Doctor No

by Ian Fleming

 

In keeping with tradition, this will be brief.

This is one of the better Bond books. Our hero travels to exotic locales, meets a few interesting people, and generally either kills them or leads them to their deaths. Such is the life of a double-oh agent. The plot here involves M sending Bond on what should be a relatively easy mission investigating the disappearance of an MI6 agent in Jamaica. Knowing Bond as we do, however, that’s obviously not what we get.

Fleming’s, ahem, biases, this time come down primarily upon the ethnic Chinese minority living on Jamaica. Fleming calls them Chinese Negroes or “Chigroes,” a term that I can only assume isn’t used with the kindest of intentions. Doctor NoFleming also has an obsession with ascribing traits to specific nationalities, a tendency not unlike science fiction’s predilection for creating a whole race or planet with the same characteristics or vocation. (Why are all Kaminoans cloners? For that matter, why was the plot of Episode II so needlessly complicated?) In Fleming’s mind, the Chinese population of Jamaica stands together as a criminal syndicate, led by our eponymous villain Dr. No, himself only half Chinese. (Since his other half is white, he’s a genius, whereas the “Chigroes” are little more than henchmen.)

Fleming, if you weren’t dead, this is the part of the post where I’d ask you to drop that kind of nonsense from your books. Those ideas kind of fell out of fashion a while ago. Luckily for us, the modern James Bond is much more politically correct, though his decision in Skyfall to surprise a sex trafficking victim in the shower is questionable, to say the least.

The appeal of the book comes when Bond decides to take action by visiting Dr. No’s stronghold on Crab Key. Bond and an old accomplice infiltrate the island under cover of night and wake in the morning to discover Honeychile Rider, the prototypical Bond girl played in the movie by Ursula Andress, collecting sea shells on the beach. She’s naked, of course; Bond immediately decides to make her part of the squad. From there, the book becomes fights and chases and torture scenes, interrupted briefly by Dr. No’s introduction and megalomaniacal spiel.

Dr. No seems like the book in which Fleming realized he had a formula and embraced it, warts and all. Parts of it are ugly, but you can’t say it’s not exciting.

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