For Your Shelf Only continues! Spy Vibe recently talked with Jon Gilbert, rare book dealer and author of Ian Fleming: The Bibliography. Our chat began a new series on Spy Vibe, offering fellow collectors and fans of spy novels a chance to share their experiences and some of their prized books. I'd like to share a brief discovery that I recently made collecting an Ian Fleming short story that is special to me.
Every fan of Ian Fleming has their favorite stories, those well-worn books that we go back to again and again. I like to re-explore the series every few years, a habit I can trace back to age twelve. And although I cherish a few of the novels specifically, the story I always come back to is From a View to a Kill. In this short, James Bond investigates the murder of a dispatch rider in France and discovers an enemy base hidden under ground. According to Chancellor's James Bond: The Man and His World, Fleming originally wrote the premise as a back-story for the Drax character in Moonraker and entitled it "The Rough With the Smooth." There is speculation that his brother Peter's auxiliary soldiers, who dug hidden tunnels to mount attacks in case of enemy invasion during WWII, was an inspiration. Fleming updated the tale to the Cold War era and it was published in For Your Eyes Only in 1962. Like other short stories he wrote, From a View To a Kill appeared in a number of magazines, including Argosy in 1961 (as "Paris Courier"), and Fury Magazine in 1962 (as "A Nice View For Killing"). I recently tracked down a lesser-known appearance in the American men's magazine, Swank, from 1964. I was excited to add this edition to my collection, and to help it onto the radar for Ian Fleming: The Bibliography.
From a View To a Kill is a beautifully contained Bond story. The story opens with an assassination on motorcycles, the scene of which has often provided the illustration concept for the various publications (Swank title illustration below). Fleming's gift with words: "The eyes behind the wide black rubber goggles were cold as flint. In the howling speed-turmoil of a BSA M20 doing seventy, they were the only quiet things in the hurtling flesh and metal. Protected by the glass of the goggles, they stared fixedly ahead from just above the centre of the handlebars, and their dark unwavering focus was that of gun muzzles." Simon Vance does a brilliant reading of this in the Blackstone Audio edition.
Another highlight scene, which provided the title art in Argosy, inspired a spot illustration in the Swank edition. Bond's intuition tells him that the answers lie in a clearing near the Carrefour Royal. He recalls M's dictum to pay attention to "The invisible factor. The invisible man." Gypsies had built an encampment in the clearing, but had left unnoticed some time before the murder. No one saw them leave. In this scene, 007 is dressed head to toe in camouflage (see illustration below). Peering out through tiny slits in his hood, he lays along the branch of a tree over the clearing for hours. The birds give the first warning. James Bond studies the area for some sign of movement. Then, over by the wild roses, he notices a single stem rising up into the air: "Now, silently, the petals of the rose seemed to swivel and expand, the yellow pistils drew aside and sun glinted on a glass lens the size of a shilling." I find the telling of this suspenseful moment endlessly gripping.
From a View To a Kill was published recently in Quantum Of Solace, a compilation of the complete James Bond short stories (2008/limited-edition hard-cover and paperback editions by Penguin). It was also printed in 1999 as part of the Travelman Short Stories series, which I recently added to my collection. This edition is quite unique, as it literally folds out like a large travel map! (cover image below). I look forward to the new Fleming Bibliography and to learning about other editions of Fleming's stories and articles.
See the Cinema Retro page for this post. Scroll down for past editions of our series, For Your Shelf Only, where guests share stories about collecting and show us some of their treasures. Series links: Jon Gilbert, Raymond Benson, Jeremy Duns, Peter Lorenz, David Foster, Rob Mallows, Roger Langley, Craig Arthur, Fleming Short, Matt Sherman. You can find James Bond books and other spy treasures in Spy Vibe's secure Amazon Store.