Goldfinger - Audio Book Review
goldfinger james bond audiobook

"Keep away from Mr Auric Goldfinger. 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!" An audio version of the 1959 Ian Fleming novel Goldfinger read by Simon Vance. James Bond has been in Mexico but not for a holiday and to see what he looks like in a sombrero. He was there to infiltrate and break up a very nasty heroin ring and did this with flying colours of course because he's James Bond. If there is one man you can always rely on to foil nefarious fiendishly brilliant schemes and put crooks out of business then it's James Bond 007 - part of the elite double-O section at MI6 and armed with a licence to kill.
Mission accomplished and our dashing but flawed hero stops off in sun hazed Miami where he books himself into an opulent hotel by the beach and takes a well earned rest. A chance meeting with old friend Junius Du Pont (from Casino Royale) though has Bond matching wits for the first time with the supervillain of the story - enigmatic gazillionaire Auric Goldfinger, the richest man in Britain. Goldfinger is cheating Du Pont at Canasta, a most unusual activity for one so outrageously wealthy but then Goldfinger doesn't like to lose at anything and is a man used to always getting his own way.
Bond, who lest we forget is the "greatest card player in the service" and famously saw off Le Chiffre at the gaming tables of Royale-les-Eaux, investigates and easily unravels Goldfinger's card scam, making him look very foolish in the process. This is just the beginning of the Goldfinger v 007 game and the stakes are going to get considerably higher. Back in London, Bond is informed by his boss M that incredible quantities of gold are vanishing from the market and they suspect Goldfinger is responsible. The economy of Great Britain will be affected and this matter must be investigated. It will soon transpire that Goldfinger has an ingenious and incredible criminal scheme involving Fort Knox planned and James Bond will have to draw on all of his resourcefulness and experience to stop him.
This version is the story is unabridged unlike the Rufus Sewell audio adaption and so longer in length but then - to play Devil's Advocate - Fleming wasn't always the most concise and economical author ever to bash away at a typewriter and not every single word is completely essential. Fleming is the spirit of pulp and created one of the greatest and most enduring fictional characters of all to provide an enjoyably anachronistic (even then) window into an ever changing word through the prism of what he considered to be glamorous. Good food, the best drink, swanky hotels, beautiful woman, lavish locations around the world.
Fleming was prone to becoming pedantic in his books as if he was copying from an encyclopedia (gold gets the pedantic Fleming treatment here - its fluctuations in price, worth etc) but he was fantastic at taking the reader to far off places and serving up enjoyable nonsense with his trademark sex and sadism. Goldfinger is far from his greatest work but it does have great characters. Auric Goldfinger is a memorable nemesis and another in his line of grotesque foreign villains. Goldfinger takes a million dollars in gold around with him (that must be heavy!) and has a particular kink that involves painting women in gold paint - of course leaving one bare patch so the skin can breathe.
I'd imagine that if there was a Mrs Goldfinger she would get tired of that very quickly. Can't we just listen to the radio tonight and have some dinner Auric? How about a nice game of Monopoly? Does it always have to be the gold paint shenanigans? Oddjob, Goldfinger's karate chopping Korean henchman, is great too - made more famous of course by the film with Sean Connery. He has a steel enforced bowler hat he flings at you like a frisbee and Bond is most impressed by his martial arts skills. And, of course, Pussy Galore, one of the great Fleming women. She works for Goldfinger and is a pilot. She's Bond's equal in many ways and super sassy.
The books are dated of course and would be considered racist today in parts but then they were written a long time ago when many terms and attitudes we consider defunct and unacceptable today were still prevalent and in widespread use. Here, for example, there are eccentric passages about both gay and short people! Simon Vance takes a bit of adjusting to because he has a vague local radio DJ aura but this soon dissipates as you settle into the story. After a while you stop expecting him to do a "fact for the day" and put a Simply Red song on. You are better off reading the book but this isn't a bad companion to a dull train journey where the endless robotic tannoy announcements often make reading impossible. I for one would much rather listen to this than that full cast Radio 4 adaptation of Goldfinger with Toby Stephens as Bond. Music cues are at a minimum here but a languid atmosphere is conveyed at times with a few simple background effects.
My attention did drift somewhere along the line because I'm already super familiar with this gold encrusted yarn but I did enjoy it to a degree and was reminded of the salient nuggets of Bond folklore that lace the story. Bond dislikes tea (not very British of him!) and Fleming makes it clear that Bond dislikes 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."
One thing Fleming does do here - and it's a remarkable feat - is make golf interesting. I've played golf once in my life at Leeds Castle in Kent. I got bored after three holes and nearly killed a Japanese tourist with the only clean hit I managed all afternoon. I really have no interest in golf at all but the golf match (for a wager of course) between Bond and Goldfinger is amusing and well crafted. "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 millimetres." The Kent locations are charming for me because I know many of the towns mentioned.
This is competently read on the whole and Fleming's story still entertains and comes to life in vivid fashion in its best moments. The only real drawback to Fleming's Goldfinger I think is that the film version is so famous and in many ways better. They altered Goldfinger's Fort Knox caper to make it even more ingenious in the cinema and you tend to miss that element when you read or listen to the original story. I don't think I'll be digging this out again in a hurry but if you aren't as familiar with Goldfinger and need want something to listen to on a dull journey or long walk then I think you should enjoy this.
- Jake

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