Monday, 2 March 2015

The #London Walks Reading List No.1: James Bond & Moonraker

OUR NEW SERIES! Throughout March & April 2015 we'll be compiling our definitive London Reading List. 

We've asked London Walks Guides & London Walkers to recommend a favourite book or story, and we've also raided the archives here at The Daily Constitutional to bring a rich and varied selection of London-themed and London-set reading matter.

Whether you live here in London, work here, play here or if you are in the throws of planning a trip to visit us here, these are the books you need to read. As usual, you can give us a shout with your own recommendations – thrillers, literary classics, biographies, anthologies, anything! – at the usual email address, via Twitter or Facebook, or simply leave a comment below.

First contribution is from D.C editor Adam…

No. 1. MOONRAKER by Ian Fleming (1955)

The jet set nature of James Bond’s remit means that those looking for London settings in the novels of Ian Fleming must make do with fleeting glimpses of St James’s (his club), Regent’s Park (his “office”) and King’s Road (his apartment) before he sets off for adventures in climes exotic.

The exception is Moonraker: the third Bond novel is set entirely in England.

In pursuit of Hugo Drax, a megalomaniac would-be dictator, arms manufacturer and (worst of all in M’s book) card cheat, Bond gambles, drinks and takes amphetamines in St James’s, meets with Assistant Commissioner Vallance at Scotland Yard and prangs his vintage Bentley in the prosaic surroundings of the capital's South Circular ring road. He later road tests his new motor, a four-and-a-half litre 1953 Bentley Mark VI on Birdcage Walk SW1.

Drax remains one of Fleming’s best villains; Bond is at his most bullet-proof in this tale, bouncing back from the events of the previous assignment (Live and Let Die); and the glimpses behind the mask of M bring one of popular fiction’s most enigmatic supporting characters leaping from the page. But it is perhaps the behind-the-scenes look at Pall Mall’s club land that holds the most delicious London detail – Fleming makes for a fine tour guide.

(Fleming often functioned thus – his descriptions of air travel throughout the books seem stultifying to the modern reader, but when they were published they provided an astonishing glimpse of the good life to the post-war and thoroughly earthbound thriller reader.

It also features my favourite line in all of the James Bond canon – books and movies included. After a particularly heavy night, Bond groans: "Champagne and benzedrine. Never again!"

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