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Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

Cover image © Penguin Viking
With the occasional shadows of the clouds moving up the hillside from the Atlantic Ocean, my James Bond summer holiday reading continued this year in Blanchard, Saint Lucia. Sheltering from the occasional downpour, I settled down on the loggia to read Goldfinger (1959) by Ian Fleming – the seventh novel in the Bond series.

The novel opens with James Bond in the departure lounge at Miami Airport having just successfully dispatched with a Mexican heroine smuggling operation. Whilst musing on the dirty nature of his job, as Bond does so with increasing frequency through the first six books, he is approached by Junius Du Pont, a fellow gambler he’d met briefly in Casino Royale, to look into the Canasta playing of his playing partner. 

Auric Goldfinger seems to be on an inconceivably long winning streak and Bond, taking on this bit of private non-Secret Service work, soon discovers that, along with his assistant, Goldfinger is cheating Du Pont during each of their card games. It also doesn’t take long for Bond to have his first interaction with a member of the opposite sex – Goldfinger's assistant.

This chance meeting between Bond and Goldfinger sets the tone for the novel, sensibly divided into three sections: Happenstance, Coincidence and Enemy Action.

Upon his return to the UK, Bond is on night duty and decides to do a little digging into the Secret Service’s archives to see what can be found on Goldfinger. The files are empty, but, by coincidence, the following morning M calls Bond for a meeting. The Bank of England are concerned about the amount of gold being smuggled out of the country and there are no prizes for guessing who the prime suspect is.

The action moves forward to the fairways of a Kent golf course, continental Europe and eventually America, the location of Goldfinger’s exceptionally audacious planned gold heist.

The action in Goldfinger is, in many ways, a lot slower and more drawn-out compared to other more action-packed novels in the series such as Moonraker and From Russia With Love, but the character of James Bond is definitely explored in a greater level of detail. The time waiting at Miami Airport and on night duty does give the reader a greater insight into his thought process compared to other novels.

In the words of novelist Kate Mosse, “There is more doubt and something of Rider Haggard’s unglamorous Allan Quartermain than in the slap-bang-wallop superhero of some of the other Bond novels.”

Goldfinger is also the novel in which we meet the amusingly named Pussy Galore, leader of band of lesbian gangsters in America. There is something quite awkward about elements of Miss Galore’s inclusion in the story, not least the fact that Bond ends up ‘turning her’ in a very dated and misogynist perspective on sexuality, but, perhaps within late 50s British society this was the prevailing view.

All in all, I like the pensive, thoughtful 007, but I did miss the sweeping action set pieces and opulence of the earlier novels in the series.

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