Title:                      SS-GB

Author:                Len Deighton

Deighton, Len (1978, 2012). SS-GB. New York: Sterling Publishing

LCCN:    2012450857

PR6054.E37 S697 2012


Date Posted:      October 14, 2015

SS-GB is an alternate history novel by Len Deighton, set in a United Kingdom conquered and occupied by Germany during World War II. The novel’s title refers to the branch of the Nazi SS that controls Britain.

It is November 1941, nine months after a German invasion led to the British surrender. Detective Superintendent Douglas Archer, a British homicide detective assigned to Scotland Yard, is called in to investigate a murder of a well-dressed man in an apartment in Shepherd Market. Although the body has two gunshot wounds, Archer is puzzled by the condition of the body, in particular what appears to be sunburn on the body’s arm. To his surprise, the case draws the attention of the highest levels of the German authorities, as an SS Standartenführer, Oskar Huth, arrives to supervise the investigation. Archer soon finds himself in the middle of a power struggle between Huth and Gruppenführer Fritz Kellerman, Archer’s boss and the head of police forces in Great Britain.

Archer soon discovers that the dead man was a British physicist named William Spode and that Spode was involved with the Resistance movement. This leads Archer to George Mayhew, a former colonel in the British Army who is organizing an operation designed to free George VI of the United Kingdom from his prison in the Tower of London and spirit him away to the neutral United States. Archer also develops a romantic relationship with Barbara Barga, an American reporter whom he first met at the Spode murder scene and who appears involved in the mystery. Huth also reveals to Archer the reason for the high-level interest in the murder: Spode was part of a German military team working on developing an atomic bomb.

As his investigation proceeds, Archer finds the dangers increasing, as a subordinate is killed and Archer himself is nearly murdered by a member of the Resistance. Following a clue in the form of an elbow pivot for an artificial arm, Archer travels to a prisoner-of-war camp in Berkshire where inmates produce replacement limbs for war veterans. There he succeeds in capturing Spode’s brother, John Spode, who lost his right arm while fighting the German invasion. Though Spode confesses readily to shooting his brother (who was dying of radiation poisoning), he commits suicide by ingesting a cyanide capsule before Archer can take him back to London. Learning that the German officer escorting him around the camp was a member of the Abwehr, Archer follows him back to London, where he discovers Mayhew conspiring with top Abwehr officials to free the king, an act that would humiliate the SS, the organization in charge of guarding him.

The next day, a public exhumation of Karl Marx from Highgate Cemetery as part of “German-Soviet Friendship Week” is disrupted by a bomb which kills dozens of people. In response the German Army declares martial law and arrests thousands of people, including Archer’s partner, Detective Sergeant Harry Woods. Although Woods assures his friend that they will be able to avoid incarceration by bribing one of the soldiers, Archer soon learns that Woods is wounded in an escape attempt. Kellerman secures Woods’ release, but with a statement that compromises Archer in Kellerman’s political maneuverings against Huth. Undeterred, Archer travels to an English manor house to witness the arrival of an American agent who arrives to negotiate with Mayhew over the king and the atomic bomb secrets. The two agree that the Americans will get the equations William Spode worked out (which his brother photographed before destroying) in return for taking the king out of Britain as well. Although Huth arrives with a force of men, Mayhew comes to a secret agreement with him and the Germans depart quietly.

The following day, Archer and Woods succeed in getting the king out of the Tower, only to find him an invalid as a result of an injury suffered during the invasion. They take him secretly to Bringle Sands, the site of the German atomic bomb research project in England, so that a force of United States Marines preparing to attack the facility can take the king out with them. The attack succeeds in destroying the facility and escaping with research material and key personnel, but an ambush set by Huth (who was forewarned of the assault by Mayhew) results in the death of the king. Although arrested, Archer is freed by Kellerman, who has what he wants—evidence which he can use to convict Huth of aiding the Resistance. In a final meeting before his execution, Huth laments to Archer that the Americans will develop the atomic bomb first and that Mayhew (whom Archer has deduced was Spode’s real murderer) has also got what he wanted most: an honorable death for the king who would have been a political liability in the US, and an incident that will bring about war between Nazi Germany and the United States.

SS-GB is set less than a year after Britain’s surrender following a successful Operation Sea Lion. In 1940, the Germans landed near Ashford, Kent and Canterbury was declared an open city. The German advance captured London but a British rear guard around Colchester slowed the Germans for long enough to enable Royal Navy ships to escape from Harwich. King George VI and Winston Churchill became prisoners of the Germans. Britain’s gold and foreign reserves were shipped to Canada.

In 1941, the British Armed Forces surrendered, Winston Churchill was tried by court-martial in Berlin and executed and King George VI was held in the Tower of London. Queen Elizabeth and her daughters escaped to New Zealand and the Duke of Windsor to The Bahamas. Rear Admiral Connolly formed a British government in exile in Washington, D.C., but struggled to gain diplomatic recognition. Hitler held a victory parade in London, the Soviet Red Fleet was given bases at Rosyth, Scapa Flow and Invergordon, and Herman Goering and Joseph Goebbels were on board the first non-stop Lufthansa flight from London to New York.

Dr. No

Title:                      Dr. No

Author:                 Ian Fleming

Fleming, Ian (1958, 1968). Dr. No. London: Cape

LCCN:    58025176

PZ4.F598 Do


Date Posted:      October 5, 2015

Dr. No is the sixth novel in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, first published in the UK by Jonathan Cape on 31 March 1958. The story centers on Bond’s investigation into the disappearance in Jamaica of a fellow MI6 operative, Commander John Strangways and his secretary, Mary Trueblood. He establishes that Strangways had been investigating Dr. No, a Chinese operator of a guano mine on the Caribbean island of Crab Key; Bond travels to the island to investigate further. It is on Crab Key that Bond first finds Honeychile Rider and then Dr. No himself.

The novel was originally a screenplay written in 1956 for producer Henry Morgenthau III for what would have been a television show entitled Commander Jamaica. When those plans did not come to fruition, Fleming adapted the ideas to form the basis of the novel, which he originally titled The Wound Man. The book’s eponymous villain was influenced by Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu stories.

Dr. No was the first of Fleming’s novels to receive large-scale negative criticism in Britain, with Paul Johnson of the New Statesman writing his review about the “Sex, Snobbery and Sadism” of the story. When the book was released into the American market it was generally received more favorably.

Dr. No was serialized in the Daily Express newspaper in both written and comic strip format. It was also the first James Bond feature film of the Eon Productions series, released in 1962 and starring Sean Connery; the most recent adaptation was a BBC Radio version, broadcast in 2008.

After recovering from tetrodotoxin poisoning inflicted by the SMERSH agent Rosa Klebb (see From Russia, with Love[1]) MI6 agent James Bond is sent by his superior, M, on a “rest cure” to Jamaica. Whilst there his task is a simple assignment to investigate the disappearance of Commander John Strangways, the head of MI6 Station J in Kingston, Jamaica, and his secretary.

Bond is briefed that Strangways had been investigating the activities of Dr. Julius No, a reclusive Chinese-German who lives on Crab Key and runs a guano mine; the island is said to be the home of a vicious dragon, and has a colony of roseate spoonbills at one end. The spoonbills are protected by the National Audubon Society, two of whose representatives had died when their plane crashed on Dr. No’s airstrip. On his arrival in Jamaica, Bond soon realizes that he is being watched, as his hotel room is searched, a basket of poisoned fruit is delivered to his hotel room (supposedly a gift from the colonial governor) and a deadly centipede is placed in his bed while he is sleeping.

With the help of his old friend Quarrel, Bond visits Crab Key to establish if there is a connection between Dr. No and Strangways’ disappearance. There he and Quarrel meet Honeychile Rider, who visits the island to collect valuable shells. Bond and Honey are captured by No’s men after Quarrel is burned to death by the doctor’s “dragon” –a flamethrowing armored swamp buggy to keep away trespassers.

Bond discovers that Dr. No is also working with the Russians and has built an elaborate underground facility from which he can sabotage American missile tests at nearby Cape Canaveral. No had previously been a member of a Chinese Tong, but after he stole a large amount of money from their treasury, he was captured by the organization, whose leaders had his hands cut off as a sign of punishment for theft, and then ordered him shot. The Tong thought they shot him through the heart. However, because No’s heart was on the right side of his body (dextrocardia), the bullet missed his heart and he survived. Interested in the ability of the human body to withstand and survive pain, No forces Bond to navigate his way through an obstacle course constructed in the facility’s ventilation system. He is kept under regular observation, suffering electric shocks, burns and an encounter with large poisonous spiders along the way. The ordeal ends in a fight against a captive giant squid, which Bond defeats by using improvised and stolen objects made into weapons. After his escape, he encounters Honey from her ordeal where she had been pegged out to be eaten by crabs; the crabs ignored her and she had managed to make good her own escape.

Bond kills Dr. No by taking over the guano-loading machine at the docks and diverting the guano flow from it to bury the villain alive. Bond and Honey then escape from No’s complex in the dragon buggy.

[1] Fleming, Ian (1957, 1981). From Russia with Love. Geneva: Edito-Service


Title:                      Moonraker

Author:                  Ian Fleming

Fleming, Ian (1955). Moonraker. London: J. Cape

LCCN:    55044656

PZ4.F598 Mo


Date Posted:      October 5, 2015

Moonraker is usually viewed as hack writing. Bond aficionados, however, find it interesting. Here is one positive review.

A review from[1]

You may find Ian Fleming’s third James Bond novel, Moonraker, to be a surprising, refreshing read for several reasons.

First, it is new to those who have only watched the movie adaptations. Moonraker the novel has very little relationship to the 11th Bond film, starring Roger Moore, where Moore’s Bond is trying to prevent a global conspiracy involving the Space Shuttle.

Second, Bond is humanized. The impressive perfection of Bond in Casino Royale[2] is smoothed out and Ian Fleming, after two other Bond novels, is easing into this super spy’s mystique, his aura, and the nature of this suave and sophisticated man of mystery. The uncomfortable 1950s racial elements of Live and Let Die[3] are thankfully completely absent here. Here we see Bond at home, Bond buying a car, Bond’s daily life as Agent 007, including reviewing forms as any government analyst might do. We get to see that Bond’s life, outside the novels, is routine. It’s a Bond you may never thought you would get to see, if all you have seen are the films.

Third, Hugo Drax is a fantastic villain. Even James Bond admires Drax and acknowledges it to other characters throughout Moonraker. Bond’s preoccupation with Drax’s looks, his facial hair and the odd close-cut workers and their own myriad variety of moustaches is simply intriguing.

Fourth, we get to see Bond commiserate away from the Secret Service offices with M himself. M invites Bond to an exclusive club called Blades, one of the most perfectly described locations in the Bond universe. One might think we’ve seen Bond already do the card game bit in Casino Royale, yet Moonraker‘s card war is strangely epic.

Fifth, you’ll find some classic supporting villains that could be found in classic Hollywood mystery stories, including Krebs, a Wormtongue-toady type who at one time could have been played smartly by Peter Lorre. There’s even a classic mad scientist.

Moonraker finds Bond summoned to M’s office where M proceeds to explain the need for a personal favor. A certain member of the oldest gentleman’s club in all of jolly old England has been caught cheating at cards. What kind of a man–a man who could afford to play the highest stakes of games in a club so exclusive only 200 members are ever allowed on the roster–would risk his reputation and membership on such arrogance and stupidity?

M calls on Bond because he is known around the service as the card player to beat, with a background knowledge of every trick in the book, and Fleming goes to some lengths in explaining the games and the ruses, not in any overdone way but just enough to immerse the reader in Bond’s world. The club has the high-brow feel of the club of Duke and Duke in Trading Places, and throughout the novel I wondered if any of Moonraker’s vivid descriptions directly inspired movie script locations like the exclusive Bushwood Country Club in Caddyshack.

It doesn’t take long for Bond to figure out a way to foil the great cheating millionaire. But this millionaire, Sir Hugo Drax, is key to the British government’s most important pet project–he is the mind behind the Moonraker missile project. Moonraker is Great Britain’s first nuclear weapon and the future of the UK’s national defense system. The significance of the first test of said missile causes M to pull Bond in when a member of the security team is killed at the launch site. Bond takes over the role, which forces him to work one on one with Drax.

At first Bond loathes Drax and continuously finds ways to criticize him to M, yet once he follows Drax to examine his new creation he is rightly impressed with his ability to pull together a team of researchers and support staff, including 50 Germans, to complete this monumental project. His work on site causes him to partner with the obligatory Bond girl of this novel, Gala Brand, a Scotland Yard agent posing as Drax’s personal assistant.

Moonraker is full of good action scenes–Bond chasing after Brand when she is kidnapped, Bond and Brand hiding with the missile silo walls, more than one murder attempt against Bond, the grand card game, and uncovering the secret purpose of the Moonraker rocket. Where Casino Royale was exciting from a plot standpoint but not so much in-depth as far as character is concerned, and where Live and Let Die is now somewhat dated, Ian Fleming’s writing in Moonraker is vivid, rich, and compelling.

Moonraker would be ideal as a film remake today. With Dame Judith Dench as M, it would be fascinating to see how Bond could be a friend of sorts assisting M after hours on more of a social mission than a political one. And translating the V-2-inspired rocket and Cold War themes into something compelling today would be a fun challenge for the keepers of the James Bond mantle.

[1] See “Retro review—Moonraker, Fleming’s third James Bond novel,” (August 31, 2012). Downloaded October 5, 2015

[2] Fleming, Ian (1954). Casino Royale. New York, Macmillan

[3] Fleming, Ian (1954). Live and Let Die. London: J. Cape