Ian Fleming on Crime and Spy Fiction (and non-fiction!)


Welcome to a new regular series intended to share the journalism of Ian Fleming, with a special focus on Fleming’s book reviews of thrillers, spy novels, crime stories, and even non-fiction works on those topics. I plan on posting a review by Fleming approximately every week until I run out material (which will take a while!).
This post will serve as an index of links to each review for ease of access.

Review Listing (in order of original publication):

BANG-BANG, KISS-KISS (“An American Miscellany,” My Gun is Quick by Mickey Spillane and more.)

Some Uncollected Authors: Raymond Chandler and Raymond Chandler (Two articles on the great American mystery novelist)

The Great Riot of Istanbul (An eyewitness report)

Birth-pangs of a Thriller (“How I Came to Write Casino Royale”)

Dangerous Know-How (Scarne On Cards, by John Scarne)

Forever Ambler (The Night Comers, by Eric Ambler)

The Tragic Spy (The Spy’s Bedside Book. An Anthology, edited by Graham Greene and Hugh Greene)

The Secret of Edgar Hoover (The F.B.I. Story, by Don Whitehead)

Trouble in Havana (Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene)

The Thriller Trend (A Twist of Sand, by Geoffrey Jenkins)

Adventure in the Haggard-Buchan School (The Pass Beyond Kashmir, by Berkely Mather)

Foreword to Airline Detective, by Ronald Fish and John Pearson

A Thundering Yarn (A Grue of Ice, by Geoffrey Jenkins)

Intrepid: Silhouette of a Secret Agent (introduction to The Quiet Canadian: The Secret Service Story of Sir William Stephenson, by H. Montgomery Hyde)

Stay tuned for more each week!


The Tragic Spy
(Sunday Times, Nov. 17, 1957)

The Spy’s Bedside Book. An Anthology edited by Graham Greene and Hugh Greene. (Hart-Davis. 15s.)

I cannot understand why the great spy novel has never been written. The true spy is a fascinating figure—a lonely, nervous, romantic controlled by an organisation which is hobbled by Security, lack of funds and official skepticism. Tragedy—the tragedy of the futile—is inherent as much in his successes as in his failures. If, by some brilliant stroke of luck or craft, he discovers a vital truth, even if it is believed, by his Service, it will almost certainly be disbelieved by his Government, because it is a Secret Service report. For Secret Services are rarely trusted by War Ministries.

I remember the early reports of the V.1s reaching the Admiralty and subsequently being debated by the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Chiefs of Staff. These reports, from Vienna, where many of the components were being manufactured, from the environs of Peenemünde, and from workers in the Todt Organisation who were constructing the launching sites on the Channel coasts, were obtained by Secret Service agents at great risk. How many lonely men and women ran the gauntlet of how many dangers to get this vital intelligence through the maze of couriers and cut-outs to the secret wireless transmitter that, under the ears of the enemy D/F vans, transmitted it to London?

For weeks, even months, skepticism greeted these priceless messages. Finally the sheer weight of them demanded a check by the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit. The results confirmed the Secret Service reports, and the bombing of the V.1 sites and factories began at the eleventh hour.

This is not to criticise Whitehall—we should have lost the war if we had sent out our bombers every time a secret agent reported a secret weapon—but to underline the tragedy of the spy. He gets a poor salary and little, if any, reward for his services. He has no social standing in the community and remains all his life “something in the War Office” while his wife, watching her friends’ husbands climb the ladder, remains just the wife of something in the War Office.” And, on top of it all, the fruits of his dangerous labours rarely give satisfaction outside the department of the Secret Service which controls him.

Here, it seems to me, is the stuff of a great novel which no one, has attempted and whose fringes have been only touched on by Somerset Maugham, Eric Ambler and Graham Greene.

Seduced from the drab truth by the emotive lushness of espionage, most writers of spy fiction (or spy fact for the matter of that) choose the easier and more profitable thriller approach and, with the exception of the three I mention above, it is only the best of the others—Buchan. George Griffith, and O. Henry—who can reread except as a joke. They do date so terribly, these fairy stories of our teens—their language, their steam-age wars, their moustaches, their exclamation marks! Even their gimmicks lack the high seriousness with which the thriller writer should approach his subject. One shivered pleasurably at Khokhlov’s explosive cigarette lighter, but, surely, even in those days of other smoking habits William Le Queux’s explosive cigar which blew the Privy Councilor’s face off must have made our fathers chuckle rather than shiver.

In fact, it is these lowlights of spy literature which make The Spy’s Bedside Book required reading for anyone who likes thrillers or detective stories. It is all here: the hazards, the tricks, the delights of the profession, wrapped up in an attractive package which includes an authentic old-time advertisement by The Stereographic Camera Company, “For Accurate Copies of All Documents. A Necessity for Blackmailers, Spies, and Gentlemen of the Press.”

It is probably that note, the note that makes the book such fun, that inspired the rather incongruous reflections at the beginning of this review. They were the reactions of one of the fifty or so contributors to this anthology who is reminded that the art of thrilling ought to consist of rather more than shouting “Bang!” in an authoritative voice.


The Secret of Edgar Hoover: 33 Years at the F.B.I.
(Sunday Times, Dec. 15, 1957)

The F.B.I. Story. By Don Whitehead. (Muller. 30s)

By Ian Fleming

“I heard Jack say he had searched the town to find the kind of kit he wanted, and he had gift-wrapped it and placed it in his mother’s luggage as a surprise for her when she reached Alaska.” It was a dynamite bomb that Jack had gift-wrapped and it blew to kingdom-come Jack’s heavily insured mother and forty-three other people in United Airlines Flight No. 629, eleven minutes out of Denver. When the Federal Bureau of Investigation had pinned the crime on Jack Graham he said to his guard, “You can send my mail to Cannon City Prison until next, month. After that you can send it to Hell.”

The modern F.B.I. is Edgar Hoover. Hoover joined the Bureau at the age of twenty-two, shortly after the greatest sabotage act of all time, when Von Rintelen and Boy-Ed brought off the Black Tom explosion of two million pounds of dynamite stored on an island in New York Harbour. Hoover was put in charge of enemy alien registration until, at the end of the war, the entire personnel of the Bureau was swamped with the round-up of American deserters who, by June, 1918, had reached the staggering total of 308,489.

Wartime Meeting

Then came the scandals of the Harding administration, in which the head of the F.B.I.,
William Burns, and the grimy detective Gaston B. Means were deeply implicated. President Coolidge’s first step in house-cleaning was to appoint Harlan Stone as Attorney-General, and in 1924 Stone summoned twenty-nine-year-old J. Edgar Hoover to his office, scowled at him and appointed him head of the F.B.I., a position that Hoover has held to this day.

How has Hoover, in defiance of all history, remained head of a national secret police force for thirty-three years, surviving almost unchallenged five Presidents and eleven Attorneys-General?

I met Edgar Hoover in 1940. I was in Washington with my chief, Admiral Godfrey, who was on a mission to co-ordinate the Naval Intelligence effort before America came into the war. In the confusion of fledgling Intelligence organisations, there were two solid men in America—the brilliant Canadian, “Bill” Stephenson, who represented British Intelligence, and Edgar Hoover. Hoover, a chunky, enigmatic man with slow eyes and a trap of a mouth, received us graciously, listened with close attention (and a witness) to our exposé of certain security problems and expressed himself firmly but politely as being uninterested in our mission.

Hoover had his channels with Bill Stephenson, and his commonsense, legalistic mind told him it would be unwise to open separate channels with us. He was, of course, quite right. Our constitutional link with American Intelligence could only lie with the Office of Naval Intelligence of the Navy Department.

Hoover’s negative response was soft as a cat’s paw. With the air of doing us an exceptional favour he had us piloted, through the F.B.I. Laboratory and Record Departments and down to the basement shooting range where, at that time, his men had their training in the three basic F.B.I. weapons—pistol, automatic shot gun, and sub-machine gun. Even now I can hear the shattering roar of the Thompsons as, in the big dark cellar, the instructor demonstrated on the trick targets. Then, with a firm, dry handclasp, we were shown the door.

My impression of the F.B.I then, and my impression of the occasional agents I have since met, is that discipline and thoroughness, rather than intuitive brilliance, is the backbone of the Bureau. These virtues, together with incorruptibly and absolute loyalty to his superiors, are the reasons for Hoover’s long survival. Add to these absence or greed to political power and, despite his bachelorhood, a life totally untouched by scandal, and you have a Civil Servant whom any government would welcome as guardian of its secrets (not quite all its secrets: Hoover knew nothing of the atomic bomb project until his own undercover agents in Communist cells on the West Coast began picking up gossip about the Manhattan Project!).

Resisted McCarthy

In England, we are inclined to think the F.B.I. played a dubious role at the time of the McCarthy purges. It would be wrong to tar Hoover with that brush. The F.B.I. had to obtain and give evidence, but Hoover refused to open his files to the McCarthy investigators. Hoover’s point of View was that a raw file, containing unconfirmed suspicions, is a weapon which should never be used against an individual except to build up a case that will subsequently stand in law. He successfully resisted all McCarthy’s attempts to gain access to his records on any man, while accepting his duty to provide the Senate Inquiry with normal security checks.

No doubt the F.B.I. has its grimy secrets and certainly, as all police forces, it has made mistakes, but the impression I have, now strongly reinforced by reading The F.B.I. Story, is that the Bureau is probably the best-run Department of the American Government. In a country where a serious crime is committed every 13.9 seconds it would be bad news if it wasn’t!

Mr. Whitehead has written in admirable prose a first-class documentary which can be read with real excitement by the crime addict, but which will also serve as good contemporary history.

Commentary: Ian Fleming would have been astonished to know J. Edgar Hoover continued serving as director of the F.B.I. until his death in 1972. The reason for Hoover’s long survival was that multiple Presidents feared his retaliation. As Lyndon Johnson legendarily said, “it’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” Richard Nixon chose not to remove Hoover because he feared Hoover would “bring down the temple” by releasing damaging information about him. In a wonderful irony, Hoover’s death brought down the temple instead, since the man Nixon passed over to succeed Hoover became Deep Throat!

The F.B.I.'s “grimy secrets” were also grimier than Fleming knew: illegal wiretapping, COINTELPRO, the persecution of the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King ( to whom an anonymous blackmail letter was sent, urging him to commit suicide), and much more.

Fleming also doesn’t mention that he was among those “in England” who were “inclined to think the F.B.I. played a dubious role at the time of the McCarthy purges.” Evidence is in the following excerpt from an earlier article, where Fleming compared Hoover to Napoleon’s secret police chief.

from Eldollarado: A Transient’s Scrapbook from New York
(Sunday Times, June 28, 1953)

These Names Make Bad News

For a time the Coronation (“It’s going to mean a great religious revival round the world” is a comment I have heard several times) ousted McCarthy as topic “A” in New York and I believe throughout America, but now he is top-billing again, and you simply can’t stop talking about him or reading about him.

There are various reasons for this: he has a really expert publicity machine, he is always springing or cooking-up a new surprise, people are terrified and fascinated by him, and “he may be a sonofabitch but, darn it, he’s always right.” Homosexuals in the State Department, British ships trading with China, un-American books in American embassies abroad.

Each scandalous broadside has missed with ninety-nine calumnies and hit with one. And that one is enough in a country where every man is born with a chance to be President and where, in consequence, every man aches to prove the Administration wrong. McCarthy is just pressing the trigger of a gun which is loaded and aimed by a huge cross-section of the public.

Walter Winchell has been doing much the same thing for thirty years, and he goes on doing it on radio and TV to a guaranteed public of around ten million every week. Is there a connection between them?

And what role does Edgar Hoover of the F.B.I. play in all this, the Washington Fouché who has controlled the American secret police for the amazing span of twenty-seven years? These three men are the recipients of all the private grudges of America. They are the overt and covert crusaders against un-Americanism. The sun would indeed be darkened if history were to bring them together, or any closer together, before this giant country has found itself.


Many thanks for sharing these pieces, @Revelator. Especially interesting in light of what we know today - and what Fleming already knew/suspected back then.


American Miscellany: “BANG-BANG, KISS-KISS”
(Sunday Times, March 19, 1950)

By Ian Fleming

Stoddard turned angular, wind-whipped features in her direction. “It’s none of my business—I know, but you are, well, sort of gone on Hugh? Or is it my over-active imagination?” Under the restless breeze light brown curls lashed softly at the smooth curve of Jingles Lawson’s strong cheekbones as she started a quick reply, but, instead, paused and smiled a taut little smile. “I kind of get unglued inside when Hugh’s around, and me a growed-up gal of near thirty. Silly isn’t it? Silly, silly!”

Two hundred and seventy pages of this come to you by courtesy of Mr. Van Wyck Mason in Dardanelles Derelict. It is a “Major North Story” by the author of seventeen other (in Hollywood’s jargon) “Bang-Bang, Kiss-Kiss” tales, and it was pressed into my hand by a formerly reliable friend in Brentano’s in response to a request for the best American “toughie” since Christmas. I recommend Mason for this year’s “Prix Amanda Ross.”

For another pound’s worth of the local currency I fortified myself for the stratocruiser flight home with My Gun is Quick, by Mickey Spillane, which the New York Times had just reviewed with horrified awe. Alas, on leaving Gander, I found that “The moonlight on the white V of the plunging neckline made it hard to concentrate” for Mike Hammer, private eye, of whom the Miami Herald critic says: “In a long and misspent life immersed in blood, I don’t believe I have ever met a tougher hombre.” For my money, they come tougher in Teddy Lester’s Chums.

The Saturday Review of Literature reports that “They’ve been shuffling the big brass in the Brentano book chain,” and my message to the new president is that the homespun American folk-tales of Raymond Chandler, John O’Hara, James M. Cain, “Little Caesar” Burnett and others have many admirers, and if the day comes when the harsh voice of the .38 Police Positive is stilled and the office bottle has yielded its last pint of rye, one customer will no longer darken the portals at 5th Avenue and 47th.

Sentimentality in America very easily becomes mawk, and it mav be that some of the tears being currently shed in New York at Mister Roberts and Death of a Salesman are spilling over into the book business. Personally, I will pay folding money not to see either of these plays, and still haye some to spare to protect my heartstrings from books about repenting gangsters.

The rest of the American literary scene is also disappointing. John O’Hara’s A Rage to Live is selling far better than it deserves. John Bowles’s much discussed The Sheltering Sky was poorly reviewed, but is now a best-seller, and Mrs. Roosevelt’s This I Remember heads the general list. British authors, for instance, Daphne du Maurier, Joyce Cary and the late George Orwell, are best-sellers, shortly to be joined, I expect, by Mr. Churchill’s The Grand Alliance, and Fitzroy Maclean’s Eastern Approaches.

“Stuffers” (promotion material which the book traders stuff into magazines and other books) are going out for Miss Kathleen Winsor’s Star Money, successor to her Forever Amber. This will presumably satisfy two types of American customer recently unearthed by the Saturday Review of Literature—the lady who demanded “a light, entertaining novel she could read while knitting and watching television,” and the woman columnist of the New York Post who claims that women can lose some of their “middle-aged spread” by balancing books on their stomachs.

The horizon is bleak. Ernest Hemingway’s short novel, Across the River and into the Trees (to be published here by Cape) appears in the spring; and John Hersey’s The Wall, on a Polish-Jew theme, is coming shortly, but from a quick glance at an advance copy it looks to me the most difficult reading since the Rosetta Stone.

American publishers are biting their nails over a recent Gallup Poll which asked the adults of six democracies: “Are you now reading any books or novels?” (a piquant differentiation). America was easily bottom of the list; England was top. Fifty-five per cent. of our population are now reading a book (or novel), compared with forty-three percent in Norway, forty percent in Canada, thirty-five percent in Australia, thirty-three percent in Sweden and (stop sniveling, Scribner!) twenty-one percent in the U.S.A. What puzzles the publishers is that only thirteen percent of the British adult population are alleged “to have gone beyond elementary or grade school,” compared with over fifty-three percent in America, and that “mass education and a high degree of literacy in the United States” does not seem to be paying off.

Could be there’s a horrible answer in definitions of “education” and “literacy.” Probably is.


Paul Bowles. Bernardo Bertolucci directed the 1990 film version starring Debra Winger and John Malkovich. Seem to recall it was quite good.

“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.”

Lovely music score by Ryuichi Sakamoto.


I’m happy to say the error was Fleming’s and not my own: I double-checked the original article and “John Bowles” is there.
The Sheltering Sky has been on my to-read list for a while.


Which is why I clearly said “Ian Fleming wrote:”


Trouble In Havana
(Sunday Times, Oct. 5, 1958)

Our Man in Havana. By Graham Greene. (Heinemann. 15s.)

By Ian Fleming

Spies are rapidly getting the same old-fashioned look as the rest of the bric-a-brac of pre-Sputnik wars.

Somehow there does not seem to be much point in stealing plans of aircraft, tanks and submarines when every year, and almost every month, the distance between the blueprint and the junk-heap gets less and less.

Already this summer the “Terriers,” rattling down the roads on their summer manoeuvres, have seemed like something out of a rich boy’s play-box, or the windows at a print shop. Surely nobody could be seriously interested in purloining one of those antitank weapons they carry so proudly! After all, couldn’t one buy the whole outfit at Hamley’s with, of course, a crib to their radio code thrown in?

It is rather pathetic that the glamorous trimmings of war seem as dated as the busby. What shall we dangle in front of our grandchildren’s eyes instead of a V.C.? Or will they award it for Vigorous Citizenship?

The modern military spy is a ticking instrument in a stark room on a mountain top, measuring gigantic explosions across the roof of the world. The quiet-spoken linguist with a cyanide pill in his coat button has gone out with the rat-catcher and the chimney sweep, and Mr. Graham Greene gives him a last savage kick down the steps of the big anonymous building near Maida Vale.

Mr. Wormold, “Our Man In Havana,” is a typical Graham Greene reluctant hero—troubled, anxious, sensitive, loving—with a vacuum-cleaner agency in Cuba. Abandoned by his wife, he dotes on his daughter, an adorable nymphet in her teens who has caught the eye of the villainous, and admirably drawn, Segura, Chief of the Secret Police.

Wormold is recruited by the British Secret Service without quite knowing what is happening to him. He sets up a cursory and entirely notional network of agents, using names picked at random from the local Country Club members’ list. He earns good money with his farcical secret reports and spends it on his daughter’s whims.

Unfortunately, Wormold is in turn spied upon, and suddenly two of the Country Club members whose names he has been using are assassinated. Caught in this ghastly web, an H-Certificate Charley’s Aunt situation develops which I, for one, would prefer to have seen worked out to its logically horrific climax, but the author is kindly and allows us and his reluctant hero to escape to a more or less happy ending.

Mr. Greene has chosen to heighten, rather than lower, the grotesque temperature of his story so that what could have been terrible and true becomes a savage farce. To my mind, the almost Wodehousian treatment of the Secret Service (its Chief wears a black monocle over a glass eye) is a weakness, and the only weakness in the book. For the rest, this is brilliant and utterly compulsive reading and in the highest class of what the author describes as his “Entertainments.”

As with all Mr. Greene’s books, what delights most of all is the sheer intelligence of the writing. To watch an intelligence of this quality at work on every page, in every sentence even, is a freshet in the desert, a blessed island in the Sargasso Sea of post-war letters. In his latest book, this high intelligence, never, I think, so evenly sustained by the author, is as easy to recognize as pre-war whisky.


Forever Ambler
(The Sunday Times, July 1, 1956)

The Night-Comers. By Eric Ambler. (Heinemann. 13s. 6d.)

By Ian Fleming

There are not many authors one can automatically buy “sight unseen,” and it seemed for a time after the war that Eric Ambler had crossed himself off the short list. With The Night-Comers (what a good, eerie title!) we can again buy Ambler blind.

The story is set In Indonesia. The opening pages are slow and read like an ABCA briefing for an invading army, but at last we have learnt and quickly forgotten the intricacies of Sundanese politics. Major Suparto appears, and we meet that favourite creation of Ambler’s—the dangerous, rather villainous, foreigner whom we and the hero get to like.

And then Ambler’s typically reluctant hero, Fraser, an English construction engineer, picks up the delicious Eurasian Rosalie at the New Harmony Club and takes her back to his flat, and almost before has made love to her we are in the middle of bloody rebellion. Prisoners of the National Freedom Government in the radio station building, the man and the girl are on the losing side, caught up in its treacheries, and forced to obey the sinister Colonel Roda and the slowly crumbling dictator General Sanusi.

One of the best scenes in the book, reminiscent of the silent safe-breaking in Rififi, is Fraser’s effort at pistol-point to get the bombed radio-station generator to work again. How much one enjoys these long, deadly struggles with machinery: in this book, the drama of those wet generator windings that had tripped the no-volts circuit breaker!

The bombers come, and “not very far off an 88 was slamming away like a pair of double doors in a gale.” “Like a dull-witted bull blinking in the sunlight of the arena” the enemy tank comes into the square, the attacking troops get into the building, and Fraser and the girl wait for the lobbed-in grenade .and the panicky spray of a machine pistol. It is a really splendid piece of battle writing, set around a love affair which, at the end, does not let us down. The girl is tidied up on a note of unsentimental realism.

All Ambler’s other gifts are in this excellent thriller—the well-drawn minor characters, the simple, easy prose; the exact ring of the dialogue. It is very good to have this fine writer back with us again.


Note: Fleming was less enthusiastic about the book than his review indicated, as seen in a letter to Raymond Chandler:
“Eric Ambler has a new thriller coming out next week, which no doubt Prince’s Bookshop will send you. If not, I will. It is better than the last two but still not the good old stuff we remember. I have done a review for the Sunday Times headed Forever Ambler which struck me as a good joke.” ( June 22, 1956)

Chandler responded:
“I have already ordered Eric Ambler’s new thriller since he told me about it some time before it came out. I think the title of your review, Forever Ambler, is a pretty good joke of the third class division.” (July 4, 1956)

According to Wikipedia, “Forever Amber (1944) is a historical romance novel by Kathleen Winsor set in 17th-century England. It was made into a film in 1947 by 20th Century Fox.”


Thank you for continuing to present us with these wonderful articles.

As a side note, Ambler’s “The Night-Comers” is published as “State of Siege” in North America, for those interested in picking it up over here. It’s available through Vintage Crime.


Indeed, many many thanks for your efforts to share these gems here, @Revelator. Much appreciated - though it’s indeed a bit sobering to see Fleming here jazzing up his verdict on The Night-Comers. Would be interesting to hear Fleming’s opinion on The Light of Day. I suspect he’d have liked the murky cast…


Dangerous Know-How
(Sunday Times, April 22, 1956)

Scarne on Cards: With a Photographic Section on Cheating at Cards. (Constable. 35s.)

By Ian Fleming

Although cheating at cards is not numbered among the cardinal sins, I suppose it is the only antisocial act that remains as heinous and as severely punished today as it was during the last century.

Card cheats still have to resign from their clubs and suffer social ostracism, and there is not a woman who reads this who would not tremble at the idea of a husband or brother being caught in the act.

Yet the polite card cheat sits at many a friendly bridge or whist table, squinting onto his neighbours’ hands, signalling to his partner with voice or expression or gesture, and in games where this is possible, fudging the score.

It is not with these humble practitioners that John Scarne deals in his Cheats’ Encyclopaedia, but with the card hustler who knows just that bit more about the game than you and I, the professional gambler who makes his living by operating games of chance, and the straight card sharp, known in the profession as a “mechanic.”

Scarne can do anything with cards. Nate Leipzig and Harry Houdini, now both in the Magicians’ Valhalla, once put their signature to the statement: “John Scarne is the most expert exponent of wonderful card effects and table work that I have ever seen in my life”; yet he uses no apparatus except ten steel-spring fingers and fifty-two playing cards. He moves up close to you. You tear the wrapper off a new pack of cards and shuffle it as much as you like. You give it to Scarne and he cuts it four times. At the aces. He counts that his greatest trick. Trick? It is a work of art on which he practiced six hours a day for several years.

During the war Scarne worked for the American War Department, writing a weekly article for “Yank” to educate the G.I. into not losing his pay to card sharps, and this book is a distillation of his knowledge not only of cheating but of strategy and other aspects of popular American card games.

This is not perhaps a book for the general public. It is expensive and, although pleasantly written, highly professional. Moreover it concentrates largely on American games such as the poker and rummy families, and—a grave fault—bridge is not mentioned; but every club and library should have a copy to be issued to the accredited card lover with the proviso “For Your Eyes Only.”

Why? Because this is a dangerous book to leave lying about.

Note: Eagle-eyed readers will recognize that the beginning of this review repeats what M tells Bond in Moonraker: “And don’t forget that cheating at cards can still smash a man. In so-called Society, it’s about the only crime that can still finish you, whoever you are.”

And Fleming fans of course know that Scarne on Cards also appears in Moonraker:

He was home in fifteen minutes. He left the car under the plane trees in the little square and let himself into the ground floor of the converted Regency house, went into the book-lined sitting-room and, after a moment’s search, pulled Scarne on Cards out of its shelf and dropped it on the ornate Empire desk near the broad window.

…Ten minutes later…he was sitting at his desk with a pack of cards in one hand and Scarne’s wonderful guide to cheating open in front of him.

For half an hour, as he ran quickly through the section on Methods, he practised the vital Mechanic’s Grip (three fingers curled round the long edge of the cards, and the index finger at the short upper edge away from him), Palming and Nullifying the Cut. His hands worked automatically at these basic manoeuvres, while his eyes read, and he was glad to find that his fingers were supple and assured and that there was no noise from the cards even with the very difficult single-handed Annulment.

At five-thirty he slapped the cards on the table and shut the book.

That’s not the only reference–here’s a quote from the Bridge game at Blades:

Scarne is also referenced in Diamonds Are Forever. Bond watches Tiffany false-deal him at blackjack in Vegas:


The Great Riot of Istanbul
(Sunday Times, September 11, 1955)

From Ian Fleming, Special Representative of The Sunday Times at the International Police Conference.

This week’s great riot of Istanbul—the worst insurrection in the history of modern Turkey—is a reminder that Great Britain is very fortunate in being an Island nation. She has never built up those hatreds that fester between neighbours in a suburban street and lead to fisticuffs and end up in court and a shameful half column in the evening paper—the hatreds that gather and come to a head between two families or even two generations in the same house, and that sometimes end in murder—the hatreds between Arab and Jew, German and Frenchman, Pole and Russian, Turk and Greek.

This was to have been a great week for Turkey. Obedient to the undying memory of Ataturk, she has continued to mould her destiny away from the East and towards the West, perhaps in defiance of her stars and certainly in defiance of her true personality, which is at least three-quarters oriental.

To begin with, she successfully changed her spots. She abolished the fez, the harem, her Sultans. (Only twelve eunuchs remain in the “Association of Former Eunuchs” that held its annual reunion here last Sunday. Thirty years ago there were one hundred and ninety. Fifty years ago the Sultan had four thousand.)

She turned her fabulous palaces—and they really are fabulous—into museums. She imported large quantities of French and English culture, German machinery and American taxicabs. She played her cards carefully during the last war. Then she joined N.A.T.O. She bolstered her currency with a tough exchange rate (difficult and dangerous for the operators).

The educated Turk became a carefully dressed provincial Frenchman with a Homburg and a briefcase and a ballpoint pen. Mr. Conrad Hilton, a man who considers even England a bad risk for an hotel, built the Istanbul Hilton, the most fabulous modern hotel in Europe. The International conference delegates flocked, like the quail whose season opens also this week, into the Golden Gates and this was to be the sixty-four dollar week in a record season.

This week would surely have made the recently joined member of the European Club eligible, even for the committee, for the prospect of busy modern Istanbul would surely please even those most sensitive confidential agents of the modern State—the police and the economists.

On Monday in an atmosphere of friendly efficiency began the Twenty-fourth General Assembly of the International Police Commission (Interpol), and the police chiefs of the world went into a conclave on such matters affecting the public safety as I described last Sunday. That was Monday. On Wednesday the 200 delegates to the conference of the International Monetary Fund started coming in to discuss that very delicate matter, the credit of nations—including the credit of Turkey. Between these two days the Turkish Common Man broke out from behind Turkey’s smile of welcome and reduced Istanbul to a shambles.

On Wednesday morning martial law was declared, and the official Interpol lunch arranged by the Chief of Police of Istanbul had to be cancelled as its venue, a restaurant, had been razed to the ground. That evening the heads of the police of fifty-two countries, after getting off cables to their wives, were confined for their safety to their hotels. There, with the banker economists of the International Monetary Fund, the two congresses lugubriously danced at the centre of the curfew.

The whole damage, a small fraction of which I witnessed, was done in eight hours of darkness by the peaceful light of a three-quarter moon. At six o’clock the fuse of hatred against the Greeks that had been creeping through the years reached the powder with reports that Ataturk’s birthplace at Salonika had been bombed by Greek terrorists. (In fact only a window had been broken by a bomb thrown at the Turkish consulate on Salonika. The proprietor of the leading evening paper and his editor are among the 2,000 rioters now under arrest.)

Spontaneously on both sides of the Bosphorus in every noisome alley and smart boulevard hatred erupted and ran through the streets like lava.

Several times during that night curiosity sucked me out of the safety of the Hilton Hotel and down into the city, where mobs went howling through the streets, each under its streaming red flag with the white star and sickle moon. Occasional bursts of shouting rose out of the angry murmur of the crowds, then would come the crash of plate-glass and perhaps part of a scream.

A car went out of control and charged the yelling crowd and the yells changed to screams and gesticulating hands showed briefly as the bodies went down before it. And over all there was the trill of the ambulances and the whistling howl of the new police cars imported from America.

When, nauseated, I finally got back to my hotel a muddy, tough-looking squadron of cavalry were guarding the approaches, but they never fired their 1914-18 Mausers and I think there was no shooting by either side during the riot. It was a night of the long staves and these were quickly put away at dawn when the Sherman tanks came in and the first Turkish Division got a grip of the town. For it is broken, and millions of pounds’ worth of damage was done that night. Countless businessmen are wiped out. Including several British merchants, and the Consulate and the rest of the British community are rallying to their help.

And now the normal disorder of Istanbul is being re-established and on a higher level Ankara and Athens are doing their own mopping-up. In a day or two the police chiefs and their cohorts will depart. As for Turkey, her splendid progress in the International game of snakes and ladders has suffered. She has landed on a snake and must now go back and wait patiently until she can throw a six and get back into the game again.

Commentary: Since Turkey is back in the news and in turmoil again, this seemed like a good time to share Fleming’s eyewitness report. Some background information on how he ended up in the eye of the storm:

In September 1955 Fleming accompanied joined Sir Ronald Howe, Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, to Istanbul for the International Police (Interpol) Conference.
Bond fans might remember that Howe had appeared in Moonraker as Superintendent Ronnie Vallance (the surname was that of Fleming’s accountant, Vallance Lodge). After From Russia With Love was published, Howe glowingly reviewed it for the Sunday Times and called Fleming was called “the most readable and highly polished writer of adventure stories to have appeared since the war.” But, Andrew Lycett revealed decades later, Howe’s review was actually written by John Pearson–who had recently graduated from Cambridge before joining the paper.

Like James Bond in From Russia With Love, Fleming flew to Istanbul with a copy of Eric Ambler’s The Mask of Dimitrios on his knee. Unlike Bond, he avoided the dingy Pera Palace and stayed in the luxurious Hilton. The Interpol conference turned out to be dull and Fleming wrote to Admiral Godfrey ‘The trouble with these policemen is that they have no idea what is really interesting in their jobs and regard criminal matters as really a great bore.’ But on Tuesday, September 6, as the policemen met in the Chalet of Yildiz Palace, the seeds of the riot were germinating.

As Pearson so aptly put it:

Here at last then, in Istanbul, we have Fleming confronted with that face of violence which had haunted and fascinated him since boyhood. Here in reality was what he had written about so many times from his imagination – the smell of death and the tumult of danger – bloodshed, chaos and carnage. And how did he react? He was, he wrote, ‘nauseated’ by what he had seen. …Fleming the symmetrist had seen real violence at last. Fascinated yet appalled by it, he had retreated gratefully to the side of order and tranquillity. For the riot brought out in him the strange quality which was at the root of all his fantasies and all his books – that ‘threat of doom’, that ‘atmosphere of suspense married to horrible acts’ – which he had thrilled to at Eton in the stories of Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allan Poe and which was really the thrill and horror with which the obsessively ordered mind reacts to apprehensions of chaos.
There is in fact a touch of supreme irony about these few days of his in Istanbul. He had come prepared to gather material for an imaginary act of violence and cruelty. Instead he found the real thing…

The riot played an important role in the making of From Russia With Love, because it introduced Fleming to Nazim Kalkavan, the Oxford-educated shipowner who became the model for Darko Kerim, “one of those rare characters whom Fleming’s hero respects and admires as a fellow spirit," as Pearson notes. The pro-British Kalkavan was horrified by the impression the riot made on foreigners and called at the Hilton the morning after to invite the conference goers to his villa on the Bosphorus. Fleming accepted and the two men quickly became good friends.

“I have rarely met anyone in my life,” Kalkavan said of Fleming, "with so much warmth and with a personality so full of life, an alertness encompassing all. He was always inquiring; we used to have endless talks mooching about the city.” Over the course of several days Kalkavan showed Fleming across town. What they saw was incorporated into From Russia With Love, and Fleming even wrote down his friend’s words to give them to Darko Kerim. The following dialogue by Kalkavan will sound familiar to anyone who’s read the novel:

“I have always smoked and drunk and loved too much. In fact I have lived not too long but too much. One day the Iron Crab will get me. Then I shall have died of living too much. Like all people who have known poverty, my chief pleasures are the best food, the best servants and changing my underclothes every day.”

Perhaps Fleming knew the Iron Crab would get him too.

One last note. I have an additional reason for posting this article–next week I’m flying to Istanbul. Posts in this thread will resume in mid-September.


Fascinating reading as ever. Thank you for this intriguing piece and bon voyage!


Excellent post! I’ve always wanted to read this particular article, knowing how instrumental IF’s visit to Istanbul was to the development of FRWL. Your added insights enhanced it further. Have a great trip - we look forward to hearing your own reflections on Istanbul on your return.


Thanks very much! I’m delighted to know folks are enjoying the articles, and many more are to come. I’ve been to Istanbul several times (I have family over there), and it will certainly be interesting to see what the national mood is like this time…


Birth-pangs of a Thriller

(W. H. Smith’s Trade News, March 31, 1956)

By Ian Fleming

I can remember more or less why I started to write thrillers. I was on holiday in Jamaica in January 1951—I built a house there after the war and I go there every year—and my mental hands were empty. I had finished organizing a foreign service for Kemsley Newspapers and that side of my life was free-wheeling.

My daily occupation in Jamaica is spear-fishing and underwater exploring, but, after five years of it, I didn’t want to kill any more fish except barracudas and the occasional monster fish, and I knew my own underwater terrain like the back of my hand. Above all, after being a bachelor for 44 years, I was on the edge of marrying and the prospect was so horrifying that I was in urgent need of some activity to take my mind off it.

So, as I say, my mental hands were empty, and although I am as lazy as most Englishmen are, I have a Puritanical dislike of idleness and a natural love of action. I decided to write a book.

It had to be a thriller because that was all to be a thriller because that was I had time for in my two months’ holiday, and I knew there would be no room in my London life for writing books. The atmosphere of casinos and gambling fascinates me and I know enough about spies to write about them. I am also interested in things, in gadgetry of all kinds, and it occurred to me that an accurate and factual framework would help the reader to swallow the wildest improbabilities of my plot.

Dare Not Look Back

Writing about 2,000 words in three hours every morning, Casino Royale dutifully reproduced itself. I re-wrote nothing and made no corrections until the book was finished. If I had looked back at what I had written the day before I might have despaired (and how right I was) at the mistakes in grammar and style, the repetitions and the crudities. I obstinately closed my mind to self-mockery and “what will my friends say?”, savagely hammering on until the proud day when the last page was done. The last line in the book “The bitch is dead now” was just what I felt. I had killed the job.

Then I started to read it. And I was appalled. How could I have written this bilge? What a fool the hero is. The heroine is the purest cardboard. The villain is out of pantomime. The sex is too sexy. And the writing! Six “terribles” on one page. Sentences of screaming banality. I groaned and stubbornly started correcting.

When I got back to London, I did nothing with the manuscript. I was too ashamed of it. No publisher would want it and, if one did, I would not have the face to see it in print. Even under a pseudonym, someone would leak the ghastly fact that it was I who had written this adolescent tripe. There would be one of those sly paragraphs in the Londoner’s Diary! Shame! Disgrace! Disaster! Resign from my clubs. Leave the country.

One day I had lunch at the Ivy with an old friend and literary idol of mine, William Plomer of Jonathan Cape’s, and I asked him how you get cigarette smoke out of a woman once you’ve got it in. “All right,” I said. “This woman inhales, takes a deep lungful of smoke, draws deeply on her cigarette—anything you like. That’s easy. But how do you get it out of her again? ‘Exhales’ is a hopeless word. ‘Puffs it out’ is silly. What can you make her do?”

William looked at me sharply. “You’ve written a book.”

I laughed. I was pleased that he had guessed, but embarrassed. “It’s not really a book,” I said, only a sort of boys’ magazine story. But the point is,” I hurried on, “I filled my heroine full of smoke half way through and she’s still got it in her. How can I get it out?”

A new identity!

I needed only slight pressure from William. He was a friend and would tell me the horrible truth about the book without condemning me or being scornful or giving away my secret. I sent him the manuscript. He forced Cape’s to publish it. The reviews, from The Times Literary Supplement down, were staggeringly favourable. People were entertained, excited, amused. I wrote “Author” instead of Journalist in a new passport.

And so it went on. I took Michael Arlen’s advice: “Write your second book before you see the reviews of your first. Casino Royale is good, but the reviewers may damn it and take the heart out of you.”

More adventures

In 1953, in Jamaica, I wrote Live And Let Die; in 1954, Moonraker, and then, last year, Diamonds Are Forever.

When I sent the manuscript of Diamonds Are Forever to William Plomer, I said: “I’ve put everything into this except the kitchen sink. Can you think of a plot about a kitchen sink for the next one? Otherwise I am lost.”

This time William couldn’t help me.

Now I am off to Jamaica again with a spare typewriter-ribbon and a load of desperately blank foolscap through which James Bond must somehow shoot his way during the next eight weeks.


The original manuscript of this article (titled “Bang Bang, Kiss Kiss—How I Came to Write Casino Royale”) is reprinted in Talk of the Devil, a book less easy to find than the holy grail.

In case you’re interested in what word Fleming decided on for emitting cigarette smoke, here’s a passage from Casino Royale:, here’s a passage from Casino Royale:

“She accepted one of Bond’s cigarettes, examined it and then smoked it appreciatively and without affectation, drawing the smoke deeply into her lungs with a little sigh and then exhaling it casually through her lips and nostrils.”

I guess “exhale” wasn’t so hopeless after all!

In an article published shortly after Fleming’s death (“Ian Fleming Remembered,” Encounter, January 1965), William Plomer quoted Fleming’s article and confirmed the cigarette story. He also added some interesting details:

Once during the War, when some of its worst phases were past, we were feeding alone together and found time to speak of what we intended to do when it was over. With a diffidence that came surprisingly from so buoyant a man, he said he had a wish to write a thriller. He may not have used exactly that word, but made it quite plain that he had in mind some exciting story of espionage and sudden death. I at once made it equally plain how strongly I believed in his ability to write such a book, and in its probable originality. “But,” I said, “it’s no good writing just one. With that sort of book, you must become regular in your habits. You must hit the nail again and again with the same hammer until it’s driven into the thick head of your potential public.” He gave me a long and thoughtful look.

…It did please him to pretend that I was a sort of only begetter of his books, which was nonsense. Or was it just an indication of his characteristic capacity for gratitude? As somebody who knew him well reminded me lately, “Ian always said thank you.” Some of the inscriptions in the copies of his books he gave me repeated the unearned but recurrent compliment—for example, in my copy of Goldfinger, “To William, who started these balls rolling.”

In fact I used to be the first person to whom his books were shown, partly for professional reasons. When I found things to praise, he seemed pleased; when I suggested emendations, he was attentive—sometimes too attentive. I once said to him, just after reading a new James Bond typescript, that although the persons in it often made exclamatory remarks, these were never followed by a point of exclamation. I said this half-teasingly, but he took it so seriously that when the book came out, the New York Times took him to task for peppering his pages, like a schoolgirl, with exclamation marks.

…The best and most entertaining analysis of his thrillers ever likely to be written is to be found in Kingsley Amis’ forthcoming book. My own summary view of them is that they are brilliant, romantic fairy-tales in which a dragon-slaying maiden-rescuing hero wins battle after battle against devilish forces of destruction, and yet is indestructible himself: an ancient kind of myth skillfully re-created in a modern idiom. They are, like life, sexy and violent, but I have never thought them corrupting. Compared with some of the nasty stuff that gets into print, they have a sort of boyish innocence.


It’s kind of odd to see the normally so self assured Fleming have the same thoughts about his work as I do when writing something. These articles are fantastic, thanks so much for sharing them.


You’re very welcome Orion. More is to come!

A question to the moderators: I used to be able to edit my very first post, in order to list new posts to this thread, but now I no longer can. Is there a way to make the first post permanently editable? Since this is going to become a very long thread, it will be useful to have a continually updated index in the first post.