As has become tradition during our Club weeks, Mr. Kaggsy has volunteered to write about a book from the year in question, and this time it’s what I would call a spy thriller! Mr Kaggsy’s review does reveal the story’s main elements along the way, although not the outcome of closing events. He says this is essentially an adventure novel, providing action and escapism, as opposed to plot suspense, twists, mystery, or revelations. The novel’s ingredients have been covered in reviews during sixty five years, including in more recent times ones online, as well as e.g. Wikipedia. Quotations from the book appearing below are the copyright of the Ian Fleming Estate. I’d recommend hunkering down with a hot drink for this – it’s a long’un!

Diamonds Are Forever by Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming’s fourth James Bond 007 novel was Diamonds Are Forever (DAF), first published in hardback in March 1956, by Jonathan Cape in the UK. The initial run of 12,500 quickly sold out and well-kept editions fetch high prices. Cape had already published the author’s preceding three Bond novels (Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker) and would continue to put out his subsequent titles in the years ahead, some being short stories. DAF was also the first Bond story to appear in the Daily Express, in an abridged serialised form from April 1956; the paper then followed up with a daily comic strip version during 1959/60.

A Thriller Book Club hardback was also provided in the UK, soon after the original, its cover almost matching the Cape design. The cinema film of the same name did not appear until fifteen years after the book and did not closely follow the novel. This was the seventh Bond movie, being also the sixth and final one in the official series starring Sean Connery, who returned after a gap of four years.

In the United States, DAF was also published in 1956 in hardback, by Macmillan. There was no original US DAF book club edition, but the company later issued two ‘trade’ editions with new wrapper designs. The first of these was part of a run of several titles having themed covers, intended for US libraries in the mid-1960s; the DAF cover inventively used the book’s events at sea, denoting the Queen Elizabeth liner. The second version appeared at the time of the 1971 movie, its cover corresponding with the lavish cinema poster, a world away from the original story.

UK first edition hardback, Jonathan Cape, 1956. UK Thriller Book Club hardback, 1956, with almost identical Cape cover design. US first edition hardback, Macmillan, 1956.

The novel was not Fleming’s only involvement with the diamonds. His non-fiction work The Diamond Smugglers (published in 1957 UK by Jonathan Cape and 1958 US by Macmillan) dealt with the illegal exporting of diamonds from Africa each year worth many millions. The author’s interest in the illicit trade had grown from 1954, when he first became aware of the magnitude of the problem. He met with a former head of MI5, now appointed commercially to investigate the trade through the International Diamond Security Organisation. Fleming’s connected research and interviews led to his DAF fictional account of smuggling and dedications at the front of the book relate to friends who helped the author while in the US; much of the American events in the story reflect this time. At his Goldeneye home in Jamaica, Fleming wrote his ensuing novel in early 1955. The title reportedly came from his seeing a US Vogue magazine advertisement with the caption “A Diamond is Forever”.

The story opens in French Guinea, with a nocturnal scorpion’s attack on a beetle, setting the scene as a hostile patch of ground at the juncture of three African states. “On all horizons there were hills and jungle, but here, over twenty square miles, there was flat rocky ground which was almost desert…” However, across the frontier with Sierra Leone lie the great diamond mines of a powerful mining empire, the reader is enlightened, and the book’s title takes on an early and powerful significance. Soon the venomous predator is itself exterminated, at the rock wielding hand of a diamond smuggler anxiously awaiting his moonlit helicopter ride out of the area. A valuable haul of illicit crystals is handed over to the pilot and the craft flies off, the latest monthly deal completed under cover of darkness. The lone man hastens from the spot, “… where the pipeline for the richest smuggling operation in the world started its devious route to where it would finally gush out on to soft bosoms, five thousand miles away.”

Chapter two finds Bond in M’s office, examining a precious gem in the bright July sunshine. He is being educated about a fifty million pound legitimate trade, mostly carried out in London. However, an expensive leak has sprung up and a New York merchant is implicated. This allows Fleming to display his knowledge of and fondness for the big city, having often visited and holidayed there. As a digression, he wrote the 1964 short story 007 in New York for the New American Library edition of his Thrilling Cities global travelogue. The brief addition to the chapter on New York had not appeared in the Jonathan Cape UK first edition the previous year and while all later US versions of the book included the short tale, there was no printing of it in the UK until 2002, when it was added to the Penguin Octopussy edition. All Bond stories by Fleming have now also enjoyed audio adaptations.

UK first Great Pan ‘painted cover’ edition paperback, 1958. UK Great Pan first ‘red band’ edition paperback, 1961. UK Pan first generic edition paperback, 1963.

Continuing the DAF story, Bond is about to become a courier, acting on behalf of his government, in a matter too sensitive for the usual UK and US covert services. Dismissed by his superior, Bond visits the section’s Chief of Staff, where his knowledge is to be extended. The assignment extends to the operations of the American criminal underworld and as 007’s briefing ends he is told he’ll be on his own. Soon he is reacquainted with Assistant Commissioner Vallance, whom he met during the previous Moonraker affair. Bond will be impersonating a small-time but career crook by the name of Peter Franks. The criminal has recently been offered a tidy sum to smuggle “Hot Ice” into America. Accordingly, 007 is shortly to link up with one Tiffany Case, a woman linked to the underworld and having only a brief description of Franks, he being about to be held by Scotland Yard on some trumped up basis to keep him out of the way.

Case is American and her passport reveals: “27. Born San Francisco. Blonde. Blue eyes. Height 5 ft 6 in.” The substance of Bond’s assignment is beginning to develop and he is introduced to Sergeant Dankwaerts under his correct title, “Commander Bond of the Ministry of Defence”, about to be masquerading as the fictitious “Sergeant James”, an assumed member of Dankwaerts’ team. Under a disguise, Bond will be taken by Vallance to the “House of Diamonds in Hatton Garden”. A minimal facial transformation is carried out by another officer applying the required degree of make-up. “Sergeant Lobiniere held up a pocket mirror in front of Bond. A touch of white at the temples. The scar gone. A hint of studiousness at the corners of the eyes and mouth. The faintest shadows under the cheekbones. Nothing you could put your finger on, but it all added up to someone who certainly wasn’t James Bond.”

A little later the two ‘sergeants’ are calling upon the London merchant, on the pretext of making inquiries about certain stolen diamonds. The broker “looked contemptuously from one to the other of these two underpaid flatfeet who had the effrontery to be taking up his time.” Here, Fleming shines like the gems themselves, with the sharpness of his dialogue and descriptions of characters. The shady merchant has no intention of assisting the police, insisting that he has no knowledge of the matter in hand and showing his visitors the door. Undismayed, Dankwaerts has not only enabled Bond to form an accurate mental picture of the broker, but can now also disclose to him that the man is no diamond expert. “When I read out that list of missing stones,” Sergeant Dankwaerts smiles, having mentioned some particular types of stones, “It just happens that there aren’t such things.”

Suitably clued-up, Bond is at the Trafalgar Palace Hotel, about to start his infiltration by meeting Tiffany Case. He enters Room 350, where: “She was sitting, half naked, astride a chair in front of the dressing-table, gazing across the back of the chair into the triple mirror. Her bare arms were folded along the tall back of the chair and her chin was resting on her arms. Her spine was arched, and there was arrogance in the set of her head and shoulders. The black string of her brassière across the naked back, the tight black lace pants and the splay of her legs whipped at Bond’s senses.” Fleming presents a realistic scene of the first encounter, the woman going to dress and Bond checking over the room in her absence, after which a conversation ensues when Case emerges. The author’s description of her is detailed and Bond’s thoughts are also transmitted.

“’So you’re Peter Franks,’ she said and the voice was low and attractive, but with a touch of condescension.” Talks gets down to business, travel arrangements and other relevant factors. Bond is able to reveal his true name, as shown on his passport, and he will be travelling under the ruse of a golfing holiday, thereafter adopting the Franks alias. Flight, hotel and driver pickup arrangements are confirmed, at which time Bond will be receiving some ordinary-looking, but extremely valuable, golf balls. He leaves the hotel, his thoughts conflicted; he feels drawn to the woman, but also treacherous, in that he needs to develop a friendship which he can later use to penetrate the smuggling pipeline. Elsewhere, Case reports the plan to her contact next in line, confirming the new mule as satisfactory.

Bond’s packing is done in his Ritz hotel room and Fleming always gives a clothing summary, everything being “…appropriate to his cover. Evening clothes; his lightweight black and white dog-tooth suit for the country and for golf; Saxone golf shoes; a companion to the dark blue, tropical worsted suit he was wearing, and some white silk and dark blue Sea Island cotton shirts with collars attached and short sleeves. Socks and ties, some nylon underclothes, and two pairs of the long silk pyjama coats he wore in place of two-piece pyjamas. None of these things bore, or had ever borne, any name-tags or initials.”
Other essential items included are a golfing instruction book, shaving and washing gear, tickets and passport, plus a special attaché case prepared by Q Branch, with a concealed compartment containing a silencer and ammunition for Bond’s gun. The weapon itself, a .25 Beretta automatic, once given to him by M, will be holstered below his left armpit. Fleming was a connoisseur of weapons and gives a detailed account of Bond laying out the gun’s working parts on the hotel bed and checking its action. Now the agent was ready for his clandestine departure.

Bond driven to London airport, the arranged chauffeur having the golf balls which are to be taken to New York by the undercover courier. Eventually aboard the plane, with Tiffany Case seated not far away, 007 watches through his window the giant aircraft leaving the ground. A break in the journey occurs with a stopover at Shannon, before the BOAC flight is airborne over the Atlantic. Hours later, “Bond’s ears began to block with the slow descent towards the pall of haze that was the suburbs of New York. There was the hiss and sickly smell of the insecticide bomb, the shrill hydraulic whine of the air-brakes and the landing-wheels being lowered, the dip of the plane’s nose, the tearing bump of the tyres on the runway, the ugly roar as the screws were reversed to slow the plane for the entrance bay, the rumbling progress over the tired grass plain towards the tarmac apron, the clang of the hatch being opened, and they were there.”

Bond is driven to Manhattan, arriving at the US division of The House of Diamonds. The designated transaction takes place and he will be billeted at the Astor, having been offered more work. He will later bet on a fixed horse race and collect his winnings as pay. Meanwhile, as Bond later walks around Times Square he is aware of being followed, reacting by grabbing at his pursuer. The man is Felix Leiter, an ally in the form of a US agent, the two men having met before. The pair’s ensuing drinking and dining is another author-led trip around the area; the passage of conversation is one which so often is Fleming’s way of bringing the reader into the story and its setting. Leiter enlightens Bond about Tiffany Case, how she was drawn into crime, but was once violated by members of a gang, since when her stance has been anti-men and one of self-protection. As a parting comment, Bond is warned as to how dangerous the mob is that he will be dealing with.

Events move on to an evening with Bond back in Tiffany’s company and he has progressed to using her first name, beginning to fall in love with her. After a lengthy talk over dinner and drinks, the pair taxi to the Astor, where both are booked. Case has become fond of her contact and is teary-eyed as they part. “And then she pulled his face against hers and kissed him once, hard and long on the lips, with a fierce tenderness that was almost without sex. But, as Bond’s arms went round her and he started to return her kiss, she suddenly stiffened and fought her way free, and the moment was over. With her hand on the knob of the open door, she turned and looked at him, and the sultry glow was back in her eyes. ‘Now get away from me,’ she said fiercely, and slammed the door and locked it.”

UK Pan movie tie-in paperback, 1971.
US Macmillan movie tie-in hardback, 1971.
US Bantam movie tie-in paperback, 1971.

Bond is about to travel with Leiter some two hundred miles to the designated racetrack. The journey, meals, vehicle details, conversation, passing geography and eventual Saratoga racing experience fill many more pages. The men develop a plan to strike a blow against the organisation being secretly targeted by them on behalf of both their governments. The next stage involves 007 visiting mud and sulphur baths, where he must undergo an extremely hot and disagreeable ‘healthy’ ordeal. The ordeal is a cover for handing a large cash payment in dollars to a jockey who was bribed to throw a race upon which heavy bets had been placed. The unexpected arrival of two gunmen leads to a ‘burning’ experience for the jockey, whose suspected deliberate racing foul has not been appreciated.

At least Bond’s cover is still intact and his payment for services is now being rearranged as winnings at a Las Vegas Blackjack table. A casino set piece is ahead, the stuff of 007 legend. The drive along the Strip to the booked hotel is potently described. “The great six-lane highway stretched on through a forest of multi-coloured signs and frontages until it lost itself downtown in a dancing lake of heat waves. The day was as hot and sultry as a fire opal. The swollen sun burned straight down the middle of the frying concrete and there was no shade anywhere except under the few scattered palms in the forecourts of the motels. A glittering gunfire of light-splinters shot at Bond’s eyes from the windscreens of oncoming cars and from their blaze of chrome styling, and he felt his wet shirt clinging to his skin.”

Inside the air-conditioned Tiara Hotel Bond settles in and later visits the gambling hall where there is an outlet of The House of Diamonds and a surprise awaiting him, “The dealer at the centre blackjack table nearest the bar was Tiffany Case.” He realised that it was she who was “… going to false-deal him to win five thousand dollars.” In a long and descriptive gambling sequence things work out as planned and hoped for, but Bond unwisely wins more money than permitted. Later 007 cashes out, putting his gains in a sealed package which he address it to “The Managing Director, Universal Export, Regents Park, London, N.W.1, England,” before dropping it into a US Mail slot. Midnight arrives as Bond leaves, noticing that a new dealer has taken over from Tiffany.

A car chase and gunfire are not far off, after which Bond finds himself en route to be hauled up before the organisation’s leader, displeased with his non-adherence to arrangements. He is taken to a fantasy Western setting in the desert, amusingly named Spectreville (Fleming presents the criminal organisation SPECTRE in future 007 novels), later boarding an old style locomotive with a splendid Pullman coach. “Bond… stepped up on to the brass-railed observation platform with the shining brakeman’s wheel in the centre. For the first time in his life he saw the point of being a millionaire…” Fleming describes the interior of the carriage, glittering with Victorian luxury.

The mob head and owner of the desert hideaway sums up the situation for Bond, who is now suddenly on the wrong side of things. “‘You’re a cop or a private eye of some sort and I’m going to find out who you are, and who you work for, and what you know, what you were doing in the Acme Baths alongside that crooked jock; why you carry a gun and where you learnt to handle it… You look like an eye and you behave like one and,’ he turned with sudden anger on Tiffany Case, ‘how you fell for him, you silly bitch, I just can’t figure.’” Bond’s hope now is that Case will be able to convince his captors that he is on the level. However, he is about to experience a “Brooklyn stomping”, involving his aggressors misusing football boots.

A badly injured and dazed Bond is rescued by Tiffany, she operating a railroad handcar away from the base where they were held, it having been torched by the escapers. “They had been going nearly an hour when a thin humming undertone in the air or on the rails made Bond stiffen. Again he looked back over his shoulder. Was there a tiny glow-worm glimmer between them and the false red dawn of the burning ghost town?” Disturbingly, they are being chased by an engine and their lowly machine is now running out of fuel, starting to freewheel. The limping agent and his aide take to the hills, but not before switching the railway points. A further gun battle takes place, in which Bond shoots the arch enemy, sending the gangster lifelessly riding his engine to destruction and, for him, the end of the line.

As 007 and Case trudge along the desert road they are picked up in a car driven by saviour Felix Leiter. Bond listens to the woman telling the incredulous US agent what has been happening as they are motored away to safety. Having later been fed and patched up, Bond travels with Tiffany as Leiter drives them into Los Angeles, along Sunset Boulevard. Eventually he leaves them behind, the pair ready to catch a flight and then board a boat to safety. They were anticipating “… climbing up the covered gangway into the great safe, black British belly of the Queen Elizabeth and were at last in their cabins on M deck with their doors locked against the world.” Fleming had himself sailed on the liner during US trips.

However, two Americans who had been eyeballing Bond at an early stage of his assignment, unnoticed by him, were now boarding the ship. “Punctually at eight, the great reverberating efflatus of the Queen Elizabeth’s siren made the glass tremble in the skyscrapers and the tugs fussed the big ship out into midstream and nosed her round and, at a cautious five knots, she moved slowly down-river on the slack tide.” During the voyage Bond reveals his true status to Tiffany and their already romantic relationship grows stronger. After meals and further deck wagering games, the animated couple are free to consummate their union.

Fleming’s following narrative may be thought, more than sixty years later, to be akin to more recent bedroom potboilers, but at the time no doubt the scene fizzed for Fifties’ readers. Bond “… kicked the door of his cabin shut behind them and they… stood locked together in the middle of the wonderfully private, wonderfully anonymous little room. And then he just said, softly, ‘My darling,’ and put one hand in her hair so that he could hold her mouth where he wanted it. And after a while his other hand went to the zip fastener at the back of her dress and without moving away from him she stepped out of her dress and panted between their kisses. ‘I want it all, James. Everything you’ve ever done to a girl. Now. Quickly.’ And Bond bent down and put an arm round her thighs and picked her up and laid her gently on the floor.”

US Permabooks Inc paperback, 1957.
US Macmillan ‘trade’ edition, 1966 (with ‘Queen Elizabeth’ design).
US James Bond Classic Library; Fine Communications, 1997 (with opening scorpion design).

There are two chapters remaining, although the resolution of events and the ending are not given away here. Suffice to say that there are assailants aboard posing a threat and Bond only belatedly realises the danger they pose. It is time for the 007 Beretta and silencer to be deployed, stuffed into the man’s waistband while he goes ‘over the side’ of the liner to attempt a pre-emptive strike and a Tiffany rescue mission, via a lower level porthole. The action-packed last moments aboard the Queen Elizabeth close the book’s penultimate chapter. The last one involves a clear-up operation back at the original African diamond pipeline location – scene of the opening scorpion sequence – bringing a final fatality. A few words conclude the book:

“Death is forever. But so are diamonds.”


Phew! Well done to everyone who’s made it this far on what must be one of the longest posts ever on the Ramblings… Tomorrow’s post will, I promise, be shorter… 😀