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  1. The 007th Chapter: The Man With The Golden Gun – Un-real Estate

    A literary meditation by Jacques Stewart

     

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    Start over, and simplify.

     

    Often dreamt of by chaps sliding towards their forties, therefore not unusual for James Bond. True, it’s more commonly contemplated when staring into a ready-meal and the ready-meal stares right back, rather than after killing a maniac, impregnating a film star, unwittingly faking one’s own death and trying to kill the boss. Frankly, that lifestyle sounds titillating and a place one escapes to rather than from (possibly its original point) but perhaps even its view palls, in time.

     

    Given the opportunity, what would I do differently? “Rabat 2001”, definitely. Ectually name one of the offspring “Remnant”. Avoid that encounter with [not telling], although it’s now a divinely grubby anecdote since his conviction, so I’d think carefully before dropping it completely. Would drink better wine and get that ptarmigan tattoo I promised meself. A life still too short to learn Welsh, or to contemplate using public transport. Using the public as transport… wholly different matter.

     

    Not much else.

     

    Especially if this reboot requires electrocution by my chums (I have three; possibly four if Torquil returns my pinking shears). Call me selfish, call me a coward, call me Bwana (eccentric, but so tremendously sweet of you) but the prospect of twenty-four zaps at my brain over the course of thirty days doesn’t thrill. Telling me about it would pass quickly, though. Bond’s reconditioning in The Man with the Golden Gun, his own side microwaving his mind and cynically taking a gift of an open-goal to re-educate him, telling him he’s been brainwashed and to Kill! Russians! but markedly not reminding him about the dead wife or that his real name’s David Webb, lasts less than a page before he’s Bourne again and let loose to disrupt the scheme of a… a naughty hotelier.

     

    In both, one recognises the common perception of this novel as unfinished. What of Bond’s rehabilitation? Where is the villain’s outrageous apocalypse? Where are Bond’s reawakening memories of his marriage and realisation that his own side have done him more damage than Colonel Boris ever did? Why is it about an away-day board meeting / team-building exercise for conned investors? Where’s all the digression about shrubbery, for frick’s sake? However, Weir of Hermiston this is not. It is finished. There’s an ending – clue.  What it is, is unpolished. Arguable evidence of “unfinished”, in that Fleming had yet to apply louche but increasingly ill-disciplined extravagances before his days were rendered unprolonged. Raises contemplation: this is Bond in raw form, uncluttered with “views”, light of diversions into the author’s medical history or whatever he had read, liked and then pinched. Terser, harder, quicker. Just as juvenile – the sexually foggy villain has three nipples and a big gold gun – but blunter overall.

    Better for it? If one accepts the existence of an argument (if not actually accepting the argument) that excess germinated fantasy in that Garden of Death, Fleming carrying on the garnishing trend of You Only Live Twice could have teetered too far, finishing touches becoming finishing molestation. Might this be stronger without opportunity to marinate it in watertreading nonsense? Possibly stretching things to suggest that bare-bones Bond was intentional or devised as a restart, but seeing it as such rather than as an exhausted conclusion to the florid melodramatics of the preceding books, lends it greater appeal, and a promising basis for Bond tales to come instead of nailing the coffin lid down none too ably.

     

    Fine, it relies on the hellishly unlikely circumstance of the World’s Greatest Hitman hiring a bloke he’s just met as (hmmm…) muscle, which is daft, but is that reason to dismiss the novel completely when you have Goldfinger engaging 007 as his P.A. in a generally better-regarded book, albeit one overloaded with objectionable timewasting rubbish?  Surely Bond habitually survives on the misguided (in)actions of the villains? The SMERSH goon in Casino Royale could have shot him: didn’t. Mr Big gets multiple opportunities to kill the annoying man: doesn’t. Dr No dumps him into a vat of tarantulas rather than put a bead in his brain and as for Blofeld… consistently hopeless. And that’s when they know 007 is dangerous opposition. At the point of engagement, Scaramanga has no reason to suspect Bond of anything, except being a chap who hangs around a town where “Hot Cock Soup” is promised and can be rented in a whorehouse for $1,000 by a predatory athlete of ambiguous persuasions who wants him for the weekend, providing security. It’s Pretty Woman, with blingy handguns and a superfluous tit. You decide whether that’s a reference to Felix Leiter.

     

    Is this the distinction between “plot” and “story”? Amongst the continuationists there are plots less porous than much of Fleming, but query whether others’ storytelling panache (or absence) as grandly distracts worries about credibility. With Fleming denied the chance to smuggle dubious structure behind ambles into “stuff”, as he did with (say) Diamonds are Forever, the more front-and-centre exposure of TMWTGG’s shoddy plot dynamic gives the lie to the impression that he himself tended to cultivate, that he listlessly tossed off a Bond in between gobfuls of cigarettes, a tsunami o’booze and an afternoon in a near neighbour. If this does stand as the exception establishing the norm, he evidently took more trouble over the “finished” product than self-perpetuated rumour suggested. One mustn’t be seen to try, and yet this one demonstrates the trying that must have ectually gone into something as bloodweepingly ludicrous yet smoothly digestible as Dr No.

     

    There’s regular conjecture about who – if anyone – manhandled the manuscript before publication: fine. Matters little: it got itself published. What this doesn’t alter is that there is enough “Fleming” here to render it “complete” as one of his, if diluted. If there was meddling, that hasn’t altered it to be unrecognisable, even absent habitual frippery. Themes and ideas – both narrative and subtextual – brewing for some time are in attendance and it’s odd that the book receives the criticism it does. True, this Bond is not the witbag of the last outing but the poor lad’s been partially lobotomised by the British Secret Service and, given the antiseptic “romance” with Mary Goodnight, probably chemically castrated too. Makes him an effective weapon.  Blunt instrument. The novel makes no bones about Bond’s nature, albeit one manipulated by those he serves. Just as with the text, his masters have scraped out much, if not all, high living and wacky views and hurled him at Scaramanga as a disposable utensil. That’s all he ever was. All these books ever were.

     

    Quite why continuation writers raise memories of Tracy without dealing with Bond coming to terms with his bosses frying her out of his brain to keep him a lethal weapon seems a missed opportunity. Chap’d resent that, surely? Although the concluding lines of this book might be interpreted as alluding to its subcurrent of homosexual intrigue, likewise they could be an unresolved cliffhanger. If that really is Bond’s attitude to women, it’s one placed there through the application of electrodes.  The prospect of truth dawning and 007 throttling the sinister Sir James Molony – or cooking his head – is pleasing; shame it never happened. As the most prolonged torture Bond undergoes in the novels – a month– his shock therapy passes without retribution. In comparison, what the Russians did seems mild, pushing an amnesiac along a path already travelled – the one signposted “M’s a bastard” – but not wiping the hard drive. Bond even remembers Maria Freudenstein (ish:  not too good on her surname) and canteen rituals. The pain meted out by his own side is grotesque in comparison. How is this “good” when other tortures Bond has endured were “bad”? Heroes / villains / changey-sidey. If you’re mad and want a (yikes) story-arc, how about the conclusion is Bond waking up to who the real villains have been, all along… Some say M lets 007 off easily after the assassination attempt. You go lick a live wire, then run that by me one more time. Come now: M sends him after Scaramanga, a flamboyant man of reputation more fearsome than deed, knowing he was not ready, knowing he would likely die. M-y was very bad.

     

    Whatever the (in)significance of Bond’s shock treatment as a plot point, it raises a staple Fleming theme: success through suffering. Those whose power and influence are disproportionate to any pain they went through to get there – Goldfinger, say  – are morally inadequate and to be destroyed. People who have it easy need to be brought down a peg or two, which more often than not for a Bond novel means “strangled”. Easy achievement – getting your first go at a novel published to acclaim – must have retributive agony to assuage the resulting guilt – having to repeat that to meet impossible demand. This might be why, the more I re-read of Fleming, I’m doubting Mr Ac-Tor Dalt-Ton as being the true representative of Ian Fleming’s 007 as some claim, as indeed I previously have; does his Bond really suffer enough, except when smiling? This Craig chap… it’s relentless. As for most of the others, they’re just the sort of glib and undeserving “winner” that Book Bond would heroically asphyxiate, and how we’d cheer. The apex of this is Blofeld seeking to buy credibility. OK, so Drax and Dr No were chopped about during their time but their successes, were they to have happened, would still have been excessive in comparison. Here, Scaramanga leads a charmed life for one with meagre talent and whilst he’s given an entertaining backstory, albeit little more than a triple-nippled Von Hammerstein, he doesn’t seem to have bled in the accrual of status. This might be why Mr Gardner’s multiple turncoats tend not to work: they don’t treat Bond badly enough nor are they sufficiently undeserving of a showy status to be accepted as villains in this niche idiom of “Bond villain”. Granted, there’s little “grey” in Fleming but these are short-ish books and one can’t waste time when there’s carpet-beaters to swish, pain to endure and grim satisfaction to be gained.

     

    In this vein, the final paragraph of the book allows itself another interpretation: women are too easy a conquest, and not one from which wholesome – spiritual? – satisfaction is gained. Success there is actually a personal failure, and it may explain why every one of Bond’s romantic relationships is an utter, stinking disaster. On the bleak side, that. Calvanistic protestant shame ethic. With guns, gangsters and hot dancers with a selection of exotic fruits balanced on their heads.  Not sure – is that Methodism? Bond’s masters may not share such teachings. Their fondness for wiring miscreants to the mains to sizzle out the naughty, suggests they’re Scientologists.

     

    A debateable parallel could be Fleming engineering for himself a torment to overcome, with the Thunderball incident, to alleviate the easily achieved ashes of success, warding off accidie by masochistically creating his own hurdles. Likewise, Bond has a couple of simple opportunities to kill Scaramanga but doesn’t take them. Too straightforward, otherwise. Got to have a struggle to make the eventual victory worthwhile, rather than shamefully underearned. If one is wounded – physically or psychologically – so much the better. Scaramanga hasn’t deserved his death. Whilst his dossier presents a nasty ratbag, he hasn’t yet made Bond suffer, so 007 cannot justify his personal reward of killing the man. It would be easy, and lead to greater shame than not having killed him. Honour is in not shooting the man in cold blood rather than in a medal or, for that matter, a knighthood.

     

    One cannot be Victor Ludorum (twice) without having to run through the pain of a savage beating, and if one has to apply one’s own crown of thorns because the opposition’s not up to it, so be it. Engineer one’s own myth if they’re too weak to do it. Pretending one’s enemy is more powerful than they are to justify one’s brutal actions in ostentatiously destroying them is a fictional construct and could never really occur. “Obv”. Even then, one might not be satisfied with the results. The Man with the Golden Gun goes up against The Man with the Tailored Hairshirt and it’s cruel sado-masochism by Bond to string out Scaramanga’s inevitable fate just so he himself can get beaten up along the way; see also The Spangs or 007’s tendency to make things worse for himself by bullying Drax. Much of Bond’s villain-baiting, on reflection, isn’t stiffly-uppered bravado in the face of peril; it’s a selfish, masochistic thrill, causing retributive violence; exactly as desired. A short story’s worth of content is drawn out due to Bond’s character, not through some perceived absence of it simply because this book doesn’t have much knobbing, watches and caviar. As if those ectually matter in establishing “James Bond”. Misguided moralised masochism is the making of the man, not the materialism.

     

    The criticism that cites Scaramanga’s anorexia as a villain tends to miss that as a potential strength of the character. Granted, there isn’t “much” to him compared to Drax or Goldfinger, but that’s no defect. Le Chiffre was as two-bit and desperate. One can tire of monologues (yet you still read this cack) and we’ve just had the most deluded of them all, Blofeld’s claims to be a SuperJesus. After that, any villain’s proclamation would be a let-down. Although many claim it as underdevelopment, we’re never clear about this villain’s motives, in any direction. Yes, we’re force-fed that he is possibly homosexual but nothing comes of it other than (highly) suggestive incident, and I’m not sold on why he’s doing what he’s doing, other than laundering crooked money. Hotels and sugar and something. I like that. You don’t get such ambiguity with cat-eating Koreans or Dr No chucking arachnids around. Given the opportunity, Fleming might have had the third nipple lactate corrosive milky sap so, again, one of the pleasures of the book would have been denied us. The man having no world-threatening plan to foil allows the pointless-penitence-through-pointless-pain idea to flourish. That Bond feels little satisfaction in winning only goes to reinforce the author’s own view about success, and that it’s independent Jamaicans who clear things up leaves Bond’s role in doubt. The muted conclusion repeats the question asked for some time – “What really was the bloody point?”.  Every book since and including The Spy who Loved Me has so concluded, asked in differing ways, and Quantum of Solace looks ever more like the series’ ideological turning-point and not an obscure literary flourish.

     

    This “starting-over” thing. What’s often ignored is that something else ends. There’s evidence of an author out of steam – yet more Jamaica, another name from the school register, the umpteenth hoods’ conference, a circus background for a killer, plot via the adventurous medium of “neglect”, Felix Leiter for no reason other than nostalgia and to up sexual tension – but perhaps time to move on, after one last blow at that withered whistle. The positive attributes – less chaff, a more straightforward Bond, a man abused in the pointless service of a dwindled state – promise unrealised potential for a future very dark.

     

    Shame.

     

    On several levels.

     

    The 007th Chapter – The Man with the Golden Gun: Un-Real Estate

     

    In which a drunk Bond thinks about Scaramanga whilst relaxing in his underpants, notes the villain’s physical prowess and has a phallic sweatdream about him. Not dispelling the rumours much, is it?

     

    The opening, about the disorientation felt when arriving somewhere new at night strikes one as human truth. Have experienced this myself, albeit often because I’m somewhere where I shouldn’t be, or wouldn’t be if sober and not whoring myself out from seedy bordellos (again! Tchoh!). Bond’s skill in knowing on which hand-side the sea lies is of questionable impressiveness, given that Jamaica is an island. Fifty-fifty. His general discomfort is, of course, further self-inflicted suffering, walking (or, at least, driving) straight into a difficulty he has chosen to create.  “The first law for a secret agent is to get his geography right” (surely the first law is the one about being “secret”?) and he’s trampled over it, along with other laws, such as being an agent and ectually doing his job. “His nearest contact was a girl in a brothel thirty miles away.” Well, coincidence upon coincidence, Felix Leiter is kicking around (and the rationale for his being there is thinner than Bond’s, unless Scaramanga took a liking to him when Leiter showed dexterity with that hook).

     

    “The situation was not reassuring.” Just how Bond likes it. The loony.

     

    The unfinished hotel momentarily ablaze with light – authorial comment on the plot? Bond’s identity? Scaramanga’s reputation not only preceding him but all he has, given his threat actually amounts to shooting some wildlife and a dim gangster? I wonder how deliberate it was to have a half-built Bond knocking around a half-built hotel in a half-built novel. A stage set, scaffolding’s all there but no depth. For Scaramanga’s duped investors promised glittering rewards, read all who bought the book. Fleming’s final joke? Equally, an exercise in pretence. The villain misleading his investors, Bond operating under a pseudonym, Bond not being himself at the start of the book and questionably the 007 of old in the rest of it. Leiter, Nicholson, the cover stories of the gangsters, Bond’s insincere relationship with Goodnight, pretending there’s a threat to the Empire when the Empire’s gone: everything operates on an unreal level, this 007th Chapter’s title no accident. A hazy state where fragments of past adventures appear, disconnected. A dream? Is he still in Vladivostok, or The Park? Candidacy for Manchuria? Too much cheese before bed?

     

    On that, the edition before me is a Pan 12th printing 1973, as old as me. It has fewer wrinkles but the same musty smell. Couple of oddities. The Pan photomontages – the most amusing Bond covers – pick up on items in the text; always fun to spot them. This cover is dominated by a truckle of Stilton, a ripe spoonful dug. I’m assuming that this refers to M’s lunch early on, but that’s really quite obscure. Unless it’s something sordidly suggestive of Scaramanga’s personal life, perhaps the text didn’t sufficiently inspire, or someone voted against showing electrodes. As a huge lump of cheese, it might be comment on tired stuff like tying a girl to a railway track and yet another runaway train, etc. It’s not the best of these covers; that’s Thunderball, which magnificently includes a display of lettuce. Odder yet is that the copyright in this edition vests in something called Gildrose Productions Ltd (rather than Glidrose) and as that doesn’t exist, feel free to copy the book wholesale (don’t tell anyone I said that).

     

    “A young American with a neat face…” No idea what this is. This Scaramanga does like to surround himself with spruce chaps, does he not? This business about an inability to whistle meaning a man is of the happy persuasion might explain why sports referees, policemen and teachers need a device to enable them to do so (I guess). My brother can whistle and he’s most jolly. After all, you just have to put your lips together and blow. Might as well suggest homosexuals can’t swim, or attract enemy radar. Does Bond ever whistle? All the same, denying the theory that Scaramanga wants to pump Bond full of shot isn’t helped when, subsequently, Bond and Goodnight’s liaison is interrupted by the man coming out of the closet.

     

    Reassuringly Bondy in inspecting his bedroom for “objects of suspicion”. Reminds one of what the films used to do, the Bond theme at full pelt for the benefit of the listening devices. These days, once Mr Craig has destroyed a room and outstared his guilt into a mirror in narcissistic self-hatred, there’s no time to worry whether the lampshade’s bugged or the Gideons have hidden one of their ludicrous telephones to God in the bedside drawer. “Outside the sea whispered softly on an invisible beach…” And they say Die Another Day is stupid. Unsurprising this hotel’s over budget if that’s an amenity. The business with the telephone… hmmm. Book’s written when, exactly?  After the author’s seen similar in From Russia with Love? Adapting an adaptation of one’s work; all terribly complicated. Funny, though. Book’s quite “gadgety”, especially in the opening chapters, and presumably this is embracing the trend of the films, and equally presumed is Bond cutting eyeholes in a newspaper and using a glass as a listening device a piss-take of the same.

     

    It’s possible to read the book as anti-“spy”, even anti-“Bond”. The insularity of M and Colonel Boris using 007 as their pawn, big men idling in insignificant gameplay, is jettisoned in favour of dropping Bond into a grubby, half-built world where the likes of Scaramanga would just as easily kill for the British as for the Cubans, were the money worth it (the only allegiance); scrappy, desperate and small men, neither superspies nor supervillains. Bond shuffles around the dregs of Empire; not the colonial power biffing up Crab Key (Dr No being this book’s counterpoint), this is a broken Bond, a broken Britain, letting the USA infiltrate the hotel and the Jamaicans tidy up. The British, who Scaramanga kills for amusement rather than tactical advancement, are ineffectual: Ross, Goodnight, arguably 007. The villain’s concerns are Russia and the USA; the British are cannon fodder. The previous Bond, prior to “therapy”, could be ridiculous and archaic in such a world. A less dogmatic Bond ready to be re-shaped by new norms has potential. Pity it never went further: what we have here is a rebooted Casino Royale – thwarting the raising of funds to pay for Soviet agitation – tackled in a significantly less vintage-Bentley, champagne-and-strawberries, velvet-gowned world, barely a dozen or so years on. It doesn’t matter now how much toast one gets with the caviar. It might not be a real world (and Fleming mixing terrorism, Black Power and Cuba into one is no more realistic than his belief that women’s lib caused the sporting of green carnations) but it’s a scruffier one.

     

    “It crossed his mind to say very devout prayers out loud before he went to bed.” There’s potential for drawing out Christian undertones, patently in the resurrection, the fall from grace, Goodnight being likened to an angel, that penitence and pain thing, arguably (only arguably) the forgiveness by M. Without doubt the book has a redemptive quality to it, although Bond does not wholly embrace that redemption, questioning whether the world from which he fell is worth ascending to again.

     

    “James Bond unpacked his few belongings…” Which, in a certain frame of mind, could be read as desperately sad. I’m in that frame of mind. He proceeds to sit alone in a hotel room, get drunk and order room service. Tragic, especially in the amount of bourbon he’s knocking back. A lonely figure, this James Bond, even if his current isolation is self-inflicted. “The best drink in the day is just before the first one (the Red Stripe didn’t count)”. Spoken like a true alcoholic. Albeit the pretence of intellectualism of the old Bond remains in his reading matter, one of Fleming’s darker jokes ensues when Bond reads Kennedy, just as Kennedy read Bond. One assumes that the passage at which the book falls open – “I looked down into my open grave” – is a nod to TMWTGG being written post-assassination, the daffy fun of From Russia with Love on JFK’s reading list now very bleak.

     

    Bond struggling with Scaramanga’s motives and whose money he represents is indicative of our experience of the man, but also of tension between old-think and new-world. It doesn’t matter where the money comes from; the importance is the money itself. It breaches every border, infiltrated everywhere and corrupted ideologies in pursuit of a fast buck. Fleming gave us this with SPECTRE; here he reinforces his point about the abandonment of political will by now involving the Russians with the gangsters. Something the passage of the Bonds has shown is the dismantling – pointlessness, even – of national identity when up against hard cash. Crime has no flag, and economic might is the only frontier. One final point to make – with Major Dexter-Smythe, money taints even the ostensibly heroic. Perhaps hypocritical given Fleming’s comfortable lifestyle, but then it may take one possessing money to understand the terror of it possessing you.

     

    “How in hell was Bond going to take him?” Fnarr. I may be mis-reading this, but does a drunken, half-naked 007 start shooting things in his room? Housekeeping’ll be most grumpy. “The mousseline sauce might have been mixed at Maxim’s” is presumably a compliment rather than it tasting as if it had been flown several thousand miles over a period of some hours. And then Bond, thinking of Scaramanga, barricades himself in and gets naked into bed. Protesteth too much?

     

    Bond’s dream. Does he dream much, or is this new? Well… it’s phalluses, innit? Scaramanga sits “bassackwards” (? But fnarr, anyway), “golden cannon”, “long cigar”, “touch hole” (blimey), “tremendous flash”, “tried to fit the notch of the arrow into the gut”, “coming straight for Bond”. Etc. Take a cold shower, and indeed Bond does. One of Dr Freud’s easier appointments. Then, to dispel whispering, you wander around the garden in swimming trunks and gaze at the nipples of a similarly underdressed man performing physical jerks from his buttocks whilst attended to by a “good-looking young Negro”. Amongst the unanswered questions of our time, such as why do Queen still bother and why do Terminator skeletons need teeth, lies this one about whether Scaramanga is homosexual and its follow-up about this being why he rents Bond. An ugly attitude to women aside, there’s little manifestation of the man’s sexual preference and he seems as neuter as other villains, unless trampolining is one of the gay sports, along with Ice Hockey and Luge. There’s little exposition of his sex position. Perhaps the suggestiveness that there is, was as far as it could go, given homosexuality was a crime at the time of publication (whereas state licensed murder and “semi-rape” weren’t). If it hadn’t been hinted at, would we have guessed? Scaramanga does wear a cravat, but so did that Mr Brosnan’s Bond at the start of GoldenEye and he’s very butch. We do get that comment later on about looks passing between Bond and Nicholson of the sort shared “between crooks, between homosexuals, between secret agents” and there’s at least two of those in the building. Queer analogy, in the circumstances.

     

    The dossier speculation aside, is it better read as setting him up as the parallel Bond: fit, brutal and determined, a crack-shot enforcer for others, not terribly bright? The man Bond could have been if born elsewhere. Fine, the film tried to ramp up this “dark side of Bond” thing, neglecting to recognise that in slapping Andrea Anders around, MooreBond was capable of demonstrating both halves. Perhaps the suggested sexuality is no more than the mirror of Bond’s and a minor part of the key idea behind the character. But then one reads “[Bond]swam twice as far as intended” and it turns into a cock fight after all. Oh, get a room. Plenty to choose from. Some might be finished.

     

    Not much else is. The atmosphere of “phoney” is drawn out by the description of how un-made the hotel is, and Scaramanga’s plan to sweet-talk his investors does seem daft. But – common theme time – we’re dealing with greed, not sense, so success is not improbable, albeit Bond doubts it but his judgment throughout the book is dodgy, at best.  The details about the hotel and its environs over a couple of pages betray a sneer at tourist development of Jamaica, doubtless upsetting the author’s idyll. The Man with the Golden Gun – might be a novel, might just be NIMBYism.

     

    “…with a coloured girl.” White’s a colour.

     

    “There were not too many small precautions he could take.” Like driving into a desolated swamp, provoking a killer of British agents, attending a meeting at which he could be recognised if his assumptions about Communist money bear out and wearing a dark suit on a hot day. Ensuring your car gets shade seems a misplaced priority, displacement activity, when precaution so far is minimal.

     

    Wandering through the hotel with Scaramanga, alone, another opportunity to kill him wasted, and Bond arrives at the meeting room with its ominous “wine-red carpet”. Watch out, 007. Remember what happened last time? Laziness, or intended echo? Or, as before, fragment of a dream? Whatever – red floor and white leather chairs – nightmare, albeit one transported to Harlem by 1973. Suggests Scaramanga isn’t of the interior design preference, after all. Bond takes further “small precautions” by as-good-as announcing “ I’m a British spy” with his observations about bugging the room, identification of “The Purple Gang” (they’ll clash terribly with the furniture) and where in the Caribbean the money comes from but Scaramanga’s all distracted by sorting the staff rotas, wondering who’s stolen the towels and devising amusing ways to wake guests at 2 a.m. with the fire alarm. Bond calling himself “Hazard”? Might as well call himself Mr Kil.

     

    Scaramanga’s warning that this isn’t “another Apalachian” sends one a-Google (other search engines are available, but they’re utter crap) and, after realising one ectually spells it Apalachin, one concludes this is exactly what it is. Thanks for flagging it up, Ian old smudge. To whoever writes up that page on Wikipedia – when you get to the heading “In Popular Culture”, consider including The Man with the Golden Gun. It doesn’t have many chums, and has more merit than at least two of the Robert DeNiro “films” cited. Also – outdoors and sunshine aren’t scary. Have a bath.

     

    “He’s in labour relations, like me. Represents a lot of Teamster Union funds. He shouldn’t be any trouble.” Um, OK. So amongst our modern villains are trade unions and the Jews and Italians in “the entertainment world”. So how do you think those films about your blessed alter-ego get made, you barmy old badger? Do like that “labour relations” joke, although calling people “Hal Garfinkel”, “Leroy Gangerella” and “Louie Paradise” tends to betray that they’re not Surrey men and possibly reinforces the author’s tired, careless prejudices one last time. “So don’t go prying into my affairs or you’ll get hurt.” Well, it’s your own silly fault, Pistols. You invited him to stay for the weekend. Why? Don’t answer. Keep us guessing. “As if he could hardly control himself longer, the big man turned on his heel and strode brusquely out of the room.” Ooh, get her. “James Bond smiled”. Well done, James. Only made it harder for yourself. But you like that, don’t you?

     

    “A strong reek of high gangsterdom rose from the paper” reminds one who (probably) wrote this; vividly yet unexpectedly appealing to the senses. Fine joke about the Dutchman, and then we meet him. Hendricks, the big bad, is no freak, has no deformity other than avoirdupois, is “totally anonymous” and that’s what you get by way of villain in this new world. At first glance underwhelming, he’s terrifying. The bland, politically connected “banker”, no better than a gangster, can unleash more damage than the unhinged misfit with a surfeit of teats. Scaramanga is deferential to Hendricks; he has to be, for the point to work. Hendricks is why all the “sugar” stuff means little: that’s not the plot. Scaramanga might not be the most indelible of the villains, but that’s because he’s a henchman. That’s OK. That’s all James Bond is, too.

    Within one book we’ve gone from swivel-eyed Samurai loonpots, to bankers. Count the number of pirhanas you’ve encountered, now count your pennies, and then tell me from whom you ectually need protecting. Ironic, given what the Fleming family does. One last self-mocking, wheezy laugh from behind the golden typewriter.

     

    James Bond will return in the 007th Paragraphs of Octopussy and The Living Daylights. Jacques Stewart shall now get drunk, lie around in his pants and dream of Hot Cock Soup.

    Helmut Schierer @ 2015-03-01
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