Reflections in a Double Bourbon - Ian Fleming's Goldfinger

'Returning from Mexico after cracking a squalid heroin ring, Bond is only too happy to stay at a Miami hotel and figure out how Auric Goldfinger is cheating at Canasta. It seems that the Bank of England are interested in him too, and charge 007 to discover what the richest man in England is doing with the vast quantities of gold he has acquired - and what his connection is with SMERSH, the Soviet spy-killing organization. Up against Goldfinger and his henchman Oddjob - a bowler-hatted thug with a Black Belt in Karate - Bond soon finds that this criminal genius’s schemes are greater, and more lethal, than anyone could have imagined...'
Goldfinger was the seventh James Bond novel to be written by Ian Fleming and was first published in 1959. The book is split into three sections each with several chapters and my paperback copy is 222 pages long. The plot of Goldfinger begins with Bond on his way back from a mission in Mexico. Bond is recognized by Junius Du Pont who he met previously at Royale-les-Eaux. Du pont is being cheated at cards by millionaire Auric Goldfinger and Bond rumbles Goldfinger's scheme and makes him confess before heading for New York with Jill Masterson - the young woman who helped Goldfinger to cheat. A week later though, Bond is asked to see M who tells 007 he is required to investigate a gold-smuggling case. The Bank of England suspect none other than Auric Goldfinger is behind a large quantity of gold going out of the market and M believes that the mysterious millionaire could be acting on behalf of SMERSH...
With locations as varied as London, Miami, New York, Switzerland, Kentucky and, of course, Fort Knox, Goldfinger is an inventive and interesting addition to the Bond series of books although perhaps not the very best example of Ian Fleming's work. One minor problem with the book is that the film version of Goldfinger is so iconic. Those who have seen the film but not read this (which, let's be honest is probably most people) might be slightly disappointed by the novel which was of course given a stylish and more exciting cinematic tweak for the big screen. A couple of iconic moments from the film are absent here and Goldfinger's grand scheme makes less sense here than the somewhat different - but more inventive - one they gave him in Guy Hamilton's 1964 film. In some ways the writers actually improved Goldfinger's plot for the big screen.
The book is still a lot of fun though and gives Bond two memorable adversaries in Goldfinger and his personal bodyguard/manservant - Oddjob. Bond's initial encounter with Goldfinger at the start of the book is an amusing sequence and sets up the battle of wits that will play out between the two men over the course of the story. There are perhaps some plot-holes and coincidences along the way but then this is a James Bond novel and not Dostoevsky. Fleming's usual careful descriptions of places Bond stays in and the various locales bring you into the story and the function of gold in the currency markets and the economies of nations is interesting to read about although presumably somewhat dated today. You can tell the author did his research and Goldfinger's obsession with gold is stranger and more of a fetish here than in the film. 

Fleming's style is very accessible and always entertaining with a good example of this the golf duel between Bond and Goldfinger at 'Royal St Mark's' near Sandwich - and it is quite charming by the way to read of Bond's customised Aston Martin DBIII speeding through Kent locations such as Herne Bay and Rochester. The golf game takes up quite a few pages - more than most authors could get away with to be honest - and yet, as someone who has practically no interest in golf whatsover I still found it an amusing and mildly gripping set-piece as Goldfinger attempts to cheat more than once - "As soon as Bond had hit the shot he knew it wouldn't do. The difference between a good golf shot and a bad one is the same as the difference between a beautiful and a plain woman - a matter of millimeters."
The book tries to get inside Bond's head a little more and presents his thinking more than some other books in the series. At times this gives Goldfinger more of a detective novel feel as we are allowed to read Bond's thoughts although it doesn't always seem natural. One slight problem with the book is that the pacing is perhaps a tad slow up until the third act. Goldfinger's ultimate caper and the climax of the book is a lot of fun though with a chemical weapon and some of America's most notorious gangsters not to mention the high-cheekboned and vivacious Pussy Galore, one of the most memorable of Fleming's Bond girls. Goldfinger himself is a short man with a round head, carrot hair and a bulky body. He carries a million dollars in gold around with him and gets his kicks by painting women with gold paint - leaving a small bare patch for the skin to breathe. "Keep away from Mr. Auric Goldfinger," Bond is warned. "He is a most powerful man. If he wished to crush you, he would only have to roll over in his sleep to do so." Goldfinger has a real air of menace at times and is aided by his Korean karate trained bodyguard Oddjob who who uses his steel-enforced bowler hat like a lethal sort of boomerang. "I was very impressed by that chauffer of yours," says Bond. "Where did he learn that fantastic combat stuff? Where did it come from? Is that what the Koreans use?" Goldfinger has some enjoyable 'Bond villain speeches' in the book.
As always, it's fun to learn more about Bond with each book. Among the titbits we pick up here is that Bond - surprisingly for such a British icon - dislikes tea ("Mud") and also killing - "It was part of his profession to kill people. He had never liked doing it and when he had to kill he did it as well as he knew how and forgot about it. As a secret agent who held the rare double-O prefix - the licence to kill in the Secret Service - it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon. If it happened, it happened. Regret was unprofessional - worse, it was death-watch beetle in the soul." Bond also dislikes short people for some reason! "It was the short men that had caused all the trouble in the world." Some of Fleming's Bond musings - on gay people for example - are rather dated elsewhere it has to be said.
Overall, Goldfinger is an enjoyable and very readable addition to the Bond series although not quite classic Fleming. The pacing is rather slow at times but there is much to enjoy nonetheless. A solid spy thriller with great villains and some nice set-pieces.
- Jake

c 2009 Alternative 007