Fiction: “Codename Villanelle” by Luke Jennings

Codename Villanelle

This is the book that Killing Eve is based on. And no, I have not yet watched Killing Eve – although I suppose I should, considering a) both Eve and Villanelle’s actresses have won Emmys for their work and b) Killing Eve is written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who also wrote and stars in Fleabag, who c) won the Best Actress in a Comedy Emmy out from under the great Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for the latter’s final season of Veep.

There’s a lot of layers there. But the important thing to remember is that I have not yet watched Killing Eve because I am too busy keeping up with Riverdale and Dynasty and I HAVE NO REGRETS, because those shows are MAGIC

Anyway.

Villanelle is a codename for Oxana Vorontsova, an assassin of Russian descent. She went through a training somewhere in between that of Natasha Romanoff/The Black Widow and Elizabeth Jennings from The Americans, and is the right kind of sociopath to truly enjoy being a hired assassin. At this time of the narrative, Villanelle lives in Paris and receives her jobs via Konstantin, her handler.

One job she takes brings her to London – she is successful in killing this Russian named Kedrin, who was a guest speaker at, let’s say, a university. But Eve – an MI-5 agent who was tasked with handling security for the Kedrin event – thought there would be a true threat a little too late and managed to give Villanelle her opportunity.

The book doesn’t really have a linear plot – it felt like we focused on Villanelle and her backstory and origin, and how those circumstances formed her into the superior assassin she is now. We also see Eve with her husband, Niko – bridge night, discussing their attempts to have a baby to expand their family, and as Eve’s obsession with finding Villanelle intrudes into their life, their arguments.

After Eve is placed on indeterminate leave following Kedrin’s assassination, she (and her MI-5 partner, Simon) is tapped to join the super-secret Russia bureau of MI-6, and given the task of locating Villanelle and bringing her to justice.

Eve learns that there’s a potential target for Villanelle in Shanghai, so off to China they go. Spoiler alert!: Villanelle is able to take care of her target and evade Eve once more, but: Simon is killed.

Simon has a romantic interlude with Janie, who was actually hired by Konstantin and Villanelle to seduce Simon, steal his phone, and then kill him. Unfortunately for Simon, Janie succeeds and Simon dies. Therefore, “Bury Me,” off of Guster’s second album Goldfly, is this book’s entry in the Guster Reading Challenge, “Read a book in which a character dies”.

I don’t believe that Eve and Villanelle ever interact in this book. (I may be wrong, but it seems like they don’t.) Which is probably why the book is not called Killing Eve. At the end of this book, Villanelle has met up with a former co-assassin-student, Lara, and the two of them are working together to try and rescue Konstantin from … I don’t know, let’s say Siberia, that sounds like something Russia’d do. They get Konstantin out, but then they kill him – which, according to Lara, was the plan: if Villanelle had not attempted to kill Konstantin, Lara’s plan was to kill Villanelle in addition to Konstantin.

Oy.

So Eve is back at MI-6, tracking Villanelle, and Villanelle is back in Paris, waiting for her next job. (Either she found a new handler or she’s made it known that she’s for hire on her own, I can’t remember – but whatever.)

I was not left with much of an impression of the book. It was short – maybe only six chapters? It felt more like a long novella than a novel, but I’m probably being picky about it. Having said that, the only reason it should be longer is if there was to be a resolution between Eve and Villanelle – and as there wasn’t, then the length is fine. There wasn’t too much lag in parts – at worst, there may have been parts that I wasn’t interested in learning about (like Villanelle’s terrible childhood), but it’s not like the author rambled about nothing for entire chapters on end. And even the childhood stuff – my disinterest stems from the things I like to read – Villanelle’s childhood absolutely informs her present adulthood and assassin-hood, so it’s not extraneous information.

I dunno – I guess I wish the book had the same sort of buzz as the TV show? I’ll let you know after I watch the TV show.

Grade for Codename Villanelle: 1.5 stars

Fiction: “Casino Royale” by Ian Fleming (again)

Casino RoyaleOkay, so – last December, I read an article in the Washington Post entitled, “Shaken not slurred: James Bond had a ‘severe chronic alcohol problem,’ public health experts say.”

My first response was, “no shit.”

(Look, I have a lot of feelings about James Bond. Hashtag #IhavealotoffeelingaboutJamesBondokay. But I do not let those feelings cloud the fact that seriously, Bond should not be alive in a whole lot of ways, least of all his penchant for alcohol abuse.)

But as I kept reading the article, I ended up having questions. For instance:

[In] two dozen movies over the past six decades, Bond — James Bond — was seen sipping on alcohol precisely 109 times, according to a new study published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Public health experts at the University of Otago in New Zealand analyzed Bond films from 1962 to 2015 to better understand his patterns of alcohol use.

Apparently, they only analyzed the movies? So, okay … but again, when they say something like

In one film, “Quantum of Solace,” Bond consumed at least six Vespers, his concoction consisting of gin, vodka and a blend of wines called Kina Lillet. That amount of alcohol, according to the researchers, would have raised Bond’s blood alcohol level to an estimated 0.36 grams per deciliter — almost high enough to cause a coma, heart failure or even death.

FIRST OF ALL, I have only sat through Quantum of Solace once. I remember there was a plane that went down in the desert, and then something blew up, and also an opera happened, but I totally believe that Bond drank six Vespers, because Quantum took place almost immediately after Casino Royale, in which VESPER LYND DIED, and Bond actually really liked Vesper? So he’s SAD GUYS, and he’s a drinker ANYWAY, so OF COURSE he’d go a little overboard. But second-of-all (because I cannot remember Quantum), were those over the course of the movie? Or was it six drinks in the span of a scene? I HAVE QUESTIONS

And basically, what I decided to do, was reread all the Bond books I’ve read so far – which yes, I have now read Casino Royale three times since the inception of this blog – and keep count of all the drinks Bond has.

But THEN, I’m starting to write this review and actually found THE STUDY online and had some of my questions answered!

When Bond was seen drinking (the glass or bottle reaching his lips), this was deemed an “observed alcohol use event”. If the alcohol brand or bottle label was not visible, we assessed the beverage as being alcohol on the balance of probabilities. We classified other events as “alcohol use assumed” if actual drinking was not observed but alcohol was on the table in front of Bond and it was likely he had consumed some in that setting. In contrast, we did not assume that alcohol was consumed by Bond if alcohol was present but he was in a dangerous situation (e.g., when his drink could be spiked).

WTF.gif

Okay so wait.

Basically what this means is, if it looks like Bond is drinking a clear liquid at a restaurant, they assume that the liquid is alcohol when the label isn’t visible?

And any time Bond drinks, it counts as a full event?

So, the scene in Casino Royale, where Bond orders the Vesper, then leaves the poker table to go to the bar to pick up the drink, and he has a single sip, pronounces it excellent, then gives the drink to Vesper so he can return to the table – that one single sip counts as a full event?!

You must be joking.gif

And look, when you read Ian Fleming’s novels? He was meticulous about explaining everything, right down to what Bond eats and drinks in each day. For example:

In Chapter 8 (which I noted as Day Two of the Casino Royale caper), Bond and Vesper have the following for dinner:

  • A carafe of vodka (to share)
  • A bottle Blanc de Blanc Brut ’43 Champagne (to share)
  • Caviar
  • Tournedos
  • Bearnaise sauce
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Avocado pear w/French dressing

When you’re eating at the same time as drinking, your buzz is dulled! So either way, it’s not as bad as the study makes it out to be! And you KNOW that dinner took a full two hours to finish!

After having read Casino Royale again, taking notes during each chapter of what food and drink passes through Bond’s lips, and then trying to watch Casino Royale again to take the same kind of notes (it was late, I was falling asleep, there was a cat in my lap who wasn’t interested), I can only determine that THE STUDY WAS FLAWED.

Deal with it.gif

Fiction: “Moonraker” by Ian Fleming

moonrakerOooohhhh it is 10:50 and I should really go to bed but I can type this up real quick because I don’t have a lot to say.

I picked up Moonraker almost a year ago because deep down, I still have a cockamamie plan to someday write a scholarly thesis about James Bond. But winter and (slight) depression set in back in January (when I finished reading this), and then my book blog backlog got stupid, and then earlier last week I went to pick up this book again so I could actually write the review and get moving on my backlog and I couldn’t find the book, and long story short, I found it, and now I realize I only have a couple of things to say about it.

Which is fine – sometimes I think I’m too damn long-winded on this thing.

This is the second time I’ve read this book, and the good news for you, Dear Reader, is that the first time I read it I actually did a sorta okay job reviewing it. No, really! I talked about Bond’s relationship with Gala Brand and how it wasn’t completely misogynist, and how Moonraker actually showed Bond’s personal life, and other things!

ALSO: that review mentioned a soon-to-be-happening tie-in to Movies Alaina’s Never Seen, because Alaina had Never Seen Moonraker, and guess what? It actually happened.

Behold, 2013: A Year Where Alaina Didn’t Completely Suck At Blogging.

Please, by all means, go read my “review”-slash-liveblog of Moonraker: The Movie. It is, to date, one of my most favorite things I’ve ever written. You’ll meet such characters as: the Illiterate Braless Pilot! The Venetian Ninja! The Braless Mute Orchid Whisperer! It’s great! Don’t forget your vodka.

So with all of that, there’s only one other thing I want to say about Moonraker, and it’s about the villain, Hugo Drax.

He’s a fucking Nazi.

I’m not making that up, and I’m not being hyperbolic. The book was first published in 1955. Ian Fleming was an operative that infiltrated Germany in hopes of gathering intelligence. James Bond and his exploits were modeled, in part, on some of Fleming’s missions. Nazis were fucking real, is what I’m saying.

I’m also saying Nazis are still fucking real and anyone daring to wear a swastika in public shouldn’t be surprised when they get punched in the face, but that’s another story for another blog post.

ANYWAY. Drax’s backstory in the book is that he was shelled and when he woke up in a hospital, he pretended to have amnesia. The British identified him as Hugo Drax, and he returned to England and made a whole lot of money and enjoyed great success in engineering, to the point where Drax was awarded the contract for the Moonraker missiles, designed to defend Britain from attack. Except Drax actually plotted Moonraker’s collision course for central London, and his plan would have worked if it wasn’t for those meddling spies, Bond and Gala Brand.

But, true to any type of villain, Drax enjoys monologuing to Bond, and explains that his whole plot boils down to mere revenge:

“[My plans] consisted quite simply of revenge on England for what she had done to me and to my country. It gradually became an obsession. I admit it. Every day during the year of the rape and destruction of my country, my hatred and scorn for the English grew more bitter.” The veins on Drax’s face started to swell and suddenly he pounded on the desk and shouted across at them, looking with bulging eyes from one to the other. “I loath and despise you all. You swine! Useless, idle, decadent fools, hiding behind your bloody white cliffs while other people fight your battles. Too weak to defend your colonies, toadying to America with your hats in your hands. Stinking snobs who’ll do anything for money. Hah!” [p. 208]

So, picture it: I started reading this in late November, early December. I finished reading it when I returned home from my Las Vegas trip. I finished reading it after the inauguration.

And at that time – after the inauguration -, I read Drax ask Bond:

“Well. Say something. Don’t sit there like a dummy. What do you think of my story? Don’t you think it’s extraordinary, remarkable? For one man to have done all that?” [p. 210-211]

And here, my friends, is Bond’s cool response:

“It’s a remarkable case-history. Galloping paranoia. Delusions of jealousy and persecution. Megalomaniac hatred and desire for revenge. Curiously enough,” he went on conversationally, “it may have something to do with your teeth. Diastema, they call it. Comes from sucking your thumb when you’re a child. Yes, I expect that’s what the psychologists will say when they get you into the lunatic asylum. “Ogre’s teeth.” Being bullied at school and so on. Extraordinary the effect it has on a child. Then Nazism helped to fan the flames and then came the crack on your ugly head. The crack you engineered yourself. I expect that settled it. From then on you were really mad. Same sort of thing as people who think they’re God. Extraordinary what tenacity they have. Absolute fanatics. You’re almost a genius. Lombroso would have been delighted with you. As it is you’re just a mad dog that’ll have to be shot. Or else you’ll commit suicide. Paranoiacs generally do. Too bad. Sad business.”

Bond paused and put all the scorn he could summon into his voice. “And now let’s get on with this farce, you great hairy-faced lunatic.” [p. 211]

Gee. Why does that sound familiar.

hanx hmm late-show-colbert.gif

Change “teeth” to “extraordinarily tiny hands” and “bullied at school” to “Daddy didn’t love you” and doesn’t that sound like someone who thinks Nazis include some very fine people amongst their ranks?

And keep in mind:

  • Moonraker was originally published in 1955;
  • I finished reading Moonraker shortly after the inauguration.

I am not a witch. (They’re gonna need a shitload of ducks to prove that point when the Aunts come for me.)

Fiction: “Live and Let Die” by Ian Fleming

live and let dieMy Project Bond research continues apace – if by “apace” you mean “very very slowly, but at least I haven’t abandoned the project totally, so there’s that.”

Live and Let Die is the second book in the original James Bond series by Ian Fleming, and this is my second read of the book. I just reread my first review of it (handily found here), and there’s really not a whole lot I want to add to it, to be honest.

[[Holy shit, I actually did a kindof okay job reviewing a book? I can read that review and know the majority of the plot, and nothing was spoiled, and in addition, there’s also some literary criticism? Maybe I’m not completely pants at this thing like I thought maybe I was?? I’m scared too, you guys. Don’t worry, I’ll be back to being shite at this sometime next week.]]

I can say that I’ve added three movies to the list of Bond movies I’ve watched: MoonrakerSpectre, Skyfall – digression, but it’s so weird to me that my first review of this book was before Skyfall came out. I mean, that is weird. Is it weird to find something you may have written, like a journal entry, or something from a diary you wrote in years past, where when you were writing that, you had no idea what was going to happen, and then an event happens and it changes your perception of other things?

Like, when I originally reviewed Live and Let Die, my favorite Bond movie was still a tie between Goldfinger (because Goldfinger is the universally-acknowledged Best Bond Anything Ever, No, You’re Wrong, Shut Up), and Casino Royale (because reasons, namely the scene where Le Chiffre tortures Bond in the chair) (holy shit when I first reviewed Live and Let Die I did not know that Mads Mikkleson would soon rise from relative Bond Villain obscurity to the King of Cannibals, Hannibal Lecter. I didn’t know Hannibal was a thing!! That’s so weird to me right now).

[[Also, super!digression, but speaking of Hannibal, Facebook reminded me that one year ago today was when I learned of Hannibal‘s cancellation. I would like to link you to that finger-quotes “review,” because that post — along with the above-linked finger-quotes “review” of Moonraker — is easily in my top five favorite blog posts I’ve ever written. Cheers. And also, the person who left the voicemail wasn’t actually Hannibal.]]

So back then, I didn’t really have an inkling of wanting to talk about James Bond. Casino Royale was good, but it wasn’t genre-shattering or anything. But Skyfall – you know what, I’ll get into this as I write my Project Bond book, but, haters to the goddamned left, Skyfall is a fucking masterpiece.

It wasn’t until Skyfall that I saw potential in digging into Bond’s character. Sam Mendes did so much with the character – giving him even more of an emotional tie to M, his backstory with the Skyfall lodge – it intrigued me. In addition, people were all up in arms over the fact that the gadgets and Bond girls were taking a backseat that they hated the movie, and I just wanted to prove them wrong.

Then, the whole, FUCK THIS GUY over Idris Elba being “too street” to play Bond last fall, and ta-da. Project X was born.

One thing that I did notice in this re-read was the usage of death imagery. Even more than just the title, Bond and the villain, Mr. Big, both spend a couple of paragraphs each talking about their attitudes towards death. One could also argue that Mr. Big is described in a way to evoke the idea that Mr. Big is Bond’s intellectual equal. A big (sorry) deal is made over Mr. Big’s genius, and the only person who comes close to ending his criminal empire (or, spoiler alert!, who does end said empire) is James Bond.

There’s a quote from Auric Goldfinger in the movie named for him, where he describes his desire to be the best criminal in the world, and I believe the same speech could be applied to Mr. Big:

Man has climbed Mt. Everest; gone to the bottom of the ocean. He’s fired rockets at the moon, split the atom, achieved miracles in every field of human endeavor … except crime!

I look forward to delving deeper into Bond as a character. Hopefully just in time for them to realize that Gillian Anderson is the optimal choice to play James Bond.

WATCH THIS AND TELL ME I’M WRONG I FUCKING DARE YOU

give it to me NOW.gif

Fiction: “Casino Royale” by Ian Fleming

Casino RoyaleBefore Spectre was released, there were A LOT of articles on the interwebs about James Bond: whether Daniel Craig was over being Bond (yes, he so is); whether Idris Elba should be the next Bond (YES HE SHOULD), what type of man Bond actually is (which is hard to discuss, as Bond is, above all, A FICTIONAL CHARACTER), and the endless lists that attempted to correctly rank the Bond movie theme songs from best to worst, all of which were horribly incorrect.

So in the month of October, I had a lot of feels about James Bond, and for the most part, I felt I was shouting into the void. Especially with this article, which started the shouting: “Idris Elba too street to play James Bond

Reading that article led to … well … a bit of a rant.











Basically, when it comes to James Bond, I will fight you on three things:

  1. Daniel Craig is the best portrayal of James Bond I have yet to witness;
  2. Skyfall was the richest James Bond story put to celluloid, bringing in all aspects of Bond’s personality, history, and capacity for violence;
  3. “You Know My Name” is the best James Bond theme song after “Goldfinger,” because “Goldfinger” is the universally-acknowledged standard of excellence for Bond theme songs.

And if you disagree? I’m not kidding – I will fight you.

So all of these feelings led me to a realization and a resolution. The realization was that there really hasn’t been a whole lot of actual, critical discussion on James Bond the character and/or the canon of Ian Fleming novels. Well, wait – I say that there hasn’t been that level of critical discussion only because I haven’t found it yet. It’s entirely possible that some professor has written loads of treatises on the struggle Bond has to remain human while also being a brilliant mechanical assassin, or the portrayal of women in Bond novels and how that is a) indicative of attitudes towards women during the time of the novels’ writing and b) how that influenced portrayal of women during the films and c) how that attitude has become ingrained in society to this day, and they’re all just hidden away in some musty corner of a college library, and the only thing they’re accomplishing is giving their writer his tenure.

My resolution: I’m going to write that book.

There should be a book that actually tackles James Bond and some issues he brings up, that can also celebrate the fantasy Bond promotes while actually recognizing the humanity within the machine. Something that can also compare the books with their film adaptations, and call out the pieces that remain in the film while others are completely eradicated. Track the development from suave yet incredibly intelligent agent of MI-6 into a sex-crazed buffoon (why yes, Roger Moore, I am emphatically looking at you).

In order to write that book, I have to re-immerse myself into the canon. So I began at the beginning with Casino Royale and will continue to move forward throughout the thirteen novels and issues of short stories written by Ian Fleming. I will then watch the corresponding films (and probably branch out into the films that do not have their plotline or title taken from a Fleming novel or story) and analyze those, as well as compare them to their source material. There will be a definitive ranking of the Bond theme songs, wherein I will absolutely prove that “You Know My Name” is the second best Bond theme song, no really, you’re wrong, “Live and Let Die” is horrible and you should know better.

Obviously, this is going to be a massive project. I am not giving myself a due date because I don’t want to rush myself or make myself a promise that I won’t be able to keep. But I am serious about it. I’ve replaced my old, 50-cent Signet paperbacks from the 1960s with these gorgeous paperbacks I found on Amazon (I mean, I obviously still have those paperbacks; they’re just in my Classics bookcase with the other old books I have), and I bought a shit-ton of index cards. When I reorganize my office this winter, I want to put up a bulletin board so I can tack the cards up Kinsey Millhone style and help to organize my thoughts into chapters and such.

I’ll also be rereading Casino Royale, You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, and Diamonds Are Forever. So expect to see mini-reviews pop up as I go through them. I may also be doing companion pieces over on Movies Alaina’s Never Seen – but as I said I was going to complete Project X in a reasonable timeframe, again: no promises.

There really isn’t anything else I want to add to my previous review of Casino Royale here; my new paperback has all sorts of pencil marks in it, and the index cards are already broken out into categories (guys, I have four different index cards for four different types of attitudes towards women. The one where Bond is derogatory or uses violent language about women is the most filled, so – yeah, this is going to be deep).

So – stay tuned for that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shovel. Again.

Fiction: “The Intern’s Handbook” by Shane Kuhn

intern's handbookSo at this point in the fall, I’ve read, what, six books classified as either historical fiction or pulp fiction, full of femmes fatale and other assorted strong female characters, both actually strong and finger-quote “strong”? Well, if you know me like you think you know me, then you know it’s time for a VIOLENCE BREAK

will crying HANNIBAL

Actually, here’s what happened –
– I finished reading The Favored Child at work and didn’t have a backup to get me through the rest of the day. So I scoured my Want-to-Read page on Goodreads, came up with a quick list, and this title was literally (both actually and figuratively speaking) the only one that Barnes & Noble had in stock when I went there on my lunch break.

[Sidenote: the same thing happened to me today, and again, Barnes & Noble had fuckall in stock. Dear Barnes & Noble: WHERE THE FUCK DO YOU STOCK MICHAEL LEWIS?? I want to read The Big Short before I see the movie, and you apparently don’t have a “generic” non-fiction section, so, fuck off.]

[Although while I was there, FUN STORY: I was searching the history and biography section, and this family comes up and asks one of the clerks where they can find the biography of Alexander Hamilton. Yeah, the one that Lin-Manuel Miranda read that inspired the hit Broadway show. And the clerk apparently forgot that while yeah, the biographies are [[or SHOULD BE]] sorted alphabetically by last name of the subject, Alexander Hamilton is kindof a big deal right now, thanks to that same Broadway musical, and it’s probably on an end-cap somewhere.

GUYS. A biography of a FOUNDING FATHER is a BROADWAY HIP HOP HIT. I love everything about this, and I’m uber-jealous of anyone who has seen it. I WANT TO SEE THIS SO BADLY BUT I’M NOT IN NEW YORK.

Anyway, long story short, I found the book before she did because I have a tumblr and I’m a theatre nerd and apparently she didn’t know that Hamilton is only the biggest original musical on Broadway since, what? The Book of Mormon? Which I also haven’t seen?]

[Part of me is dying to know what Addison de Witt would think of Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Knowing Addison de Witt like I think I know Addison de Witt, I think Addison de Witt would be horrified at how strongly Hamilton makes him feel feelings.

“Finally, after all these years of slogging through reprehensible retreads of family fare designed to prey on our nostalgia — all glitz and glitter, with cloying melodies in keys that will burn out a soprano’s voice faster than the blowing out of a match — The Great Broadway has been a morass of shiny traps for tourists without discerning tastes.  A disheartening lack of substance has plagued our fair city and, for those like myself who live within this world we call ‘theatre,’ we have inhabited a veritable wasteland for far too long.  But no longer shall we dwell in the darkness; with Hamilton, we return to the light.”

Mr. De Witt will, however, frown upon the #Ham4Ham free performances.

“As much as I applaud the spark with which Hamilton has ignited the citizens’ desire to ‘take in’ a Broadway show, I feel the — ‘Ham for Ham’ [[ed. Mr. De Witt’s face is contorted in pain at having to write that]] performances are beneath his talent. They are merely an opiate for the fevered masses, and while I am one of those so enamored of Mr. Miranda and his charisma, I wonder whether he realizes that these free performances are eroding the intrinsic value of his mainstage show.”

So in case you haven’t figured it out by now, apparently this is going to be one of those reviews where I ramble about almost anything else that isn’t the book this is supposed to be about because SPOILER ALERT, I read this two months ago and it was rather … forgettable? Sorry, Mr. Kuhn.

Addison de Witt wouldn’t review The Intern’s Handbook.

“Violence as a metaphor for life experience has become unbearably cliché and beneath the conceit of using unpaid interns as assassins. Overly wrought and underdone.”

Okay, I’m done now. I promise.

(I also promise to watch All About Eve at some point this week.)

OKAY, SO THIS BOOK.

This book stars John Lago, an intern. Except he’s not really an intern – he’s an Intern: a member of an elite assassination squad. This shadowy organization picks up orphans from bad childhoods and trains them to be masters of espionage. When they get hired to take out  someone, they send in one of the Interns, because in a large corporate structure where no one trusts anyone on the hierarchy, no one can even remember what the intern looks like, let alone accuse the intern of anything.

This is the tale of John’s Last Job Before Retiring (at the tender age of almost 30 – cry me a river, John Lago). One of the partners of Bendini, Lambert & Locke ** is suspected of selling out protected witnesses to the highest bidder, and it’s John’s job to get close to the partners and figure out which one it is.

To get out of the intern basement, John cozies up to a paralegal in Bendini’s office, named Alice. When John learns that Alice is actually a federal agent undercover, investigating the same guy, John has a decision to make: can he finish the job and keep Alice out of it, or will he have to kill her too?

There’s also a subplot about John’s upbringing and who his parents are, and overall, the plot was kind of meh. The violence was okay, and I did really like the parts where the author explores the conceit of this novel as a handbook for new Interns: a How-To Manual, if you will. This was a fine lunch break book, but I won’t be breaking the bank to buy the sequel.

The asterisks: ** : John Lago makes a deal in the beginning of the book about throwing references to his favorite movies throughout the Handbook, because apparently he’s a big movie buff. If that’s true, then I really have a lot of catching up to do, because I think the only reference I got that wasn’t clearly spelled out was that Lago (or Mr. Kuhn, whoever) clearly stole the name of the firm where John interns from  — well, The Firm.

Look, the book was fine. It wasn’t great; it wasn’t transcendent or anything. It was a lunch break book: something to pass the time until you returned to your desk. If you like reading to pass time and Barnes & Noble has it in stock, it won’t hurt to pick it up? But maybe try your local library before plunking down actual Hamiltons for it.

Grade for The Intern’s Handbook: 2 stars
Grade for Addison DeWitt Reviews Hamilton: ∞ stars(because we all come into this world with our little egos equipped with individual horns. if we don’t blow them — who will?)

 

Fiction: “Diamonds Are Forever” by Ian Fleming

diamonds are foreverOh god – it’s finally happened.  I’ve procrastinated on reviewing a book so long, I can’t remember what it’s about. And I can’t even watch the movie to remind me, because I know it’s not going to be anything near to how the book is. Also, I’m writing this review longhand during my breaks at work, to type it up later, and my copy of the book is currently residing on my kitchen table, so I’m doubly screwed. This will be fun.

Note From the Future:
I actually did a not-too-shabby job remembering the plot. I’m super proud of me, you guys.

Diamonds Are Forever is James Bond’s fourth outing in the 007 series, and this time, he’s investigating diamond smugglers. MI-6 knows of a smuggling pipeline, but they don’t know the termin…uses? Terminii? Oh shit, what’s the plural of terminus? The beginning and the end; MI-6 doesn’t know the beginning or the end of the pipeline. They do know that the pipeline stops off at a jeweler’s in London before heading over to the US, and M assigns Bond the job.

Now, M realizes that Bond is most likely going to get mixed up with some American gangsters, and according to M, American gangsters are the worst type of people to get mixed up with. M gives Bond explicit instructions on how to deal with these American gangster types, and the advice pretty much boils down to “keep your fucking mouth shut, James, don’t be a fucking jackass,” and I’m pretty sure we all know how well Bond is going to listen to M.

Basically, James Bond’s relationship with M could be described thusly:

M: hoe don’t do it
Bond: [does it]
M: oh my god

Before his first day on the job is over, Bond has: made contact with Tiffany Case (oh, Ian Fleming — at least this name has a backstory to it); told her his real name (dammit James); and implied that he’s interested in moving up the ladder, all of which are against M’s explicit instructions. (dammit James!) The next day, he’s smuggling some diamonds across the Atlantic (how, you ask? Why, stuck in some golf balls, what else?), and being told by the Vice President of Diamond Smuggling (you all know how this works – it’s too late in the game for me to look anything important up, so fake names they’re gonna be) how to collect his pay for the job: Bond has to drive from New York City to Sarasota Springs on Sunday, and bet $1,000 on a specific horse in a specific race. As a scheme goes, it’s all rather clever – Bond will get his money, but not from one avenue of the gangster ring, and ostensibly on the up-and-up. Well; however “up-and-up” betting on the ponies can be considered.

So since Bond doesn’t have to be in Sarasota until Sunday and it’s Friday in this timeline, he heads out to grab dinner with Tiffany Case, because she’s a girl and he’s James Bond and it’s not a mission unless he gets to sleep with a woman. And let me tell you, as tragic backstories go? Eve Harrington doesn’t have anything on Tiffany Case. Tiffany Case’s story even has the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end. I also don’t really want to get into it because it opens up a whole can of misogynistic worms, and let’s just say that Ian Fleming really wants us to believe in the healing power of James Bond’s boner.

Note From the Future:
I get into it later.

As Bond’s going to meet Tiffany, he finds he is being shadowed by a shadowy figure of shadows. In fact the figure grabs him!:

‘All right, Limey. Take it easy unless you want lead for lunch,’ and [Bond] felt something press into his back just above the kidneys.

What was there familiar about that voice? The Law? The Gang? Bond glanced down to see what was holding his right arm. It was a steel hook. [p. 63]

At first, I think it’s Buster Bluth. But then, at the same time Bond recognizes him, I remember what happened in Live and Let Die and I realize – it’s Felix Leiter! I love Felix! I’ve loved him since Goldfinger (the movie) and I’ll love him until I die. I mean, Moneypenny’s great and all, but she never survived a shark attack and now has to go around with a hook for a hand.

Anyway, Felix has left the CIA because the CIA doesn’t want Captain Hook in the field, but he doesn’t want to be benched, either. He’s now working for the Pinkerton Detective Agency (does Al Swearengen know about this?!), and he’s investing the … Jeweler Gangster People. (I’M NEVER LOOKING IT UP, GUYS). Felix knew exactly which horse Bond had to bet on, because that’s the horse and the race that’s always fixed. Felix wants to know if he and Bond can work together, and Bond agrees to a point. They drive up to Sarasota and bribe the already-bribed jockey, only this time he’s to not win the race.

Long story short (TOO LATE), because I’m falling asleep sitting up: Bond’s horse loses, so he doesn’t get the rest of the money the Jewelry Gang owes him. The Jewelry Gang orders him to fly out to Vegas and play five hands of blackjack at a certain table in a certain casino at a certain time. (Tiffany Case’s day job? Blackjack dealer.) Bond wins his money, and then against the orders of the Jewerly Gang, he goes and plays some roulette. He’s not surprised when he gets kidnapped the next day and taken to an actual ghost town, where the head honcho of the Jewelry Gang beats him to within an inch of his life. Tiffany Case sees Bond’s broken body, and decides she’s had enough, so she takes him to the train station (?) where they steal one of those pushcart thingees, and they’re trying to get back to Vegas but the Jewelry Gang Leader has a fancy old-timey train and he attempts to catch up to Bond and Case, but Bond manages to flip the switch on the rails and send the train flying into a crevasse. Bond and Case get on a ship back for London (after flying to New York – I don’t want you to think there’s a boat from Las Vegas to London) and they manage to escape a final attempt on their life while being on a boat, and Bond has successfully figured out where the diamonds go so he’s a bona fide hero.

I have no idea if this is what the movie’s like. I haven’t seen it, and it’s not on Netflix, so … we shall see.

Some quick things I wanted to point out, and then I’ve got to go to bed:

I wasn’t kidding about the misogyny in this book. I wouldn’t say it’s rampant, but there are points in here where the attitudes towards women were just horrifying. Tiffany Case is the daughter of a prostitute (I think – Tiffany’s mom may have become a prostitute after Tiffany was born) and when Tiffany was a young girl she watched her mom get gang-raped – I think? Or was … y’know, I guess I actually should look this up, because this seems like a crucial character point. Okay, according to Felix Leiter, Tiffany’s mom ran a brothel, but when she stopped paying the protection racket the gangs had cooked up, the gangs came in and ransacked the place and then each took a turn with Tiffany, who was only sixteen at the time. So when I say that Ian Fleming wants us to believe that Bond’s Boner heals all wounds, he really really wants us to believe that. I mean, did you really have to make your only female character have such a tragic background that Bond can “fix”? You couldn’t have picked any other tragedy that could have befallen her? You had to make the heroine a survivor of gang-rape, didn’t you, Ian Fleming?

I mean, the overall attitude is horrifying – and yes, I know, this was written in the 1950s, attitudes were different back then. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t still find them offensive.

For instance, Felix is describing one of the members of the Jewelry Gang thusly:

“He’s been in trouble all over the South, what they call a ‘little habitch’ as opposed to a ‘big habitch’ – habitual criminal. Larceny, mugging, rape – nothing big.” [p. 90]

NOTHING BIG.  Jesus.

Even some of the descriptions of mundane events or thoughts get that attitude painted on them:

His mind full of lush dreams, the man on the motor-cycle bumped his way as fast as he could across the plain – away from the great thorn bush where the pipeline for the richest smuggling operation in the world started its devious route to where it would finally gush out on to soft bosoms, five thousand miles away. [p. 9]

Whenever I read a Bond novel, I try and discuss Bond’s humanity. In this outing, I feel that there was so much plot going on, Bond’s character development took a backseat in order to allow the plot to machinate forward. There is a lovely discussion between Bond and Case discuss their attitudes of marriage and children, and we see a glimpse of a Bond who might want to settle down – but not until long after his espionage days are over.  For Bond, the job comes first – and letting a woman into his life would be more dangerous than his day job.

Grade for Diamonds Are Forever: 2.5 stars