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Number three in Ian Fleming's James Bond series, published in 1955. For its day, it was prescient: development of a rocket weapon meant to rain death upon one's enemies. OK, so perhaps not that prescient, given the history of the V-2 during World War II. But still…

As the book opens, Bond is between official missions, mostly reading boring reports. His boss, M, calls him in with an unusual request: a member of M's club, Sir Hugo Drax, is suspected of cheating at cards. But how he's doing that is a mystery. Given Bond's history of gambling, could he show up one night and figure out what's going on?

Sure he could, and sure he does, relieving Drax of a small fortune in the process. (Specifically, £15,000; this is ten times Bond's annual salary of £1,500. Given Bond's dangerous job, that doesn't seem like a lot, but whatever.) A defeated and disgraced Drax says, "I should spend the money quickly, Commander Bond." Oh oh.

And that takes us up to page 70 in my 245-page copy. If it seems to you that's a long way to go without that much sex or violence, you're right.

But it so happens that Drax is famous as the leader of England's effort to build "the Moonraker", that missile mentioned above. And, reminiscent of Operation Paperclip, a whole bunch of Germans have been recruited to assist. When a suspicious murder/suicide occurs, M sends Bond to see if there's any funny business happening in Drax's project. And, guess what, there is.

It takes a real long time for Bond to figure out even partially what's going on. Page 185: "Each dark conjecture came and for a moment settled like a vulture on Bond's shoulder and croaked into his ear that he had been a blind fool. Blind, blind, blind." Yup. Readers will note that's about 75% of the novel, long after they've worked that out and wondered when Bond was going to catch up to the obvious.

And at one point, Bond determines to sacrifice himself in an effort to save millions of lives. But—slight spoiler—instead settles on a different scheme: he lives, while only hundreds of people are killed as a result. Some villains, sure, but mostly innocents.

Last Modified 2024-01-15 5:19 AM EDT