The third novel in Ian Fleming's "James Bond 007" series, 1955's Moonraker (click here to reserve a copy), doesn't quite have the nonstop driving pace of it's previous installments. But it does have one terrific climax, as well as one of the most memorable villains in the series.
It's May, 1954: Sir Hugo Drax, self-made millionaire industrist, has masterminded the construction of the new "Moonraker" rocket. The Moonraker is England's first major nuclear missile project, and a source of national pride. Even Bond thinks highly of the missile and Drax.
But after outcheating Drax at cards at the bequest of his boss, "M", Bond discovers there's a dark side to Drax and his project. Sent to the Moonraker installation just a few days before the rocket's official test launch (with a dummy warhead) to investigate a seemingly simple murder/suicide at the base, Bond, with the aid of undercover Scotland Yard policewoman Gala Brand, finds out that Drax and his army of scientists aren't what they appear to be. And that the Moonraker launch will have disastrous consequences for all of England.
More I don't dare give away. Moonraker is a little bit "set-bound" - it's takes place entirely in the UK- and much of the book's early focus is on Bond's private life (where he works and lives, what he likes to eat, concern for fellow agents, etc.). But Fleming doesn't bore the reader with these details, and we get a very revealing portrait of 007 that makes him more vivid in our minds.
Fleming also establishes Drax as one real nasty, barely controlled psychopathic piece of work. One minute charming and charmingly dramatic, the next a frightening monster with little regard for human life (his vicious beatings of Bond and Gala and the apparent death of a motorist during a high speed chase bear this fact out). His ultimate plan to (MILD SPOILER ALERT!) destroy England is well thought out and terrifying, especially in these post-9/11 times, and Bond is just barely able to prevent it.
(And, reflective of the Cold War period Moonraker is set in, it shouldn't be much of a surprise when Drax's true identity, and the source of his financial backing, is revealed. Fleming knew what buttons to push.)
Fine characterization (Gala is tough and resourceful, not that smitten with Bond,and can hold her own, plus we see another, less brusque, more human side of M), colorful detail, an exciting car chase, and a suspenseful climax make Moonraker a solid and thrilling installment in the 007 saga.
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