Ian Fleming's Octopussy and The Living Daylights

'For James Bond, British secret agent 007, international espionage can be a dirty business. Whether it is tracking down a wayward Major who has taken a deadly secret with him to the Caribbean; identifying a top Russian agent secretly bidding for a Fabergé egg in a Sotheby’s auction room; or ruthlessly gunning down an unlikely assassin in sniper’s alley between East and West Berlin, Bond always closes the case - with extreme prejudice.'

Octopussy and The Living Daylights is the fourteenth and final James Bond book by Ian Fleming and was published posthumously in 1966. There are four stories in this slim volume - two of which were added in later additions. The first story is called Octopussy. A murder victim called Hans Oberhauser is found frozen in an Austrian glacier and James Bond is sent to Jamaica to talk to the last man to see the victim before his death. This just happens to be a certain Major Dexter Smythe. Bond is personally involved in the case as Oberhauser was a mentor to him in his younger days after the death of his parents. 'It just happened that Oberhauser was a friend of mine. He taught me to ski before the war, when I was in my teens. He was a wonderful man. He was something of a father to me at a time when I happened to need one.'

Bond suspects Smythe had something to do with the murder but Smythe is also a former Royal Marine with a distinguished service record. Can 007 get to the truth of what happened all those years ago? Octopussy is a modestly interesting story with a plot involving a cache of Nazi gold and some typically Flemingesque descriptions of rare fish and undersea creatures. 'The octopus explored his right hand with its buccal orifice... ' The main problem with Octopussy though is that Bond is rather incidental to the story and only appears briefly, the story told by Dexter Smythe as a flashback. This doesn't bear much resemblance to the 1983 Roger Moore film save for Dexter Smythe having a pet 'Octopussy' and his story and fate becoming that of Octopussy's father in the film. There are a few good flourishes here though even if this isn't terribly inspiring.

The second story is called The Property of a Lady. A communications clerk with British Intelligence called Maria Freudenstein is a double agent working for the Soviets. M has been on to Freudenstein for ages though and feeds her false information but he is curious to see what her reward from the Russians will be as she doesn't seem to have much in the bank beyond her clerk's salary. When Freudenstein suspiciously 'inherits' a Fabergé egg to auction at Sotheby's, Bond points out that a major KGB figure will have to be secretly present to bid for it and therefore push the price up to cover her services to them. Bond duly attends the auction to look for the KGB representative. A decent story but nothing special, The Property of a Lady was incorporated into the previously mentioned 1983 Roger Moore film Octopussy where Moore's Bond visited Sotheby's to observe the bidding for a Fabergé egg. This isn't bad but like the first story Octopussy is hardly essential.

The third story is called The Living Daylights. A British agent known as '272' is heading back to the West through Berlin and the Soviets are sending their top assassin - codenamed 'Trigger' - to shoot him as he makes his way across no-man's land. M sends James Bond to kill the KGB assassin and 007 hunkers down in a safe house with his sniper rifle waiting for a shot at his target, watching what appears to be a female orchestra go in and out of the building he is keeping watch on. The Living Daylights is an interesting story and the strongest one here. It revolves around Bond's distaste for killing - despite it often being his job. This story was incorporated into the beginning of the 1987 Timothy Dalton film of the same name in (for the film series) faithful fashion and presents us with a more weary, tired Bond who is questioning his profession and the things he has to do in the name of Queen and Country. There is a decent twist here when the target is revealed and the main drama comes from Bond's reaction to what he has been asked to do.

The final short story is called 007 in New York and is by far the shortest of the four on offer here. The story first appeared in US editions of Fleming's non-fiction book Thrilling Cities which collected some travel pieces he had written for the Sunday Times. In this story James Bond is sent to New York to tell a former MI6 secretary that the man she lives with is a KGB agent. This secret trip by 007 is a courtesy afforded to her by M for loyal service in the past. Bond arranges to meet her at Central Park Zoo and thinks about a woman called Solange who he will also see later. 007 in New York is a mildly interesting trifle that consists of Bond's general musings about New York and also a lot about food and where he will go to eat. Martinis at the Plaza and dinner at Grand Central's Oyster Bar etc. This story is most enjoyable perhaps for including Bond's theory on perfect scrambled eggs.

'Break the eggs into a bowl. Beat thoroughly with a fork and season well. In a small copper (or heavy bottomed saucepan) melt four oz. of the butter. When melted, pour in the eggs and cook over a very low heat, whisking continuously with a small egg whisk. While the eggs are slightly more moist than you would wish for eating, remove the pan from heat, add rest of butter and continue whisking for half a minute, adding the while finely chopped chives or fines herbes. Serve on hot buttered toast in individual copper dishes (for appearance only) with pink champagne (Taittinger) and low music.'
Octopussy and The Living Daylights is not a tremendously memorable collection of stories and far from the best example of Ian Fleming's work. The Living Daylights is a solid entry though and there is just enough to keep Bond fans relatively entertained. Not bad but the For Your Eyes Only short story collection was undoubtedly stronger.

- Jake


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