The Hero: James Bond; The Villain: Francisco Scaramanga; The Bond Girl: Mary Goodnight; Supporting Characters: Mr. Hendricks, Felix Leiter, Nick Nicholson; Locations covered: London, Jamaica; First Published: 1965
James Bond is dead! That is what the Secret Service believes, since 007 didn’t return with Tiger Tanaka from his You Only Live Twice mission in Japan. All inquiries have turned up negative. Then MI6 gets a telephone call with a male voice on the line claiming to be James Bond, code number 007. This, the opening of Ian Fleming’s final novel, The Man With The Golden Gun, is quite an attention grabber, as is the scene following, with a brainwashed 007 who tries without success to kill his boss, “M”!
M has discovered that Francisco Scaramanga has maimed a respected member of the secret service, Margesson. “Pistols” Scaramanga is a crack shot, sadistic villain, and superior assassin. Perhaps James Bond is the only agent in Her Majesty’s Service that can possibly take him. Nevertheless, can M trust him to do his job following his brainwashing at the hands of the Russians?
Fleming’s exciting and swift moving opening for his twelfth Bond novel halts somewhat with the recitation of Scaramanga’s life story, on file with MI6. (Facets of this extraordinary narrative show up fully in the movie of the same title.) James is briefed by M, appointed to kill Scaramanga, and arrives in Jamaica, chasing the shadow of the world’s top assassin.
Bond telephones MI6’s man in Jamaica, Commander Ross. Ross’ secretary is the delectable Mary Goodnight, who appeared briefly in Fleming’s Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and You Only Live Twice. The two meet and Bond finds out about Scaramanga’s most frequented address–a house of ill repute.
Can you imagine the conversations Bond is about to have with the proprietor of the local house of prostitution? Bond meets a memorable barkeep named “Tiffy,” and her two black crow birds. Suddenly, the birds hit the ground after two loud roars from a distinctive Colt .45…a gold-plated Colt .45. Francisco Scaramanga himself has finally appeared in Fleming’s novel. Bond meets Scaramanga, making awkward and unconvincing veiled references to the circus to entrap his opponent (Scaramanga was a circus performer before his life of crime). Scaramanga, in his rough American patter, offers Bond a job, promising good pay, danger and excitement:
Again, Scaramanga dodged a sneer. “You carry a gun?”
Bond: “Of course. You wouldn’t go after the ‘Rastas’ without one.”
Scaramanga: “What kind of a gun?”
Bond: “Walther PPK. 7.65 millimeter.”
Scaramanga: “That’s a real stopper all right. Care to earn yourself a thousand bucks, an easy grand?”
Bond: “Possibly.” He thought ‘Of course, if it means staying close to you, my friend.’
Bond deduces that Scaramanga is holding a meeting of top KGB agents out of Cuba, on Jamaica as close as possible to Cuba as they can manage. The meet has been set for the Hotel Thunderbird. (The Thunderbird Hotel was the name of one of Mr. Fleming’s favorite haunts in Las Vegas. Today it is a tiny motel barely dotting The Strip.) Among the shady characters visiting the meeting is a chief KGB agent, “Mr. Hendriks.” Luckily, Bond isn’t trapped in Scaramanga’s lair alone with all the bad guys. “Good old Felix” Leiter and a new supporting character, named Nick Nicholson, are nearby. These two are on board for the CIA and a clueless Scaramanga is unaware that they are CIA agents or that the personal bodyguard he hired for his spies` meeting, “Mark Hazard,” is really James Bond, 007.
Later, Mary Goodnight shows up at the hotel, nearly blowing 007’s cover, since Scaramanga knows she was his victim’s former secretary. He teases and begins to question 007. Bond barely convinces Scaramanga that Goodnight is his fiancée, and she is allowed to leave in safety. The next we hear of Goodnight, she is strapped to train tracks with Scaramanga’s train barreling towards her as Bond helplessly watches…
Fleming’s final scenes with Bond and Leiter, and Scaramanga and his thugs, are quite well done, and set a flying tone for the final showdown between Bond and The Man With The Golden Gun in the depths of a Jamaican swamp.
Overall, Scaramanga was a rather clumsy villain who hired 007 and two CIA men in his employ! Mary Goodnight might rank as the worst literary Bond girl, and most of the dialogue in the novel is average at best. “Gun” is not spectacular or even up to Mr. Fleming’s typical high standards, due no doubt to Fleming’s severe illness while he worked to complete his novel. (Another writer is suspected of ghost writing the final treatment of the book.) The Man With The Golden Gun is still Fleming’s Bond, however, and well worth reading.