Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Octopussy and The Living Daylights | "The Property of a Lady"

In 1963, English auction house Sotheby's commissioned Fleming to write a short story for their annual journal, The Ivory Hammer. The result was "The Property of a Lady," with Bond attending a Sotheby's auction for a Fabergé egg. The egg was sent by the Soviets as payment to a known double agent in MI6, so Bond suspects that the woman's KGB contact in London will be present at the auction to help drive up the price. Bond's job is identify this contact so that he can later be deported, throwing a kink in the Soviets' activities in Britain.

It's no surprise that a writer who makes card games and golf sound exciting can do the same thing for a jewelry auction, so there's nothing wrong with the build up and tension in the story. But "The Property of a Lady" doesn't hold together logically super well. Why exactly is the KGB contact risking exposure when the egg will fetch a very nice price without his interference? It seems unnecessarily greedy, especially on behalf of a double agent who's conceivably doing her job out of patriotism. Fleming kind of fumbles the ending too. All the drama is in the auction scene, but once Bond identifies his target, there's nothing else to keep me interested and it feels like Fleming knows it. He agreed that "The Property of a Lady" wasn't great work and reportedly refused payment for it. A couple of decades later though, the major elements of the story found their way into the movie Octopussy, which did a better job of building a compelling story around the idea.

There's not any character development for Bond in the story, but a couple of important characters do show up. Ronald Vallance of Scotland Yard reappears after his introduction in Moonraker and also contributing to Bond's work in Diamonds Are Forever and "Risico." He's mentioned as Sir Ronald Vallance in this story, which I think is new, so congratulations to him on that.

The other major character is Mary Goodnight. This isn't her true introduction to the series, but since I'm reading stories in the order of Bond's experience and not in the order that Fleming wrote them, it's the first time she's showing up for me. She's the new secretary in the Double-O section, replacing Lil, and it's tough to get a handle on her from just this story. Presumably she gets a better introduction in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, her true first appearance. In "The Property of a Lady" though, I missed Lil and it feels like Bond does too, though he doesn't mention her. He seems to think Goodnight is hot, but he doesn't flirt with her and doesn't even seem to respect or like her. Fleming does specifically mention that Bond's already in a bad mood about something else though, so maybe I shouldn't read much into that. Look forward to getting to know her better in OHMSS, because she becomes a major player in Bond's life in the last Fleming novels.

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