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'A Lancia Spyder with its hood down tore past him, cut in cheekily across his bonnet and pulled away, the sexy boom of its twin exhausts echoing back at him. It was a girl driving, a girl with a shocking pink scarf tied round her hair. And if there was one thing that set James Bond really moving, it was being passed at speed by a pretty girl...'
Another unabridged Bond audio book from 2009 read by Simon Vance. On Her Majesty's Secret Service was the eleventh James Bond adventure written by Ian Fleming and published in 1963. The second part of Fleming's 'Blofeld Trilogy', which started with Thunderball and ended with You Only Live Twice, the story begins with Bond weary and disillusioned. He has been tracking down SPECTRE operatives left over from the Thunderball affair but is tired and goes as far as to draft a letter of resignation to M. At the Casino in Monte Carlo, Bond bails out a woman named Contessa Teresa (Tracey) di Vicenzo who intrigued him earlier when she sped past in a fast car. Tracey's father Marc-Ange Draco is the head of a powerful crime organisation named The Union Corse and believes that James Bond is the one man who can tame his wayward daughter and keep her out of trouble. He says that if Bond marries her he will give him one million pounds on the day of the wedding. Bond has a bachelor's taste for freedom and no desire for a million pounds but he does agree to keep an eye on Tracey and continue to see her. In return, Bond asks Draco if he will use his underworld contacts to help him establish the current whereabouts of Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
This is one of the strongest Bond novels and makes a suitably entertaining and absorbing audio book for Simon Vance to read. It's more human than the other Bond novels and famously the one where 007 agrees to get married and looks as if he might have put his spying days behind him. 'Bond suddenly thought, Hell! I'll never find another girl like this one. She's got everything I've looked for in a woman. She's beautiful, in bed and out. She's adventurous, brave, resourceful. She's exciting always. She seems to love me. She's a lone girl, not cluttered up with friends, relations, belongings.' A strength of the story here is that you do genuinely come to care about the characters and what happens to them and the Fleming mix here of action, suspense and romance is blended far more skillfully and balanced more successfully than in the other Bond novels. The question Fleming asks in the story is what sort of woman would it take to make James Bond give up everything and marry her? This is a man who has had more women than Sven Goran Eriksson and Hugh Hefner put together, a loner who hates attachments. The answer is Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo and Fleming makes her memorable enough for us to believe that she is the one woman in the world capable of getting a wedding ring on 007.
On Her Majesty's Secret Service has less flab than some other Fleming books and seems more devoid of lines that jar the modern reader. The unabridged format here is therefore not a problem. Some other Bond books, where Fleming says things like 'all women love semi-rape' or attempts to replicate the slang of black Americans or something would be more problematic. These books are very much of their time, a strength of course as the period trappings are a huge part of the appeal now, and a weakness too as passages of the books have dated and curled around the edges, like an old comedian who couldn't get away with all of his act today. This is the second audio Bond I've listened to with Simon Vance and I'm becoming much more used to him now. His voice is a bit affected but he's crisp enough and does a perfectly decent job of reading the story. While audio books with more of a cast can be great I've been a trifle disappointed with the more elaborate Bond radio adaptions I've listened to in this vein and am usually quite content with the simplicity of this series and the other adaptions read by Rufus Sewell.
One memorable thing Fleming did with On Her Majesty's Secret Service was give Blofeld an Alpine mountain base known as Piz Gloria. It makes a wonderful location for the second half of the story. Piz Gloria is pure James Bond and this aura of ski chases, schnapps and snow-bound lairs is utilised to the hilt by Fleming. 'Below, the ground was mostly in darkness, but ahead giant peaks were still golden in the dying sun. They were making straight for one of them, for a small plateau near its summit. A cable car, spangled in the sun, was creeping down.' Blofeld has a psychedelic mountain sanatorium full of beautiful women he is treating for allergies but, of course, this is merely cover for a very nefarious and alarming scheme worthy of an urbane but bonkers criminal mastermind. It's probably not a surprise that On Her Majesty's Secret Service made arguably the best James Bond film. When they adapted the story for the screen they decided, just for once, to be faithful to the source material and change as little as possible. Although people at the time couldn't get very far past the fact that Sean Connery had morphed into George Lazenby it is regarded now to be a high point of the series. Both the book and the film are regarded to be Fleming's Bond at his most human.
This is another decent addition to this series and gets a big boost from being one of Fleming's best stories. At the time of writing this is available new or used from £8. I've often seen these available for under a fiver so I would either get this out of the library like I did or wait for a much more tempting offer to surface.