THIS REVIEW IS NOT SPOILER-FREE. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Hey, folks — long time, no see, huh? Have no fear: I’m still actively reading, annotating, and shrieking at Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. I’ve only allowed myself to get distracted by work, personal commitments, and books I actually enjoy reading.
I kid. Largely, I really do enjoy these books. They’re ridiculous, but at least they’re entertaining, and Ian Fleming’s soft spot for onomatopoeia (b-o-i-n-g-g-g) will never not amuse me. And Diamonds are Forever was tons of fun (especially compared to Moonraker — yeesh).
Anyhow, Diamonds finds James going undercover as a diamond smuggler, in the hope that he’ll be able to work his way up through the ranks and get close to the smugglers’ leaders: the Sprang brothers, bad, bad men who employ sexy ladies, strangely-proportioned men, and strange Brits they’ve never met before, but upon whom they are willing to bet their profits. No one is really worried when their usual smuggler gets arrested and Bond — who basically has “COP” written all over him — is put in his place. Thank God Americans are stupid, am I right?
Come on down the rabbit hole, kids — time to chat about Diamonds are Forever!
First line: “With its two fighting claws held forward like a wrestler’s arms the big pandinus scorpion emerged with a dry rustle from the finger-sized hole under the rock.”
Bad guy: Jack and Seraffimo Sprang, twin brothers and mafia kingpins of the “Spangled Mob,” who make their fortune in horse racing, murder, and, as the title would suggest, diamond smuggling. They own a wire service and a hotel in Vegas, and have the cops in their back pockets.
Bond Girl: Tiffany Case, who is a DELIGHT. She’s a hot blonde (our first, I believe!) with blue eyes from San Francisco, “very beautiful in a devil-may-care way” (42). She doesn’t care what men think of her. Her profession is listed as “single woman.” Tiff might just edge out Gala for Most Feminist Bond Girl.
Tiffany Case’s Greatest Hits:
- “I’m not going to sleep with you, so don’t waste your money getting my tight. But I’ll have another and probably another one after that.” (88)
- “Listen, Bond, it’d take more than Crabmeat Ravigotte to get me into bed with a man.In any event, since it’s your check, I’m going to have caviar, and what you English call ‘cutlets,’ and some pink champagne. I don’t often date a good-looking Englishman and the dinner’s going to live up to the occasion.” (88)
- “…he’s so crooked, you shake hands with him you better count your fingers afterwards.” (93)
- “What d’you expect a girl to do aboard the Queen Elizabeth? Fish?” (241)
Does she get fridged? I thought she did for about seven pages, but apparently not? There’s actually no real resolution for Tiffany — the last we hear of her, she’s apparently going to be Bond’s
prisoner houseguest, taking up residence in his flat until the mob is off their tails.
UPDATE: I just read in From Russia With Love that she and Bond were an item for awhile, but she left him to sail back to America with some cultural attache. Good for you, Tiff.
Locale: French Guinea; London; Manhattan; Saratoga Springs, NY; Las Vegas; Los Angeles for like a hot second; the Atlantic Ocean?? (Bond really turned into a true jet-setter in this one! I guess hanging out in the UK for all of Moonraker left him hankering for a real adventure.)
The car: Felix Leiter’s Studillac; a Las Vegas cab — “a smart-looking Chevrolet with a lucky raccoon tail tied to its chrome naked-lady mascot” (162) — driven by Ernie Cureo, who is WONDERFUL
Ancient MI6 proverb: “All bad roads lead to the bad town.” –Felix “The Boyfriend” Leiter (152)
Most outlandish moments:
- Bond on diamonds: “It was a domination by a beauty so pure that it held a kind of truth, a divine authority before which all other things turned, like the bit of quartz, to clay.” (13)
- “When I say it may be tough, I’m not being melodramatic.” (17) – Thanks for the warning, M.
- “It’s not as if this was Iron Curtain business. America’s a civilized country. More or less.” (22) – I’m offended.
- Things that worry M: SMERSH (lol); German cypher-breakers; the Chinese opium ring; “the American gangs” (23)
- Bond and M’s Chief of Staff are best bros, but I also think Chief of Staff (does he have a name??) might be in love with him.
- Sergeant Dankwaerts (lol)
- Bond tries to guess Tiffany’s name when he sees “T. Case” on her bag: Teresa? Tess? Thelma? Trudy? Tilly? (though it’s “surely not” Trixie, Tony, or Tommy)
- “this lonely girl who played the gramophone and gazed at herself in the mirror” (48) – Same, Tiff, same.
- Bond’s diamond smuggling cover is going to America to golf, so he packs clubs, balls (lol), and the book How to Play Your Best Golf all the Time
- “These American gangsters were too obvious. They had read too many horror comics and seen too many films.” (65) – *thumbs up emoji*
- Bond gets looked up and down by a hunchback and feels uncomfortable. (69)
- “Rocky, get those balls out of the bag and cut them open” (69) – He means the golf balls full of diamonds, but lol
- FELIX LEITER IS BACK<33 He has a hook for a hand because it got gnawed off by barracudas, or something, and he now works for the Pinkertons (who apparently still existed in the 1950s) . My reaction (and probably Bond’s):
- (When are they gonna bang?)
- James and Felix have a romantic meal at Sardi’s, take a road trip upstate, and work the case together. I am in love. (As are they.)
- Martinis, confirmed to be “shaken and not stirred” (89)
- “But who is ‘The Mob’?” – actual super spy James Bond (92)
- “Look after yourself, James. I don’t want to lose you.” (97) – YOU MET YESTERDAY.
- “I’ll be on the doorstep with my boots and my saddle while the coyotes are still baying the moon.” (113) – James. NO. THIS IS NOT HOW YOU HORSE PERSON.
- “twenty men covered with mud and only one shower to spare” (145) – A MAN ALMOST DIED IN THE MUD BATH, JAMES. YOU CAN BE DIRTY FOR A HOT SECOND.
- “You see, James, the whole state of Nevada, which, so far as the public cares, consists of Reno and Las Vegas, is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” (153); “Only law firm out there’s called Smith and Wesson.” (157) – Was Vegas still such a lawless town in 1956?
- “Together, I believe we could take him.” (154) – Bond so clearly doesn’t want Felix to leave him alone to fend for himself in America. Y’ALL SO GAY<3
- “The day was hot and sultry as a fire opal.” (165) – what.
- “Bond munched his steak as if it was Mr. Seraffimo Sprang’s fingers…” (176) – WHAT.
- “The truth of the matter…was that he felt homesick for his real identity.” (176) – YOU LITERALLY USE YOUR OWN NAME ON EVERY MISSION.
- Bond on Seraffimo Sprang on the casino floor: “It was a tiger watching the tethered donkey and yet sensing danger.” (182-3) – This line is ridiculous on its own, but also it made me think of Sean Connery’s line about “old tigers seeking their end” in “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”
- Seraffimo Sprang bought a ghost town and a train line and takes all his bros out there on weekends. Also the place is called “Spectreville.” Like, as in…that SPECTRE? (186-7)
- Bond’s only concerns, ever: “the immediate future and how to revenge his friend.” (199)
- SERAFFIMO SPRANG WEARS CHAPS TO DRIVE HIS CHOO-CHOO TO SPECTREVILLE (205)
- “For the first time in his life [Bond] saw the point of being a millionaire…” (207) – And that point is wearing spurs and chaps to drive your choo-choo.
- A Live and Let Die reverie after Bond is badly beaten?? (213)
- “‘ — ‘ said Bond, once.” (221) – How do you pronounce that?
- “It was the girl who had got him there.” (225) – Did…did James just admit that a LADY did something USEFUL?
- “Nothing propinks like propinquity.” (231) – ?????????
Fifi’s steel hook glints becomingly in the moonlight as he waves goodbye (232)
- “reverberating efflatus” (237)
- Chapter 23: The Job Comes Second [Because Bond comes first and the lady not at all OOH BURN] (250)
- “You shouldn’t sleep on the heart-side, my treasure. It’s bad for the heart. It might stop beating.” (261) – DR. TIFFANY CASE, M.D.
- “‘Ouch!’ he said with feeling.” (288)
- “Death is forever. But so are diamonds.” (289) – no.
Favorite moments: The weirdly metaphorical/somewhat surreal opening was actually quite engaging? Perhaps Fleming’s best writing (in my humble opinion) thus far.
Basically everything Tiffany had to say was gold, but this exchange when she first meets Bond, in particular, is gold:
“Do you mind if I smoke?”
“If that’s how you want to die.” (40)
Also, Bond gets on a place and his overactive imagination gives secret lives to all the businessmen, babies, and nuns (??) onboard. (58)
And my actual favorite is Bond’s day at the spa in Saratoga, where he’s forced to take a mud bath, witnesses an assault, and must read the sign, “Let your Armpits by your Charm-pits!” (132)
Super spy skills learned: Diamond identification, and “the passion that diamonds had inspired through the centuries, the almost sexual love they aroused among those who handled them and cut them and traded in them” (13). Or something. We learned as much as M knows about diamonds, that’s all I know.
“If there’s a hole in the sock, it doesn’t run” (29) — basically, people in the mafia do their job in isolation and then if they fuck up, it doesn’t affect anyone else. I think that’s what that means?
You can tell a lot by a man by eyeballing his shoe size. And then basically making up the details. (See page 37, in which Bond decides a big guy is “tough and capable” and “had triumphed in a variety of hard schools” just by noting that he’s probably a size 12.)
Most surprising revelation: Fleming is really a master at description (or, at least, he can be). There are certain people or places he manages to really bring to life — the spa in Saratoga, in particular, is so grimy and sad here, and I felt like I could see every crack in the paint and feel every drop of humidity. A+ work, sir.
I also kind of think Bond might have OCD? He is very much averse to unclean things, and moreso, to being out of his comfort zone or pushed off some semblance of a routine. I wish that was something that could have been explored more.
Also, blackjack is a children’s game in England?? (150)
Sexism scale: 3 out of 5 disapproving Moneypennys
- “She was sitting, half-naked, astride a chair…” (40) – Tiffany Case does what she wants, but something tells me this is what Flem wanted.
- Bond assumed his mob contact would be “some tough, well-used slattern with dead eyes…whose body was no longer of any interest to the gang she worked for” (41)
- Tiffany has a “sinful mouth,” because of course she does (45)
- Tiffany was brutally gang-raped at the age of sixteen, because of course she needed to be “damaged” in a way that Bond’s Magic Dick™ could fix (85)
- Bond admits Tiffany is pretty, but is glad she doesn’t bother with a lot of jewelry and doesn’t paint her fingernails (90)
- “The valley between her breasts opened for him…” and her tits are apparently whispering, “All is possible between us. But don’t be impatient.” (91)
- “…whatever the job dictated, there was one way he would never ‘use’ this girl. Through the heart.” (96) – Through the vag is a-ok, though
- Waitresses at the Vegas hotel serve in black silk pajamas and the “Hostess” leans over Bond’s table “to show him that her fine bosom was at least half real” (174-5)
- Seraffimo Sprang is getting his nails did, and slaps a girl across the face for accidentally cutting his finger. (189)
- Bond ruminates on his feelings for Tiffany Case and thinks he might be in love with her (his usual M.O.), but also seems displeased that she isn’t always warm and cute and affectionate (she’s literally a victim of rape, but that shouldn’t mean anything, right?) 
- Bond ruminates on Tiffany’s “luxurious lips,” then advises her, “Just don’t think about [being brutalized as a child].” He also talks about how marriage doesn’t add two people together, but “subtract one from the other.” He THEN goes on to say he’s “marred already. To a man. Name begins with M.” Thank God for the women of Earth. (242-5)
- Bond is certain “the physical act of love” will ~cure~ Tiffany of her Tragic Backstory of Sexual Violence. (247)
- “Up to forty, girls cost nothing. After that you have to pay money, or tell a story.” (253) – I’m going to fucking throttle you, James Bond.
- “I want it all, James. Everything you you’ve ever done to a girl. Now. Quickly.” (260) – NO TIFFANY DON’T GIVE IN D:
Racism scale: Racial slurs were largely left out of this one, thankfully! But there were a few moments of prejudice against Italians that I guess boils down moreso to ethnocentrism on Bond’s part?
- Bond on the actual mob: “They’re not Americans. Mostly a lot of Italian bums with monogrammed shirts who spend the day eating spaghetti and meat-balls [sic — who spells “meatball” as two words??] and squirting scent over themselves.” (23)
- A diamond broker is described as “a small harassed-looking Jew” with a big nose. Cool. (35)
- Saratoga is a mix of Brooklynites and Kentucky horse people, with “that extra exotic touch of the Negores” (116)
- Italian mob soldiers are “teenage pillow-fantasies” when compared to “real” bad guys. Like the Russians. (122)
- We get a Mr. Big callback, but mostly just so Bond can call him the n-word. (135)
- Of course, the only black man working at the spa is heavyset and implied to be unhealthy, out of shape, and probably not as mentally sharp as any of his white counterparts. (141)
- “I used to think your gangsters were just a bunch of Italian greaseballs who filled themselves up with pizza pie and beer all the week and on Saturdays knocked off a garage or a drug store so as to pay their way to the races.” (231) – I’m mostly annoyed that he referred to it as a “pizza pie.” It’s just called a PIE, JAMES, JESUS.
- “It was the voice of an overseer giving an order to a coolie” (284) – HOLY SHIT WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU
But the racism this time around was rivaled by a new category — (see below)
Homophobia scale: Bond is not gay, y’all. Bond is absolutely not gay. James Bond would really like you to know that he is UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES gay. But a lot of the mafia dudes he ran into in the course of this adventure apparently were, and he had thoughts about them.
- Felix telling Bond all he knows about a would-be assassin Bond almost had a run-in with at the Saratoga Acme Baths: “Kidd’s a pretty boy…Probably shacks up with Wint [a man]. Some of these homos make the worst killers.” (147)
- “Detroit Purple Mob. Coupla lavender boys. You know, pansies. Golf ain’t their game. The only irons they can handle are in their pockets.” (190) – NOPE. STOP.
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 martinis
I think Diamonds are Forever is second only to Casino Royale, in my personal ranking of favorite Bond books. I liked that Bond got to move around more than he has in the previous three books, and I liked that maybe someone smacked Flem around a little bit and told him to get his act together, when it came to women and people of color (but, like…just a little, like a love tap. Not enough to institute any real change).
Of course, it seems that he moved all that lingering hate into plenty of painful writing about anyone who identifies as homosexual, because Flem can’t be our buddy for too long, but we take what we can get in the 007 Reading Challenge.
Or maybe I just liked it so much because Moonraker was atrocious. The world may never know.
* Read along: Fleming, Ian. Diamonds are Forever. London: Penguin Books, 2002. Print.