Diamonds Are Forever, by Ian Fleming
A fellow teacher of mine managed to acquire a few volumes of Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, and so I have undertaken to read and review the four novels she has (which should not be a difficult task, since they are short and easy to read). In attempting to read them in a more or less chronological order, this is the first among the four, and involves a surprisingly relevant commentary on the dangerous allure of diamond smuggling.
Ian Fleming, in this novel, shows why James Bond became such a great film series through his taut plotting and his careful attention to characters. He does not disappoint here, with a James Bond who is suave and confident but also occasionally given to wonder (perhaps fruitlessly) about a family life once he retires from Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Tiffany Case serves as his lady friend in this go around, a passionate and attractive but extremely damaged young woman whose brutal gang rape while a young woman made her permanently distant from others, and disinclined to enjoy intimacy, a sad commentary but a shrewd analysis. Even the minor characters are shrewdly drawn by their physical appearances, or, in the case of the two gay Detroit thugs who keep showing up in the plot, by wry and ironic comments on their murderous hostility but their lack of manhood.
Throughout the course of the novel James Bond shows his debonair side, deals with the brutal and corrupt nature of the American gambling and smuggling scene (where James Bond himself shows himself moderately shrewd at the logistical side of smuggling, and hinting at some sort of criminal past in his own previous life), as well as surprisingly sensitive in his dealings with others, far less cold and manipulative than he seems to be in his movie portrayals. Through luck and the support of friends, he is above to overcome very dangerous situations, even if the story itself lacks a dramatic arch-villain. It all adds up to a satisfying read that maintains some contemporary relevance.
Not coincidentally, the Kanye West song “Diamonds From Sierra Leone” samples the song “Diamonds Are Forever” that serves as the theme song to the movie adaptation of the book. Even now, the “blood diamonds” from Sierra Leone are a serious matter, a dangerous lure for smuggling profits as well as a way to fund the deadly and tragic conflicts there. Over sixty years after this novel was originally published, the smuggling and death over Sierra Leone’s diamonds is still ongoing, a tragedy as poignant as anything that can be found in Ian Fleming’s body of work.