From Russia with Love - Audio Book Review

from russia with love book
'James Bond is a marked man. SMERSH - the Russian organisation dedicated to wiping out foreign spies - has targeted him for elimination. Fiendish Colonel Rosa Klebb and her top assassin lay a sting for Bond in Istanbul - and they have the perfect bait in the irresistible Tatiana Romanova, whose orders are to seduce 007 and leave the rest to her superiors. But when the trap is sprung, Bond and Tatiana become pawns in a deadly game of cross and double-cross...'
An abridged audio version of From Russia with Love from 2002 read by the actor Rufus Sewell. From Russia with Love was the fifth James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming and published in 1957. It's generally regarded to be one of the best James Bond books and finds Fleming on good form. The basic synopsis has the Russians coming up with a cunning plan to eliminate James Bond with the use of beautiful agent Tatiana Romanova. She is duped into posing as a cipher clerk who wants to defect with a code machine (the SPEKTOR) and Bond, as usual, is chosen for the mission.
Bond is sent by MI6 to make contact with her and see if she really does have a secret code machine to hand over. The dastardly intention of the Russians though is to film Bond and Tatiana in a compromising position with a hidden camera and then have SMERSH assassin Donovan 'Red' Grant do away with both of them. The tape will then be released with the story that a crazed Bond killed Tatiana and then himself after some sordid affair.
From Russia with Love is Ian Fleming at the top of his game and he manages to produce a tight and exciting story that is not as fantastical or far out as some of his other works but still just as much fun. It's slightly experimental too (although not to the extent that The Spy Who Loved Me was) in the way that Bond is absent at the start. The first part of the story focuses on SMERSH plotting to do away with Bond and stage a dramatic blow against their western intelligence rivals. It's quite an effective idea to be taken into the shadowy world of Bond's Cold War rivals as they plot to bump off no lesser figure than 007 himself. Bond is a big nuisance to the Russians and has become very famous in their spy circles.
The abridged format here doesn't feel like a tremendous drawback - although there are (generally) less unnecessary diversions and tangents from Fleming in From Russia with Love (Fleming was a writer who occasionally read like he was copying something from an encyclopedia). The novel inevitably contains a few lines that are rather dated. Bond threatening to put a woman over his knee and spank her and another line about homosexuals being a big security risk! I don't know if I dozed off at some some point but I don't recall either being present here.
The narrator is Rufus Sewell and I find him quite agreeable. He keeps things rather simple but does a good job in conveying different characters without ever sounding like he's in a studio doing a load of silly voices like Peter Sellers or something. It seems like Sewell and Simon Vance picked up the Lion's share of the Bond audio book racket between them and I think I'd give Sewell the edge. Vance is fine but he does sometimes sound slightly like he'd be perfectly at home torturing people with Maroon 5 songs on some chronic local radio station. 
I like the simplicity of these adaptations too. Full cast audio pieces can be great but they can sometimes be slightly irritating too with people talking over each other and actors having a bun fight to steal the show. I tend to prefer a more intimate approach to these things at times.
A great strength of the story here is that Fleming created some very memorable characters. Red Grant is one of the most chilling adversaries in the entire series ('He was the Chief Executioner of SMERSH. The murder apparat...') and Tatiana (described as looking rather like Garbo with her shortish hair) continues Fleming's obsession with somewhat gamine women. 'A good, soft, pale skin with an ivory sheen at the cheekbones.' Darko Kerim, the SIS Station Head in Turkey, is another great Fleming creation here.
One other thing I should mention is that you are starting to learn more about Bond by this stage in the series and I always quite enjoy these insights. Bond joined the Secret Service in 1938. He only reads The Times and likes posh Honey and Marmalade with his breakfast. From Russia with Love gives us the following profile; 'Name: Bond, James. Height: 183 cm, weight: 76 kg; slim build; eyes: blue; hair: black; scar down right cheek & on left shoulder; all-round athlete; expert pistol shot, boxer, knife-thrower; does not use disguises. Languages: French and German. Smokes heavily (NB: special cigarettes with three gold bands); vices: drink, but not to excess, and women.' This is a decent enough Bond audio adaptation on the whole and quite pleasant to have to hand on a long dull train journey.
- Jake


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