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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Four mini missions, 4 Nov. 2013
This review is from: Octopussy & The Living Daylights and Other Stories (Audio CD)
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This release completes the "007 Reloaded" range of unabridged audio books, bringing to life the final published work of Ian Fleming. In common with "For Your Eyes Only", it is a collection of short stories, each of which is a fairly atypical mission for James Bond. However, unlike "For Your Eyes Only", this book was published posthumously, and it is uncertain whether Fleming ever intended for these disparate tales to be brought together in a single volume. Each of the stories had already been published elsewhere prior to the release of the hardback in 1966.

"Octopussy", the first story in the collection, was originally serialised in the "Daily Express" in October 1965, though it had actually been written in early 1962. It is tempting to speculate that Fleming had planned this as part of an anthology, but then failed to follow up on the idea. There are some similarities to stories in "For Your Eyes Only". As in "The Hildebrand Rarity", there is a vivid exploration of marine life, and a key plot point is the capture of an elusive fish - in this case a deadly scorpion fish. As in "Quantum of Solace", Bond is merely the catalyst for a story told in flashback, a tragic tale involving a marriage that comes to a bitter end. It is a cautionary tale: the gold that Major Dexter Smythe obtains does not buy him happiness.

This story is a poignant epitaph to its author, as the unfortunate Major seems to have a lot in common with Fleming. He married a woman called Ann. He is feeling his age. He has suffered two heart attacks (the disease that killed Fleming in 1964) and lives in fear of a third. His vices are catching up with him. Whereas the author is usually quite casual about the large amounts of booze that Bond imbibes, here he is unequivocal about the fact that Smythe is an alcoholic. In some ways, the Major is like an older Bond - he is a fallen hero, and smoking is a "shared weakness" that he and Bond have in common - which may be a reason why 007 shows him a degree of mercy.

"The Property of a Lady" was first published in the Sotheby's annual journal "The Ivory Hammer" in 1963, though Fleming was reportedly so unhappy with his work that he refused to accept payment. While hardly an action-packed adventure, it is an engaging little story. An interesting point of continuity is that this tale must take place before "The Man with the Golden Gun", since that novel reveals the fate of the Secret Service mole Maria Freudenstein.

Several reviewers have commented that this collection bears little or no resemblance to the James Bond film series. In fact, there are a number of similarities, especially in the case of "The Property of a Lady" and "The Living Daylights". It is intriguing to observe that after a decade of jettisoning the plots of the novels when making the 1970s movies, the screenwriters retained large chunks of several short stories during the 1980s films. The treatment of the prose version of "Octopussy" is unusual: it becomes the backstory for Maud Adams's character in the movie of the same name, making the film almost a sequel to the short story. "The Property of a Lady" is incorporated in a more straightforward manner into the cinematic "Octopussy", though the characters of Dr Fanshawe and A Kenneth Snowman are combined in Jim Fanning, who is closer in personality to the amiable Snowman than the pompous Fanshawe.

The plot of "The Living Daylights", which first appeared in the "Sunday Times" colour supplement in February 1962, will be familiar to anyone who has seen the film of the same name. The story forms an early scene in the movie, which retains Bond's warning that the sniper could make "strawberry jam" of the intended victim, his claim of not caring whether he loses his Double-0 status for insubordination, and of course his comment that he "scared the living daylights out of her." The short story is the most typical 007 plot in this anthology, featuring gunfire, a tense threat to life, and a frisson of sexual attraction, though Bond doesn't actually get the girl in any of these tales.

This book's contents have varied over the years. The first edition contained just two stories, "Octopussy" and "The Living Daylights". The 1967 paperback added "The Property of a Lady" to the mix. It was not until 2002 that the fourth story was appended: "007 in New York", which had originally been published in the "New York Herald Tribune" in October 1963. As a result, I had never encountered this final entry before! It's an inconsequential little piece, written by way of an apology for Fleming's dismissive assessment of New York in his travelogue "Thrilling Cities", but it's nice to have a bit of Fleming that is new to me! The story's title is very dull - the author's original suggestion, "Reflections in a Carey Cadillac", would have been better.

The first three stories are read by Tom Hiddleston, alias Loki in the "Thor" movies. He strikes just the right dark note for Bond, and has some fun with characters such as the proud old soldier Major Smythe and the snooty Dr Fanshawe. Adding to the oddness of "007 in New York" is the fact that it has a different reader, Lucy Fleming, the niece of Ian Fleming and the producer of this audio range. This strikes me as a strange editorial decision, but Fleming gives a competent - witty, even - reading.

My word, I have written a lot! This is a fairly short collection of shorts, running to less than four hours - but as you can see, there's plenty here to fire the imagination.
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Location: Ilford, Essex

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