in basements.

More than once over the years I've heard a speaker at a writers conference reference Ian Fleming as an example of how to make fiction come to life. Attention to detail is key.

My father, an avid reader, was himself a fan of the Bond series. Fleming was already internationally famous when John F. Kennedy stated that From Russia With Love was on the short list of his favorite books, which naturally put Fleming firmly on the map in this country.
When I was about fourteen my mom saw that I was reading From Russia With Love and she said, "Oh Eddie, you're not reading that, are you?" Around page 20 there was a scene with a tall blond Russian fellow, the arch-villain pathological killer, getting a back rub while lying naked beside a pool. She'd put the book down at that point and never picked it up. I, on the other, could not put the book down, but agreed to let her make an appeal to my dad who assented that the books were not salacious and I was "old enough."

Bond did bed his women, but Fleming spent more time building tension in his stories than getting male readers to drool to distraction.

I bring all this up because another Bond novel was released last year on the 100th anniversary of Fleming's birthday. This book, Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks, is a very good read. I've not looked at a Bond book since high school (and I read every one of them that dad had available -- Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, Moonraker, Dr. No, For Your Eyes Only, The Spy Who Loved Me, etc.) Faulks doesn't tinker with the style or create new characters. This is James Bond, and M and Miss Moneypenny, and those really evil, wholly dedicated bad guys.

A few critics call Faulks' book a joke because it is simply a parody of what a Bond book would be. But to some extent you could say the same about Fleming's later Bond books, and certainly many of the films were, well, knock-offs made for the fun of it. If you keep this perspective, Devil May Care is a fun read.

While talking spy stuff, I will put in a plug here for the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. Spies and spying are as old as the days of Moses, actually. Remember when Israel, wandering in the wilderness for forty years, sent twelve spies into Canaan to check out the situation there? The Revolutionary War had its share of spy business, as did the Civil War, and every conflict since. If you have kids, and enough time, be sure to add the International Spy Museum to your list of things to see and do in D.C. on your next visit.

NOTE: I created the image at the top of the page by placing my pallet face down on a large sheet of paper at the end of a painting session. As I looked at the result it seemed to me that there was a figure of oo7 crouched forward in the upper left quadrant of the picture. Can you see him? The piece is titled Spy vs. Spy.


Christella said...

Yes, I do see him. Nice job.

ENNYMAN said...

Yes, pretty funny, eh?