While For Your Eyes Only occupied the time between Goldfinger and Thunderball, Octopussy and the Living Daylights can be said to finish off the Ian Fleming era, or be described as “The Last Great Adventures of James Bond 007.” This collection was first published with only two stories and with the title of simply Octopussy. Later on, a third story (The Property of a Lady) was added, and most recently, the little-known short story, 007 in New York, was included. When comparing the two Fleming collections, it is sometimes notable to see which fans prefer which short story collection more. While not of the same number of stories as the previous For Your Eyes Only collection, the Octopussy and The Living Daylights stories have a great deal to offer: James Bond as a witness to a story of greed 20 years earlier, the choice between obeying government orders or killing “that tall blonde with the cello”, plus the proof that there’s more than meets the eye at an auction.
“Octopussy, the darling, was a bit surly. The tentacle she lashed around Major Smythe’s arm that morning was none too gentle. So when Smythe found himself the sudden quarry of James Bond at cocktail time, the Major had a brilliant, if rather gruesome, inspiration…”
In my own opinion, Octopussy remains one of Ian Fleming’s most interesting additions to the literary 007 canon. While James Bond isn’t the true centerpiece of the action, he nonetheless plays an integral role in the proceedings. Octopussy tells of James Bond going to Jamaica to track down Major Dexter Smythe (who lives there with his pet octopus)–a man accustomed to extreme luxury. While speaking to Bond, Smythe confesses in a flashback tale of how he killed a man for gold and then how that very same gold has financed his life of luxury. A level of respect for this retired officer has risen in Bond and he gives Smythe the chance to choose his own fate by leaving for a short time. In an ironic turn of events, Smythe’s pet octopus plays a central role in choosing the fate for Smythe and when Bond returns later, he finds the man dead. The case is closed with a conclusion of ‘found drowned.’
The action of this story lies in two places: what Smythe divulges to Bond in the flashback scene and what happens to Smythe after Bond leaves. Fleming makes people able to sympathize with Smythe in certain parts of the story and his character himself–who seems to suffer from boredom–is all the more identifiable thanks to this level of detail from Fleming.
Other bits and pieces that make Octopussy a memorable 007 adventure include the plot of the stolen gold and how it is tied together with the man who was killed–Hannes Oberhauser–the man who taught a young James Bond how to ski several years earlier and someone 007 obviously held in high regard. The unexpected ending finishes the story off quite well, leading one to wonder which fate Smythe will choose until the decision is finally made for him.
Comparison To The Film: Little more than the title was ultimately used. Major Dexter Smythe gets a brief mention during the first scene with James Bond and Octopussy (as he was her father in this version of the story).
“The Living Daylights are about to be blasted out of a living target on a crowded Berlin street. Crouched behind a .308 International Experimental Target rifle, James Bond sights his victim, makes a split-second decision, and gently squeezes the trigger…”
In this story James Bond is assigned to be a cover for an agent simply described as ‘272’. Bond is told by ‘M’ that the KGB also know of the escape route planned by agent 272 from East Berlin and they will be sending one of their snipers–with the appropriate name ‘Trigger’–to kill him. In the tension-filled build-up to the climactic finale, Bond comes to see a lovely girl with a cello at a concert as he waits for agent 272 to make his escape. When 272 finally takes the chance, Bond sets his sights on ‘Trigger’ and discovers the true identity of the marksman, or rather, markswoman. Disregarding his strict orders to kill the sniper, Bond merely fires off a close-call shot to scare her away and advises his associate:
"Scared the living daylights out of her. In my book, that was enough. Let's go."
Whereas Bond was looking in on the action in the previous short story, Octopussy, here he is absolutely essential to the plot. While knowing it will likely not be a particularly pleasent assignment, a frosty ‘M’ still offers little sympathy to Bond.
Bond’s tension also shows with his comment to Captain Sender before the killing, “Look my friend, I’ve got to commit a murder tonight. Not you. Me. So be a good chap and stuff it, would you?”
Comparison To The Film: The entire short story by Ian Fleming basically makes up the first fifteen minutes of the film with the same name. ‘Trigger’ becomes Bond girl Kara Milovy.
“The Property of a Lady, a valuable object d’art, is about to be auctioned at Sotheby’s. At the start of the bargaining, the room becomes electric with danger and terror, and nobody but James Bond knows why…”
This final story (with the exception of 007 in New York in the recent Penguin Books editions) finishes off the collection. It’s a very short story that has Bond attending an auction while on the lookout for KGB agents–namely Maria Freudenstein–who have created a plan to up the price at an auction in order to create a payment for themselve. Bond has little time to figure out which of the many guests at the event are the KGB agents secretly trying to raise the price.
In my personal opinion, The Property of a Lady is the weakest of the three stories. While the plot is straightforward enough, there are very few interesting details regarding any of the supporting characters (such as Freudenstein, Snowman, Mary Goodnight, ‘M’, the KGB, and Dr. Fanshawe)–something Fleming manages to do quite well in many of his other Bond adventures.
Comparison To The Film: The title remains one of the few that have yet to be used, although the plot features in the 1983 film Octopussy.