|Cover image © Penguin.|
As has become a tradition over the last three summers, I always read at least one James Bond novel during the summer break from work. This summer was no exception. With the beach at Villefranche-sur-Mer as my deckchair and yachts floating on the Mediterranean Sea as my backdrop, I started the fourth novel in the series, Diamonds Are Forever (1956).
The story begins in the nighttime darkness of rural French Guinea, ten miles north of Liberia, and 5 miles from the border with Sierra Leone, and hints very early on that this story is going to be one that carries Bond across vast distances. Out of the night sky comes a helicopter, landing on a makeshift helipad to facilitate the exchange of a few precious rocks.
Back in London, Bond has been tasked by M, after a tip-off from Special Branch, to explore a diamond smuggling ‘pipeline’ that is taking Sierra Leonean diamonds to America, by way of Europe. Central to his mission is the necessity to discover the identity of who is at the top of this pipeline.
Bond manages to get himself into the network of smugglers by posing as a country house burglar when meeting the formidable Tiffany Case, one the key operatives in the pipeline. Case, a character hardened by traumatic experiences in her youth, doesn’t appear to suffer fools and seems resistant to Bond’s initial attempts at flirting. Furthermore, in the underworld of gang life, nobody trusts anyone, not least the new guy.
Bond successfully completes his smuggling mission and delivers the goods to the amusingly-named Shady Tree, but from here the mission is only just beginning. After discovering that the pipeline is run by a group called The Spangled Mob, a gang managed by brothers Jack and Seraffimo Spang, Bond continues to go deeper into the pipeline. He agrees to do a little more work for them, but when too little is happening, Bond starts to make things happen, forcing the gang’s hand in the way he knows best – in a casino.
The story moves from New York, to Las Vegas, to Saratoga, to a deserted ‘Wild West’ town, to New York, to London and back to Freetown, Sierra Leone, in the air, by road and on the seas - the locations move as fast as the rest of the action and add to the tale’s sense of breakneck speed.
Along the way there is opulence, bribery, depravity, violence, love and danger, all lining the path to the truth about the diamond smuggling racket and the mysterious ABC who lies behind it all.
Undoubtedly, Ian Fleming, in Diamonds Are Forever, manages suspense in a much more intriguing way than before by not focusing it all on Bond. We know that Bond will survive, he is after-all the Secret Service’s best man, but we are never quite sure of how his fledgling relationship with Tiffany Case will end. At various points of the novel she seems to be a goner, yet she escapes; but can the same be said of her relationship with Bond as her frostiness towards him begins to thaw?
“Death is forever. But so are Diamonds.” Can the same be said of love?