Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Moonraker by Ian Fleming

Cover image © Penguin Viking
The third novel in the series Moonraker (1955), sees a noticeable shift from the style of the first two. The first noticeable difference is the division of the novel in three parts: 'Monday', 'Tuesday/Wednesday' and 'Thursday/Friday' - in a way reflecting the normality of a working week for many readers. Indeed the first few pages seem to portray a mundane start to an average week at the office for Bond, away from the international jet-setting, dangerous, man of mystery role that we've seen graphically displayed in the previous novels.

The action starts in a low-key manner. M, Bond's boss at the Secret Service, is a member of a Gentlemen's club and has been alerted by the management there about a famous character who insists on cheating at cards, despite his wealth. So it is that Bond is invited to play Sir Hugo Drax at cards, in turn teaching him a lesson and softly putting an end to his unfair winning streak.

Drax's character is one of the most intriguing so far in the series. He has a blurry back-story that we don't have clarified until the novel's end. Also, far from being a typical Bond villain, he is lauded by the British government, the press and the general public as being a national hero - an opinion brought about as a result of his rags to riches tale, heroism in the war effort before being injured, his shrewd economic dealings and his willingness to fund and design a missile, the 'Moonraker', to assist the British in creating a nuclear weapon.

Following a couple of mysterious deaths, Bond is assigned to assist Drax in preparing security for the missile prior to its test launch on the Friday of that week. Working with the cold and overly-professional Special Branch officer Gala Brand, an increasing number of incidents of strange behaviour begin to make Bond suspect that Hugo Drax isn't quite who he says he is.

The second notable shift is that Fleming bases the novel entirely in England and in doing so creates a great snippet of the paranoia at the start of the Cold War in the UK. Preoccupations with powerful weapons capable of destroying entire cities and the fear that anyone could be working for 'the other side' abound through this story and are portrayed in the typically engaging and eloquent prose of Fleming.

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