The Elegant Venus,
This review is from: Dr No (Paperback)Dr No is one of the more colourful and surreal of the Bond novels. The location is the beautiful but deadly Caribbean island of Crab Key, home to the mysterious Dr No and, or so rumour has it, his pet fire-breathing dragon; the girl is the beautiful (and beautifully named) Honey Rider, definitely one of the more interesting and free-spirited of the Bond girls and the villain is the brilliant, insane, diabolical genius Dr No who gives the novel its title. Dr No is comfortably one of the most fascinating, and most peculiar, of all the villains Bond faces: a wealthy recluse who lives in a beautifully described hideaway lined with books and works of art; a hideaway stocked with the finest wines and with one wall made of reinforced glass that allows Dr No to stand, rather like Captain Nemo, and look out at the colourful fish and sea creatures swimming in the clear Caribbean waters. Dr No is insane, and the mechanical pincers that have replaced his hands inspire fear and horror, but like all the best literary maniacs he has intelligence, and he has taste.
The plot of the novel concerns James Bond's attempts to mop up a little local difficulty involving the disappearance of the representative of the British Secret Service in Jamaica, Commander Strangways. The evidence points to Strangways having eloped with his secretary but some digging by Bond, allied to a few baffling and particularly nasty attempts on his life - one of which involves a giant poisonous centipede - lead Bond to suspect some serious foul play, foul play that seems to have the reclusive Dr No at its heart. Bond's investigations lead him, and the innocent Honey, into increasingly dangerous situations.
Dr No has, over the years, had its critics. It is perhaps the most sadistic of the Bond novels, but then Dr No himself has a fascination with inflicting pain and so his attempts on Bond's life naturally take on a particularly grotesque colour (watch out for the spiders and the giant octopus towards the end of the novel!). In turn, and largely for the same reasons, Dr No has been seen as marking the point at which the novels become a little too 'comic book' for the liking of many. Gone are the 'real' threats of the Soviet Union and the rogue businessman Hugo Drax from Moonraker, for example, and in their place we have a lunatic who intends to do away with the beautiful Honey Rider by having her eaten by maurauding crabs. The threat is deliberately over the top but, personally speaking, that's what I love about the book: it's mad, colourful, exciting, graphic and brilliant - all the things the Bond books do best in other words.
Ian Fleming was always a brilliant, descriptive writer and Dr No contains some of his best work. Many scenes linger in the mind: Bond's first glimpse of Honey collecting the seashells - the highly valuable 'Elegant Venus' - from the beach; the first deadly appearance of Dr No's fire-breathing 'dragon' with which he sweeps unwanted intruders from his island; Bond's hotel-room encounter with a poisonous centipede smuggled in with a bowl of fruit and, perhaps best of all, the surreal and beautiful lair of Dr No with its elegant trappings and its splendidly insane take on the giant goldfish bowl. Dr No was the first of the novels to be turned into one of the long-running series of films and it's easy to see why. It's definitely one of the most cinematic of the books, and comfortably one of the most thrilling. Dr No sees Fleming, and James Bond, at the top of his game.