Goldfinger: The Novel

Sunday , 3, July 2022 5 Comments

I have been slowly working my through the James Bond books by Ian Fleming. I picked up a stack of Signet/New American Library editions from the sixties at a library book sale a few years back.

Spy fiction is not one of my preferred genres though I do read a few. James Bond was one of the great cinematic characters growing up. When ABC television in the 1970s would run a James Bond movie on Sunday night, it was an event.

Goldfinger was the first James Bond movie I ever saw. I was probably around 10 or 11 years old. Goldfinger is the fifth James Bond novel I have read. It is the seventh book in the sequence, originally published in 1959.

The book starts out with Bond in Miami thinking back about a job in Mexico. He had killed a heroin dealer with his bare hands. He happens to run into an old acquaintance that complains to him about an Auric Goldfinger who is taking him for thousands in card games. He asks Bond to help him. Bond figures out the method of using a girl with binoculars. He seduces the girl and collects $10,000 taking Jill Masterton, claiming she is a hostage.

            “When Goldfinger had stood up, the first thing that had struck Bond was that everything was out of proportion. Goldfinger was short, not more than five feet tall, and on top of the thick body and blunt, peasant legs was set, almost directly into the shoulders, a huge and it seemed exactly round head. It was if Goldfinger had been put together with bits of other people’s bodies. Nothing seemed to belong. Perhaps, Bond thought, it was to conceal his ugliness that Goldfinger made such a fetish of sunburn. Without the red-brown camouflage the pale body would be grotesque. . . Bond always mistrusted short men. They grew up from childhood with an inferiority complex. All their lives they would strive to be big – bigger than the others who had teased them as a child. Napoleon had been short, and Hitler. It was the short men that caused all the trouble in the world. And what about a misshapen short man with red hair and a bizarre face? That might add up to a really formidable misfit.”

Like Robert E. Howard, Ian Fleming makes use of physiognomy.

Back in England, he is summoned by M for a meeting with the C.I.D at the Bank of England. Coincidentally Goldfinger is a figure of investigation. An immigrant from the Baltic States in the 1930s, he is suspected of smuggling gold at a premium, mainly to India for top price. The treasury wants that gold. Something not in the movie is Goldfinger is a communist agent working for SMERSH. He is to make money for proletariat revolution.

There is the golf match as in the movie. At Goldfinger’s English home, he is introduced to the Korean called Oddjob, Goldfinger’s henchman.

            “Goldfinger took the cat from under his arm and tossed it to the Korean who caught it eagerly – ‘I am tired of seeing this animal around. You may have it for dinner.’ The Korean’s eyes gleamed.”

Bond follows Goldfinger onto the European mainland to Switzerland. Along the way, he meets Tilly Masterton, sister of Jill Masterton. Tilly informs Bond that Goldfinger killed her sister painting her with gold pain so her skin could not breath. Jill had returned to Goldfinger thinking she would be O.K. Tilly is there to kill Goldfinger. Bond stops Tilly with rifle outside of Goldfinger’s Swiss hideout and in the process captured by Oddjob. Goldfinger interrogates Bond using a buzz-saw instead of a laser as threat.

Bond awakes in New York City. Goldfinger decides to use Bond and Tilly Masterton as secretaries for a meeting with organized crime figures. Included in the gangs is a group of women thieves lead by the lesbian Pussy Galore.

Goldfinger puts it to the mobsters on a heist to steal the gold from Fort Knox including using a small Russian nuclear bomb to blow the vault. The crew is a mix of Goldfinger’s Koreans, some Germans, and the mobster’s gangs.

James Bond is able to get a capsule with message left in the airplane lavoratory for Felix Leiter, his old friend from the C.I.A. Pussy Galore has taken an interest in Bond while Tilly only has eyes for Pussy.

            “Bond came to the conclusion that Tilly Masterton was one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up. He knew the type well and thought they and their male counterparts were a direct consequence of giving votes to women and ‘sex equality.’ As a result of fifty years of emancipation, feminine qualities were dying out or transferred to the males. Pansies of both sexes were everywhere, not yet completely homosexual, but confused, not knowing what they were. The result was a herd of unhappy sexual misfits– barren and full of frustrations, the women wanting to dominate and the men to be nannied.”

The assault on the gold vault at Ft. Knox is foiled as the attempt to poison the water supply was stopped due to Bond’s message being discovered. Goldfinger does make a getaway. In the chaos Oddjob’s hat kills Tilly Masterton.

Felix drops off Bond to the airport to return to England. He is informed at the desk he is not up to date in inoculations. Taken back for the shot, he is drugged by Goldfinger who has hijacked a commercial airliner to transport his gold to the U.S.S.R. Bond is able to use a hidden knife to punch a window. Oddjob is sucked out the plane. Bond kills Goldfinger with his bare hands. The plane crashes just off the coast of Newfoundland, Bond and Pussy Galore are rescued.

So, some changes from the movie with some things moved around. As I noticed with On Her Majesties Secret Service, there is a slow build-up that takes on a frenetic pace the last 20-30 pages. Lots of description of Bond’s drinks and meals. I listened to a lecture by Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey about a month ago on James Bond. He said Fleming’s Bond books were a celebration of good living in an era when the U.K. was still under rationing and hardship. Shippey contrasts this to Orwell’s vision of a future England in 1984.

I enjoyed some of Fleming’s social commentary inserted in the book. Fleming likes hand-to-hand combat. In the novel, Bond is working on a  hand-to-hand combat book. Bond never fires his PPK once. Fleming did not know firearms. There is brief scene of Bond using his hidden knife against Oddjob, and failing to take him out at Ft. Knox.

Do I tackle You Only Live Twice next?

5 Comments
  • T. Everett says:

    I knew Bond was pretty based, but that last block quote . . . it’s like Fleming could see straight into the Year of Our Lord 2022.

    The Tom Shippey lecture sounds interesting – is it available online somewhere?

  • Star Tripper says:

    For gardening I listen to a lot of recorded books. Found a good version of all the Bond novels on YouTube. I loved the social commentary and laughed at how the Hellmouth today would cringe over such stuff.

  • Fred Blosser says:

    YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, yes. The samurai stuff with Tiger Tanaka is interesting, underscored in the 1967 movie with the casting of chambara icon Tetsuro Tamba as Tiger. The Conan resurgence of the 1960s fit right in with the James Bond/Mike Hammer vibe of the time.

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