My James Bond Challenge continues with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the eleventh Bond book written by Ian Fleming, published in 1962.

As ever, my book review style is just a brain dump of my thoughts and comments whilst going through the book.

  • Cover – This is the first cover that I’ve really loved. I love the artwork of the blood in the snow, next to the ring. Very powerful.
  • p10 – We get an interesting insight into Bond’s childhood at the beach. And interesting to learn that Cadbury Flakes were a thing in the 50s!
  • p14 – “Bond’s mind ticked and whirred, selecting cards like an IBM machine.” I love this description of a cutting edge punch card computer.
  • p14 – Blofeld is mentioned by name and in the next few pages appears to be a big target.
  • p17 – Interesting to read Bond’s resignation letter. His own commentary on the letter is very amusing.
  • p21 – There are a few nice references and callbacks to Casino Royale and Vesper.
  • p25 – Very interesting indeed that Bond apparently ‘abhors’ shoelaces! I wonder what they ever did to annoy him.
  • p28 – It’s amusing that Bond is being amusing with the croupier.
  • p29 – Bond is being called ‘The Englishman’ a lot. Isn’t he half Scottish and half Swiss? And interesting too if this was written after Connery was cast
  • p36 – Quite the paragraph here, where Tracy speaks to Bond about how to treat her in bed. Must have been music to Bond’s ears.
  • p37 – “All cats are grey in the dark. True or false? Bond slept.”. Funny little paragraph but I liked it.
  • p37 – Fascinating insight into Bond’s character in how he handles Tracy’s hysteria.
  • So far we have had a strong female character, sex, a car race, a casino, gambling, MI6 stuff, and a cold open. We’re ticking lots of Bond trope boxes here.
  • p39 – The switch from flashback to present day is very subtle!
  • p41 – Bond is swearing in French. Very cultured of him. “Merde a vous.”
  • p41 – Bond is defeated by a smile?
  • p51 – It’s a very interesting dilemma for Bond, being asked to look after Tracy.
  • p56 – Syncraphone. Like an early pager!
  • p57 – Describing the secretary with her measurements and betting on which agent will ‘get her first’. Typical laddish behaviour.
  • p57 – We learn that 006 is an ex Royal Marine Commando.
  • p59 – We get confirmation here that Bond’s father was Scottish and his mother was Swiss. What do you do when Sean Connery gets cast as your main English character in the movies? You ‘retrofit’ it! Apparently Bond’s father was from the Highlands, near Glencoe.
  • p61 – Griffin Or is speaking cryptically. When he mentions ‘three balls’ pointedly, I’m almost thinking he is about to say that Blofeld has three testicles, similar to Scaramanga’s nipples!
  • p61 – The Bond family motto is apparently “The World Is Not Enough”. Firstly I wonder if that is mentioned in that particular film. But secondly, that’s a bit of a greedy motto isn’t it? Quite a demanding family.
  • p70 – I love all the stuff about heraldry as the way in to meet Blofeld. And also Bond going undercover because Blofeld doesn’t know him yet. Feels like proper spy work.
  • p77 – The last 14 lines on this page are great. “He then crushed out his cigarette and, banging doors behind him, got the hell out of his office and down in the lift to the discreet side-entrance that said ‘Universal Export’. The taxi was waiting. It was seven o’clock. As the taxi got under way, Bond made his plan for the evening. He would first do an extremely careful packing job of his single suitcase, the one that had no tricks to it, have two double vodkas and tonics with a dash of Angostura, eat a large dish of May’s speciality – scrambled eggs fines herbes – have two more vodkas and tonics, and then, slightly drunk, go to bed with half a grain of seconal. Encouraged by the prospect of this cosy self-anaesthesia, Bond brusquely kicked his problems under the carpet of his consciousness.”
  • I’m enjoying the feeling of a heist here. Bond in disguise, meeting the villain on purpose. Normally he only meets them when captured, and they know who he is.
  • p82 – “They caught the woman’s yellow sun visor and shone through, turning her face Chinese.” Wow.
  • p91 – I want to hear more about Bond being in the dirtiest bar in Singapore. Write us a short story about that please, Ian.
  • p111 – Interesting to hear that Bond learned to ski as a teenager, and that he isn’t very confident in his ability just now.
  • p114 – Very meta moment when Ursula Andress is mentioned! Obviously that was added after the movie, surely. “And that beautiful girl with the long fair hair at the big table, that is Ursula Andress, the film star. What a wonderful tan she has!” I kind of feel that’s a little too on the nose breaking the fourth wall or something.
  • p117 – “Ten English girls”. Tsk tsk. One was Scottish, as mentioned earlier in the story. I think one was maybe Welsh too? Sorry, but as being from one of the minority UK nations I’m very sensitive to these things! ;-)
  • p117 – I love reading coded messages like this one.
  • It’s interesting that Bond is actually having to do hours of proper geneaology work.
  • p121 – It does feel a bit like he is taking advantage of Ruby here. He even calls himself a cad!
  • p127 – The first few paragraphs of this page really show Bond properly womanising, perhaps for the first time, like in a proper cringy way. “‘You do love me a little bit?” That awful question! Bond whispered, ‘I think you’re the most adorable, beautiful girl. I wish I’d met you before.’ The stale, insincere words seemed to be enough. She removed her restraining hand.”
  • p137 – I love how his toilet is called his ‘throne of reflection’.
  • p146 – Fascinating about the urine secret ink!
  • p148 – “Bond… stiffened the fingers of his left hand into the old Commando cutting edge.” I love this. Judo chop! His hands are lethal weapons.
  • p154 – It’s Christmas Eve! I feel sorry for him. But it’s also odd that he was going to be staying with Blofeld over Christmas?
  • p155 – Genuinely interesting information about how to survive an avalanche.
  • I do like how Fleming writes phrases in German or French but doesn’t explain them. For someone like myself with only a couple of years of languages in school I can work out what most of them mean. I feel it shows respect for the audience. It’s maybe in contrast to how he writes accents phonetically!
  • p170 – I love the whole offloading of info to 410.
  • p172 – That escalated quickly! He was going to make her leave and now he is thinking about kids and he asks her to marry him!
  • p173 – “I suppose I’ve got to get used to doing what you say.” Because that’s what wives do in the early 60s?
  • p173 – Another clumsy ‘retrofit’ after the Connery casting. “Then we can be married again in an English church, or Scottish rather. That’s where I come from.”
  • I love that we have a scene in M’s house!
  • p179 – The Head of the Secret Service, M, earns £5,000 per year. Wow, inflation is crazy.
  • p181 – Rolexes were on the heavy side but they worked. I love how Bond isn’t a slave to brands.
  • p187 – Pretty shocking to read here that hypnotism was used to treat homosexual tendencies. That’s one aspect of these books which is maybe even more shocking, and possibly more negatively described, than the racism and sexism.
  • p197 – A funny telephone exchange between M and Sir Ronald Vallance. He jokes with him about disturbing his afternoon nap and then jokingly accuses him of reading a report on teenage prostitution!
  • p200 – Another funny telephone exchange, this time between Bond and Tracy, about her blowing down the phone at Force Ten with her heavy breathing.
  • p205 – Bond is drinking Jack Daniel’s now. I think this is the first JD he’s had in the books.
  • I find it very interesting that Bond’s new father-in-law is a big criminal! I like how that is acceptable.
  • p208 – Great last line to the chapter. “‘And now my friend, I have ordered dinner, a good dinner, to be served us up here. And then we will go to bed stinking of garlic and, perhaps, just a little bit drunk. Yes?’ From his heart Bond said, ‘I can’t think of anything better.’” I think it’s a lovely touch that he says ‘from his heart’.
  • p230 – Great quote about elbows, after Bond hurt his. Bond – “What worries me is how we’re going to make love. In the proper fashion, elbows are rather important for the man.” Tracy – “Then we’ll do it in an improper fashion.” Great reply, Tracy.
  • p230 – “We have all the time in world”. This line is all the more poignant in the book as it really hits home how sad it is that their time is actually so short. The next chapter is called this line too and it is also mentioned in the prose twice! So it’s mentioned four times in total! Fleming certainly makes it hit home.
  • This book in general has a very interesting insight in to Bond’s character and current state of mind. It starts with him wanting to resign and ends with him wanting to settle down and marry.
  • p231 – Bond really does drink a lot in this book!
  • p253 – I love Bond and Marc-Ange’s relationship.
  • I did know what the ending was going to be, but I can imagine it was extremely shocking back in the day when it was first published. Although to be honest I thought it was maybe a bit too understated in the book. It wasn’t totally clear to me that she had died. I had to read it a couple of times. And it’s shocking to read Bond being in denial shock.

I really loved this book. I think it’s the best one yet in my opinion. Even better than Moonraker. It just had a lot of interesting things in it, and you see Bond actually being a spy undercover which is cool. Plus it has real character development and is very emotional and poignant in places. I didn’t love how Bond was a bit too womanising with Ruby though. And the only other thing I felt it was really missing was actual hero/villain interaction between Bond and Blofeld. But it had so much good stuff in it. Great read. 9.5/10

Current ranking and scoring out of 10
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – 9.5
Moonraker – 9
Dr. No – 9
From Russia, with Love – 9
Casino Royale – 8.5
Goldfinger – 7.5
For Your Eyes Only – 7.5
Live and Let Die – 7
Diamonds are Forever – 6.5
Thunderball – 6
The Spy Who Loved Me – 5