Moonraker - Audio Book Review
'There must be no regrets. No false
sentiment. He must play the role which she expected of him. The Secret
Agent. The man who was only a silhouette...' An unabridged Bond
audiobook from 2009 read by Simon Vance - this time Moonraker.
Moonraker was the third entry in the series by Ian Fleming and
originally published in 1955. Moonraker is one my favourite James Bond
books and pits 007 against the enigmatic Sir Hugo Drax. Drax is a
millionaire genius and the head of Britain's new nuclear rocket
programme - named 'Moonraker' of course.
is foreign but apparently doing this as a great favour to his adopted
country. His complex rocket systems will be vital to Britain's national
defence but only he can control them. However, when M begins to suspect
that Drax is cheating at cards at his exclusive club Blades, he
privately asks Bond to go there one night and find out if his
suspicions are correct. Card shark and general know-it-all 007 engages
in a memorable game with Drax and discovers that he is indeed cheating.
stock goes down a few more percentage points when a government security
officer who had been working at the Moonraker project is murdered. M
decides there is only one thing for it. James Bond will be assigned to
the Moonraker project base on the Kent coast (Romney Marsh) as the
replacement security officer and keep a close eye on Drax as the
countdown to launch draws ever nearer...
more familiar with the Rufus Sewell Bond audio books than Simon Vance
narrated ones but this is pleasantly in much the same vein - fairly
unobtrusive and not too gimmicky. This is unabridged and although Ian
Fleming always has a few bits that can be excised without ruining the
story it is nice to know you are getting the whole thing I suppose.
Vance has quite a deep and somewhat plummy voice that works very well
at times here and on the whole I had no major problem with him. My one
quibble would be that (and I believe he started life on BBC radio) he
does teeter on the brink of having a local radio DJ quality at times
but just manages to hold this back and ladle in enough posh generic
voiceover tones to prevent it from becoming a major issue.
charm of Moonraker (which is of course completely different from the
Roger Moore film) lies in a number of things - most notably the game of
cards between Bond and Drax at Blades (this being the sort of thing
that Fleming could do very stylishly and effortlessly in his sleep) and
the Kent locations with Bond speeding through a number of towns in his
Bentley. The card game set-piece is excellent here. Fleming was
something of an expert when it came to gentlemen's clubs, card games,
good food and fine wines, and creates a very vivid and authentic
atmosphere for the showdown at Blades. He takes his time, building
tension and describing each thought that Bond has. Card game set-pieces
don't always work terribly well in Bond films because they seem rather
low-key but the ones in the books are much richer and more enjoyable.
preparation for the game is a memorable passage too in the story.
'"Benzedrine," said James Bond. "It's what I shall need if I'm going to
keep my wits about me tonight. It's apt to make one a bit
overconfident, but that'll help too." He stirred the champagne so that
the white powder whirled among the bubbles. Then he drank the mixture
down with one long swallow. "It doesn't taste," said Bond, "and the
champagne is quite excellent."'
a shame really that Moonraker couldn't have been brought to the screen
in a more faithful fashion at some point or other as it's a wonderfully
atmospheric and enjoyable thriller at its best. Some names and elements
of the story were lifted for the 2002 film Die Another Day but we
should probably draw a veil over that. I find Bond books often work
best when Bond has to do some detective work and the story is really
good here when he moves to Drax's Moonraker base and begins nosing
around to see what he can find out. You could argue that the general
story in Moonraker, though obviously very dated in places, is strangely
topical. The presence of a Chinese company in Britain's communications
(and by implication intelligence) system was so controversial recently
the government had to change their policy and remove Huawei from
British 5G networks.
This is an
early entry in the series and Fleming was still fleshing Bond out
slightly. He tells us here that Bond is 37 and has a flat on the King's
Road. He visits a shooting range for practice and agents in his section
are retired at 45. Bond though does not expect to live that long. The
romantic interest for our hero here is supplied by Gala Brand, a
policewoman working undercover as Drax's secretary. Gala (her father,
we learn, named her after a ship!) is quite an interesting character
and is very committed to her job and rather cold and aloof towards Bond
- who, to his surprise, finds her much more 'seductive' than her file
had let him to believe. The 'swell' of her, er, chest, is 'as splendid
as Bond had guessed from the measurements on her record sheet'. There
is a nice passage here where Gala and Bond visit the beach at night and
go for an impromptu swim.
also pestered by the advances of Drax and wears a ring on her finger so
she can pretend she is engaged to someone. We hear some of her thoughts
about Bond too to sketch him out more. Bond himself is a tough
character but has a playful sense of humour and is (as expected)
fastidious about food and his clothes in the book. 'Ten minutes later,
in a heavy white silk shirt, dark blue trousers of Navy serge, dark
blue socks, and well-polished black moccasin shoes, he was sitting at
his desk with a pack of cards in one hand and Scarne's wonderful guide
to cheating open in front of him. He went into his bedroom, put on a
black knitted silk tie and his coat and verified that his cheque book
was in his notecase. He stood for a moment, thinking. Then he selected
two white silk handkerchiefs, carefully rumpled them, and put one into
each side-pocket of his coat.'
anyone ever attempted to make a period Bond film or miniseries I could
think of worse places to start than Moonraker. The story is always very
interesting with plenty of trademark Ian Fleming flourishes and
obsessions. This is a decent enough audio book on the whole and
unabridged too. I think I slightly prefer Sewell to Vance but Vance
does a good enough job here. The last time I checked this Moonraker
audio book was available to buy for next to nothing.