For anyone who has stuck around here since last Christmas, I flatter myself that there may be an inkling of curiosity as to how I got on with my generous gift of 14 Ian Fleming James Bond 007 stories.
Well, as I write, I’ve enjoyed 10 of them, so am on track to spread them out across the 12 months of the year and finish in time for next Christmas! And I really have enjoyed them. I’ve enjoyed going back to a more elegant and simple time in many ways. A time when a lot of readers would have considered Bond’s lifestyle and habits glamorous, people who would even have thought going over to Normandy to gamble to be risqué, never mind the more exotic settings of Jamaica or America, far beyond reach in the 40s and 50s. Fleming seemed to realise that he would have female readers interested in the details of Bond women (chauvinistic though he is in the extreme, but of his time, and don’t we love old films despite their attitudes?!), how they dressed, the impressions they made and even what scents or brands were “in” to be high-class… a way of writing that will often distinguish a female from a male author, I find. The stories are fairly tame if you’re used to fast and racy modern thrillers but as far as I can ascertain, the technical details – of which there are many, as Fleming was obviously also aware of the appeal of his books to men – are precise and knowledgeable, whether he is writing about rockets, cars or foreign lands. Either Fleming really knew his stuff or he went to the trouble of exacting research, and that makes the constructions convincing. Despite the violence that is part of any thriller, there is something less disturbing in the brutality than in many modern books, perhaps an understanding of “what is necessary” and remember, the post-war period means that both men and women may well have experienced their own terrors and been able to identify to some extent.
Although I have always maintained that the films have nothing to do with the books, some of the earlier films weren’t too far off the mark, really. I recently happened on a rerun of “Dr. No”, which it turns out I had never actually seen (apart from the infamous Ursula Andres bikini scene) and was surprised to discover that a lot of the story had been retained – inasmuch as any book story ever is in a film. On the other hand, “The Spy Who Loved Me” is a completely unrelated story to the movie version – and different from the other stories, in any case, being a short story told by a young woman from her perspective and only later involving Bond. I well remember the film of the same name coming out when I was a teenager, perhaps the first I was really conscious of once the theme songs started hitting the charts. I’ve probably not missed a Bond film since, thanks to hype and boyfriends…!
I’m pretty sure I mentioned the Peter May “Lewis” trilogy in my last entry on series. I found the setting and the portrayal of islander life and mentality as fascinating as the riveting stories with their twists and turns, and found myself disappointed that apparently, a trilogy it will remain. Little does my friend Helen realise that sliding another paperback over to me, months ago, with the words, “You might enjoy this one, too…” started me off again. Distracted by other things in life, I didn’t get a proper start on the book, but came across one or two connections that sparked my interest in it again. The book was “White Nights” by Ann Cleeves, the 2nd of her Shetland quartet. After realising that it was in fact the 2nd, and that not only was there a new TV series out called “Shetland” that (it turned out) is based on the books – I had become aware of it because it seems that knitwear by one of my favourite fibre designers is featured in it! – but that the author is also the creator of the popular ITV series “Vera Stanhope”, a gruff and yet sympathetic middle-aged Yorkshire female detective (played by the wonderful Brenda Blethyn) whose cases are being rerun regularly on a channel we receive by streaming, I decided to get hold of the first book in the series and start “properly” – ah, the pull of the series! The summer holidays would be a good opportunity, so both “White Nights” and “Raven Black” went on the reading pile. Then, while repacking some of my daughter’s books after a damp problem and finding several of my own among them, I also came across “Red Bones” – the third in the series!! (Perhaps A will be able to say why the obviously unread book was in her collection?!) So of course that came with me, too.
Brittany weather is always unpredictable and I was fortunate enough to have a good 10 days of great sunny weather, always with a pleasant sea breeze, but at some point, some greyness and rain did set in over stormy seas and rugged rocks, and the resemblance to a Scottish island increased; time to pick up the Shetland books… “Raven Black” introduces the reader to the detective Jimmy Perez, a Fair Isle man of Spanish descent (I was totally seeing the historian Neil Oliver in this role and am devastated that the actor used in the TV series is fair!), in the dead of winter on Shetland. As they say, “un-put-down-able”, is probably my verdict! The next day, I hastened on to Helen’s “White Nights”, which takes place in the summer of endless daytime. For “Red Bones”, the action moves on to spring on Whalsay, a small island just off Lerwick – and by this time I had burdened my amazon.fr account with the last in the quartet, “Blue Lightning”, which arrived safely at our holiday home and was set upon without ado – an utterly unexpected and spectacular finale set on the tiny Fair Isle in a November storm (as the greenery outside waves and shudders in the blasts of sea wind…). And I have to say, all four of the stories are well-written, well crafted stories with a good feeling for the islander mentality and reality as well as for human strengths and weaknesses, and there’s always a twist in the tale, despite the consistent style of storytelling. Really quite outstanding.
And yesterday, oh bliss, I discovered that the fifth book came out this year, Dead Water – no, not the fifth of a quartet but the first of a second quartet! Yay!! Guess what audiobook I’m listening to as I iron shirts?! 😉
(Did someone say there’s going to be a third “Wildwood”? What about the latest Donna Leon? And now J.K. Rowling has gone into detective crime, too… and after hearing Val McDermid on Radio 4 I may just have to dip into her writing as well!) Gratuitous pony pictures – I mean, Shetland ponies in knitwear?!! (Ad for Shetland featuring Jamieson & Smith wool cardigans for ponies…)