With 2008 marking the centenary of Ian Fleming, the newest CommanderBond.net review series, Literary 007 Reviewed, now continues with the author’s sixth James Bond adventure, 1958’s Doctor No.
As several CBn Forum members are already aware, every two months a James Bond adventure is chosen for members of the Blades Library Book Club to read. Proceeding in chronological order, the club first read Fleming’s Doctor No back in December 2004.
What follows are selected reviews from the Book Club Forum members. For further details on the club or to post your own review of Doctor No, simply click here.
Literary 007 Reviewed:
‘Doctor No’ reviewed by… Double-O Eleven
Hot damn, this is a great novel. I first read it in 1986 when I was thirteen, and it was the second Fleming novel I read–and it’s the one that hooked me. I had previously read Goldfinger, which a friend lent to me when I was on a long vacation with him in junior high school. I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t much care for it (it’s still not one of my favorites, although I do have a greater appreciation for it now), but he encouraged me to then read Doctor No, which he had just finished. I still vividly remember putting down the book after reading the first chapter and looking at my friend beside me on the bus and remarking: “That was a great opening!” It was a rapid-fire read after that, and by the end of the year I had read every single Ian Fleming James Bond novel. I had a new obsession that hasn’t abandoned me since.
So Doctor No holds a special place with me. But its power is much more than nostalgia; it really is Fleming at the height of his powers, and it’s the most imaginative and outrageous of his books. This most recent re-read (probably the fourth time) was just as exciting as the first time I read it, when I had no idea what would happen (I had not seen the movie at the time). It has the speed and action of Live and Let Die but also benefits from Fleming’s greater literary maturity and handling of characters. It succeeds better than almost any of the other Bond novels of removing the reader from the everyday world and throwing them into a fantasy of sun, sex, violence, exoticism, and mad villainry.
And the centipede sequence…that’s brilliant, just absolutely damn brilliant. Only Cornell Woolrich ever wrote sequences as tense as this. It’s a prose masterpiece.
The famous obstacle course is another piece of writing genius. Fleming manages to pour every ounce of bodily torture that Bond goes through into the reader. Nowhere else does Bond’s sheer power of endurance, his need to defeat the evil of the villain, come through so strongly. The “pulping” of the spiders is just repulsive, and the final fight with the giant squid is one of the heights of sheer mania in any 007 book. Fleming show a huge debt to the American pulp magazine tradition in these sequences; you could almost be reading a story starring Doc Savage: a mysterious tropical island, a madman with diabolical devices and hooks for hands, a mechanical “dragon,” an obstacle course of death, a flood of crabs (harmless, but we don’t know that), and a giant squid to top it all off!
Even after the course is over, the delirious of action doesn’t let up. The thrill of Doctor No’s death and Bond’s exhilaration as the bad doctor dies under that choking yellow mass electrifies me every time. Then Bond shoots and bashes his way to freedom with Honey… hell, there’s almost nothing as exciting in any book I’ve read. Fleming must have pounded these parts out in a fever–they have that kind of intensity.
Doctor No himself is a masterful villain, and in the films he turned into the prototype of all who followed. Cast in the Fu-Manchu mode, but given a modern twist, he projects such cool unflappable evil and haughty confidence that you just can’t wait for Bond to do him in. His speeches are the best of their kind: “You persist in underestimating me, Mr. Bond.”
Honeychile Rider is also an inspired fantasy figure, both childish and accomplished, needing Bond but also resourceful in a way completely new to the reader. No other Bond girl understands Bond’s role as a secret service agent better, understands why some people must die… nay, deserve it. After all, she murdered the man who raped her. (“I wouldn’t make a habit of it,” Bond quips.)
Bond’s reaction to Quarrel’s death is a fine example of the emotional power that Fleming could pack into his work. Quarrel is such a firm friend and companion that his fiery death really hits hard. Fleming reminds readers that in the world of James Bond, nobody is safe: the comic buddy can be roasted in the blink of an eye. (And a few novels later, we find out that the hero’s wife isn’t safe either.)
Doctor No is one of the masterpieces of adventure literature. The movie adaptation is very good as well, but it doesn’t achieve the same level of excitement. And where’s the damn giant squid? I want my giant squid! Yeah, I know they didn’t have the budget or the effects technology, but still… I want my damn giant squid!
‘Doctor No’ reviewed by… Max Zorin
This has always been my favorite Bond novel, just for the sheer hell it puts Bond through. I love the centipede attack. I love death race Dr. No puts Bond through. I love the “Killing Ground”. I love the characters–the loyal, lovable Quarrel, the sprited Honey, the devious Dr. No (one of my favorite Fleming villains–too bad he was underused in the book.) I even liked
Pleydell-Smith. It’s just a fun, fast paced adventure that was brough outstandingly to film. Five stars, easy.
‘Doctor No’ reviewed by… Commander James Bond
I just finished reading it a few days ago, and what can I say, it was sheer brilliance. Ian Fleming is truly a master of writing.
The sequence with the centipede was just so tense and well-written. The locations are great, and Fleming’s love and knowledge of Jamaica really shines through. Dr. No is an excellent villain. I love his little speech on “maniacs”. Honey is a very nice character. She possesses a child-like innocence which I guess must be a quality Bond liked about her. The scenes involving Dr. No’s course were just marvelous. You could just feel the searing pain Bond felt. Very well written.
Now, Dr. No’s death. To be honest, I didn’t like it. Getting crushed by bird dung just didn’t seem very fitting for such an excellent character. It would’ve been nice if Bond showed some real ruthlessness and killed him with his bare hands.
I thought the plot was very good. I did kind of miss the down-to-earth thriller feel of Casino Royale and From Russia with Love, but I guess a bit of variety keeps the series interesting.
Overall, a brilliant, exciting novel, and I can’t wait to start reading Goldfinger.
‘Doctor No’ reviewed by… B007GLE
I think that in the past I have not given the books that served as the inspiration for the early movies their due. (Except From Russia with Love which I have always loved.)
The movie Dr. No is so good and even adds great things not in the book–Ms. Taro, Professor Dent, the Three Blind Mice’s end–that I originally felt that the book was “just okay”.
Having re-read it now I realize just how terrific the book is. I have a quibble with M not thinking something bad happened to Strangways but beyond this it is a terrific read.
‘Doctor No’ reviewed by… MHazard
1. It seems to me that Doctor No and Goldfinger are the two most over the top (least plausible) in terms of their plots and the villains’ evil plans.
2. I think I read somewhere a long time ago that one criticism of Bond the character is that he’s not that swift at figuring things out and that the person who wrote this essay used the fact that it seemed Bond should have figured out Dr. No was up to no good and had killed Strangways long before he did, that it was pretty obvious.
3. I like the movie version, but here’s some things I think the book did better (I usually judge movie quality by how much of the book they incorporate): Dr. No’s death by guano-more fun than being flung in an atomic reactor; Dr. No himself-hooks for hands and his overall physical appearance and story. I thought Joseph Wiseman did a good job, but he didn’t really bring the book version to life (as I feel Gert Frobe pretty much did in Goldfinger); the octopus fight-just aint there; and finally, in the novel, there is a good explanation and reason for Bond being subjected to Dr. No’s obstacle course. It’s the climax of the book but in the movie all you get is he escaped out a ventilator shaft and why is it hot in there and why is there water?.
4. Overall, a darn good read. I consider it, along with From Russia with Love and Goldfinger to be mid-period Bond, the Bond most people think of when they think of Bond. I think of the previous books Casino Royale through Diamonds are Forever as early Bond and post Goldfinger as late Bond leading to the trilogy of the final three novels.
‘Doctor No’ reviewed by… Bond Maniac
What a surprise this novel was for me. After picking it up I couldn’t stop reading it. Took me two days to read the whole thing and the final pages kept me on the edge of my seat. I was honestly shaking for fear of Bond’s life (even tought in the back of my mind I knew he would not die) but the thing is so well written that I actually believed he could die and that’s how great it is.
I love everything in this one and is one of my top five favorites.
My special regards on this one goes to Bond’s fight with the octopus and the maze. Thumbs up for Mr. Fleming.
‘Doctor No’ reviewed by… North Scorpion
I don’t know how Bond could stay awake while Dr. No prattled on. If brevity is the soul of wit than Dr. No has none of it. The man kept talking and talking…of course it was an interesting read, but poor Mr. Bond.
I must say I did like Dr. No’s death. Quite fitting and lasting legacy he left behind. To be buried under a ton of bird dung…one of the best death scenes in fiction!
‘Doctor No’ reviewed by… dajman_007
I was told that this would be one of the best Fleming novels. I’m not saying it was bad, because it definately wasn’t. But up until the dinner, I was going through the book just to get it over with. When I was reading Live and Let Die I had to turn the pages because I was so enthrawled. I read Casino Royale in two afternoons since I was so into it. It took me two weeks to punch through Doctor No. Again I think it would have been a much better read in the mid 50s but having watched Dr. No 50+ times, I knew exactly what was coming, without a hint of foreshadowing. Predictable? Hardly. After Bond Meets Dr. No the movie veered from the novel, therefore the novel took on a life of its own. Now I read the last quarter of the book in one night. Bond’s Death Trap was non-stop action and I didn’t know what was coming. I think this is another one of Fleming’s brilliant works. And it’s no one’s fault that the movie followed so closely to the book. If anything its a due compliment to Fleming’s work that the films rarely give the author anymore.
‘Doctor No’ reviewed by… d0uble0_7
Doctor No was indeed a fine Fleming novel. Great storyline, action-packed, awesome characters, it was a wonderful read. I loved the images of Honeychile the novel subjected my mind to. The sheer torture Bond endured toward the end was amazing. Just to think what I would’ve done in that same situation.
I must admit that having watched the film twice during my read of Doctor No, really hurt my take on the film. Not to discredit the film by any means, but as one can come to expect things are much different in the literary versions.
‘Doctor No’ reviewed by… Agent76
Oh man, what a ride!
These were the first words that came to my mind, when I finished reading Doctor No today. Once again Ian Fleming does a fantastic job with this story, where he combines class and adventure in an inteligent way.
One thing that I liked the most in the story, was Bond’s loyalty to his gun, of many years, the .25 Beretta. We see his sadness for having to quit using it, and the doubts he has about the new piece, Walter PPK. I was hoping to read some lines with the character Felix Leiter included, but no luck there. Dr Julius No is one of the most lunatic villains, where during the dinner chapter, we get the sense that he’s a maniac saddist. The sensuality and innocence of Honey Rider, adds more to the story and makes her one of the most interesting “Bond girls” in the series.
Keep your eyes on the CBn main page for further reviews of Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 adventures in the upcoming months.