The book is terrifically structured. It's really a testament to Fleming that the pace and excitement of the story never wanes despite his lead character not entering the story till neigh half-way through. In fact, the most interesting segments of the novel occur during those opening moments. It's clear that with FRWL, Fleming had a certain degree of confidence and I think a large deal of this comes from knowing that he had carved out a marvellous story. Quite frankly, FRWL has the author's most exciting, sexy and suspenseful plot. We get exotic locations, Cold War politics, enticing Russian beauties with duplicitous motivations, mysterious train rides, psychotic villains, etc. There's even a passage in the book where Grant describes the Russian's plot during the train confrontation and it's clear Fleming knows he's on to a doozy.
One element I enjoyed thoroughly was the Cold War aspect of the story. The villain's plot isn't far-fetched or absurd, instead the story focusses on the Russians attempting to win a victory within the intelligence sphere. They plan to discredit the British Secret Service, thusly, bruising MI6 and Bond's reputation with a sex scandal story that will pollute the tabloids for years to come. What makes the plot so much more compelling is how the Russians play on Britain's ailing status and willingness to chase the challenge of getting hold of the Spektor machine. Essentially, the bravado of the British proves their ultimate downfall and provides a crippling defeat for Bond as he, and his superiors, should surely have known better. For me the story has the perfect James Bond plot by interweaving Cold War politics with sex and exoticism. What makes it more interesting is the political landscape of the time; the book mentions the Bugress and MacClean affair and, as such, the novel really carries a sense of paranoia and mistrust as Bond is lulled slowly into SMERSH's trap.
The only disappointing parts of the novel come in the latter stages, especially with Kerim Bey who is something of a dullard. Furthermore, when the story moves to the Orient Express some of the excitement and suspense does disperse and the final train confrontation with Grant is slightly lacklustre, something the film improves upon. Grant, himself is a fantastic villain and Fleming's colourful characterisation is thoroughly entertaining and grotesque.
What do we think?