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Five stories, only three of which are really about Bond
on 9 October 2003
The eighth book published in the 007 series is not a self-contained novel, but rather a collection of five short stories—two of which are kind of shoehorned in and aren't really typical Bond pieces. The first story, "From A View To A Kill", is a pretty decent little Cold War espionage piece. In a well-crafted set piece introduction, a dispatch rider from Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers—Europe headquarters is ambushed and his documents stolen by Soviet spies. As a result of bureaucratic infighting (highly realistic, and doubtless drawn from Fleming's own intelligence experience), M sends Bond to try and figure out the security breakdown. It's a good tale, with an ingenious set of foes, probably the best story of the lot.
In "For Your Eyes Only", Bond enters highly murky waters by taking a more or less personal assignment from M to track down the killers of an old friend. It's a highly topical late '50s piece, involving a former Nazi as mastermind, and henchmen drawn from the ranks of Cuban dictator Battista. Interestingly (in hindsight), Bond expresses real sympathy with the rebel Castro's struggle! To act as M's executioner, Bond must travel to Canada and then sneak across the US border to operate in Vermont, which is kind of interesting. Things take a turn for the ridiculous when he stumbles across another revenge seeker, wielding a bow and arrow. The middle story, "Quantum of Solace" isn't a Bond story at all. Rather, it's a story of disaffected marriage told to Bond by his host after a rather boring dinner party. It's actually quite good, but has nothing to do with Bond.
"Risico" takes Bond back to action, and places him in Rome, where he is assigned to disrupt the flow of heroin into England. Fleming creates a rather prescient version of "The War on Drugs" by directing Bond to act against the insidious enemy of drugs. It's a classic Bond story in that Bond is easily duped, meets a pretty woman, meets an unlikely ally, and engages in near fatal gunplay. (And of course, at the end, the drug pipeline to England is all a nasty Soviet plot.) The final story, "The Hildebrand Rarity", is again, barely a Bond story—reducing him to observer status. He's not really on the job, but instead inexplicably agrees to hire himself out as a fishing expert in the Seychelles. Basically, he's just there as an audience for another marriage-gone-sour story. There is a villain, there is a murder, but Bond's not really a central character in it. The only real purpose to the story seems to be to allow Fleming to work out his own issues vis-à-vis American millionaires.
On the whole, these stories don't add much to the Bond canon. It would have been more interesting had Fleming chose to give us a taste of Bond's action in the Ardennes in WWII, or of the two assignments that led to his 00 designation (both of which are mentioned in Casino Royale). Still, the first story is worth a quick read, and "For Your Eyes Only" and "Risico" will be of interest to those who love the film versions.