We come to the end of Ian Fleming’s original run of James Bond. This one is a short story collection, published post-mortem at the height of the spy craze that was caused as a direct result of the successful 007 film franchise. Sean Connery had starred in four Bond films to that point, with a fifth on the way, and it was assumed (rightfully so) that regardless of any legal issues from Thunderball, 007 was going to live on for quite some time. Cashing in with the last of Fleming’s stories would have been an easy call to make, especially since Fleming himself had planned to do so anyway before his untimely death.
As with For Your Eyes Only, this collection is largely more about Bond’s character than big missions against supervillains. There are four stories here, expanded from the original two as the title suggests. Each are very different in their tone, but all of them express sides of Bond’s character and Fleming’s interests in ways that Fleming has given us before, so the result is a comfortable and familiar end to the original canon. It’s been suggested that these stories fill the gap of “meaningless assignments” that Bond grouses about at the beginning of You Only Live Twice, following the death of Tracy.
“Octopussy” – The last of the original stories to be published, it was serialized in Playboy magazine in its debut. Bond appears briefly in this story, which is told mostly in flashback from the POV of Major Dexter Smythe. Smythe is a hero of WWII who murdered a Nazi officer to steal a cache of gold bullion, then used to lead a life of luxury in Fleming’s now-familiar haunt of Jamaica. When the officer’s body is thawed out years later, Bond goes after Smythe because the victim, one Hannes Oberhauser, is an old friend who taught him to ski. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it was mined for the film SPECTRE.
“The Property of a Lady” – This one was written to be included in the Sotheby’s auction house annual publication, The Ivory Hammer. Bond is assigned to investigate Maria Freudenstein in conjunction with a Fabergé egg she inherited, intercepted by H.M. Customs. Freudenstein turns out to be a Russian double agent who is supposed to auction the egg at Sotheby’s, with the Resident Director of the KGB in attendance to underbid in order to drive up the price in order to pay for her services. Freudenstein was hired by the British Secret Service in the knowledge of being a double agent. Eagle-eyed readers will recognize that she met her end in The Man with the Golden Gun. The egg itself, of course, becomes the launching point of a bigger adventure in the film version of Octopussy.
“The Living Daylights” – Largely considered to be the best of the Bond short stories according to critics, it originally appeared under the title “Berlin Escape.” Bond is assigned to sniper duty to help a defector from East Berlin known only as “272.” His mission: to prevent top KGB assassin “Trigger” from eliminating the target by killing the assassin first. Bond learns, however, that Trigger is a beautiful cellist whom he admired earlier. This was used as the post-credits first scene (and subsequent setup) for the 1987 film of the same name.
“007 in New York” – Originally titled “Reflections in a Carey Cadillac” and first published as “Agent 007,” this one was ultimately retitled for American audiences. It’s said that Fleming wrote it as a response to angry NYC readers who learned of Fleming’s less than flattering opinion of their city. Bond is going through customs at NY’s Idlewild airport in the assumption he will be undetected by FBI or CIA in the 24 hours he’s in the city. His mission: to warn an MI6 employee attached to the UN that the CIA is close to identifying her and learning she’s living with a KGB agent. Mostly this one is a tale of Bond’s random thoughts of the city itself and his favorite recipe for scrambled eggs. Fleming and his eggs. I’ve never seen anyone so obsessed with something so unremarkable. But at least he’s consistent.
All in all, this collection of short stories is a fun and satisfying, if anticlimactic, conclusion to Fleming’s writings. It seems strange to come to the end of the originals at long last. As they say, all good things… But such is the popularity of the character that, even without Fleming, the series would continue.
Special thanks to my buddy reader, BrokenTune, for putting up with me and with Fleming for the duration of this. She’s decided she was interested only in the original run, so this is where she jumps off the ride. For myself, I’m having too much fun to stop.
James Bond will return.