Thunderball ★★★★☆

Ian Fleming

Genre(s) | Espionage, Thriller, Adventure
Goodreads Rating | 3.8
Humpo Show Rating | 4.0
Published: 1961, my edition is from 2012
Publisher: Vintage Classics

Thunderball James Bond

A group comprising of individuals from the world’s greatest criminal and subversive organizations, headed by Ernst Stavro Blofeld, have masterminded a plot to hold the western powers to ransom. They have stolen two NATO atom bombs and have demanded £100,000,000 in gold, and if their demands are not met within seven days, an undesignated major city will be subject to the full force of the bombs, Bond must unravel the group’s intricate and perfectly laid plans and prevent a global catastrophe.

Based on a calculated hunch, M assigns Bond to the Bahamas to search for sign of the hijacked British aircraft carrying the atomic weapons. The organization Bond attempts to hunt down call themselves The Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion (S.P.E.C.T.R.E.), who announce themselves in a letter with their monetary demands to the British Prime Minister and the American President. They come across as ruthless, clinical and true to their word – Britain and the US make use of every intelligence agent and reach to search for the missing plane.

Bond’s tracks down S.P.E.C.T.R.E operative Emilio Largo, via his mistress, Domino Vitali. She is another in the line of the strong Bond girls that have appeared in the recent books, although there is some old school misogyny – it is important to keep in mind that Bond was a product of the times. Domino’s personality, physical ability and beauty is used well by Fleming and she comes across as a capable woman who doesn’t need to be saved, although Bond tries his best to think of her as someone that needs saving.

Fleming describes the Nassau environment and the sea in an engaging way that doesn’t detract from the plot. The backdrop is Bond-esque and it is clear from Fleming’s writing that he enjoys locating his stories in the tropical climates he is used to. But the area of Fleming’s writing that came to the fore in Thunderball is the fight scenes. They are an intrinsic part of the films, and I have been slightly surprised by the lack of them in the Bond novels so far, but in this novel the fights are excellent and easy to follow, even when taking place underwater.

Set in an era of Cold War paranoia, Thunderball is one of my favourite Bond novels of the nine that I have read so far, with a plot that is interesting and clear. Along with Goldfinger, this novel has a well-balanced mix of the espionage elements. Bond’s uncertainty about his hunches and his intelligence gathering, which is mostly guesswork, help to propel the simple plot to a satisfying conclusion.

The Humpo Show | Richard

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