Death For Breakfast - Ian Fleming's On Her Majesty's Secret Service

'From the moment he first meets Teresa di Vicenzo - a reckless playgirl with a love of fast cars and danger - Bond is fascinated. She also leads him to new information on one of the most dangerous criminals in the world, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. In his Alpine mountain base, Blofeld is developing weapons that could threaten the whole world. Only 007 - with the help of someone who can handle herself at speed - can stop the evil genius. Filled with ski chases, schnapps and snow-bound lairs, On Her Majesty's Secret Service also shows confirmed bachelor Bond's icy reserve finally melting.'

On Her Majesty's Secret Service is the eleventh James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming and was first published in 1963. It begins with James Bond on leave in Royale-les-Eaux, unwinding on the Continent and increasingly weary of his job, duty, and so far fruitless search for Blofeld in the operation to mop-up the remnants of SPECTRE. He makes a first draft of a letter of resignation to M and meets and falls in love with Contessa Teresa (Tracey) di Vicenzo after bailing her out at the Casino in Monte Carlo and preventing her from taking her own life. Bond is then taken captive by Tracey's father Marc-Ange Draco, head of a crime organization called The Union Corse - 'More deadly and perhaps even older than the Unione Siciliano, the controlled most organized crime throughout metropolitan France and her colonies.' Draco fears for his unstable daughter and offers Bond a million pounds if he will marry her. Bond declines but he agrees to continue to see Tracey and watch over her if Draco will help him locate a certain Ernst Stavro Blofeld...

One of the most famous of the James Bond books - and one that duly made the best James Bond film - On Her Majesty's Secret Service is an enjoyable piece of escapism that takes a more human Bond on an adventure from France to the Swiss Alps with suspense, intrigue and some excellent snowy chase sequences. A classic adventure that pits Bond against Blofeld with the high stakes a potential biological threat to Great Britain - to be delivered in a very novel way. On Her Majesty's Secret Service also has a shocking twist (or two) in the colourful life of James Bond.

Fleming's knack for vividly taking you to exotic places immediately draws you into On Her Majesty's Secret Service as Bond ambles around sunny France with bronzed girls drinking coffee in outdoor cafés and a gentle breeze in the air. It's quite interesting the way it captures Bond at a confused and low-ebb as he drafts a letter of resignation (which we can read in the book) and finds himself questioning his life and duty - 'He was fed up to the teeth with chasing the ghost of Blofeld. And the same went for SPECTRE. The thing had been smashed. Even a man of Blofeld's genius, in the impossible event that he still existed, could never get a machine of that calibre running again.' 

Bond being Bond, he becomes intrigued by Tracey after she overtakes him on a stretch of road - 'If there was one thing that set James Bond really moving, it was being passed at speed by a pretty girl.' Tracey ('Teresa was a saint. I am not a saint') is one of the most complex and memorable of Fleming's Bond girls with crucial role in the story and indeed James Bond's life.

The early casino scenes are very stylish and generate a lot of tension as Tracey, who is in the grip of 'some deep melancholy, some form of spiritual accidie' recklessly gambles with no credit. You do find yourself becoming immediately interested in Tracey's welfare and eccentricity and want to find out more about her just like Bond. Although Tracey leaves the narrative for a while she is firmly established - 'She had come from nowhere and was standing behind the croupier, and Bond had no time to take in more than golden arms, a beautiful golden face with brilliant blue eyes.' Bond knows that Tracey will be blacklisted which Fleming tells us is a bit like being declared a bad risk at Lloyds. Tracey will be a social leper in these swanky circles. 'In American gambling circles, she might even have been liquidated.'

As ever we get to know a little more about Bond and these titbits are always enjoyable. In On Her Majesty's Secret service we learn that Bond returns to the grave of Vesper Lynd each year, had a Swiss mother, and, unlike M, is a fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries!

The book has some great locations including M's country residence Quarterdeck and Piz Gloria, Blofeld's mountain retreat - '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 weird mountain sanatorium where he is treating young women suffering from allergies and there is a surprising amount of tension when Bond goes undercover there posing as Sir Hilary Bray from the Royal College of Arms. Bond must hide his identity while seeking information and you do feel the danger of his situation. Blofeld contacted the College to establish a family connection to the de Bleuville title and the British Government were tipped off accordingly.

The battle of wits between Blofeld (who has undergone plastic surgery) and Bond is very absorbing and there are some great action sequences in this inventive alpine location. In addition to Blofeld and Tracey, Fleming gives us another memorable character here in Irma Blunt, Blofeld's factotum/assistant.

One thing I should say is that if you've never read a James Bond book before, these are not terribly long works (my paperback copy of OHMSS is 237 pages) and very readable. You can rattle through one of these fairly quickly and you do get drawn into the heightened world that Bond inhabits. It's also absorbing to learn more about his background and attitudes and everything, right down to the food he eats, is always nicely conveyed by Fleming in his usual descriptive manner.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service is a very enjoyable James Bond novel with an entertaining story and some dark twists. It is essentially the second part of the 'Blofeld' trilogy, following on from Thunderball and part of a story arc continued in You Only Live Twice.

If you read this one you'll certainly be curious to see where the literary character goes next.

- Jake

c 2009 Alternative 007