For Your Eyes Only took a break from the longer-form plots of the James Bond series to provide a collection of five shorts featuring the famous spy.
“From A View To A Kill” found Bond attempting to unravel the mysterious murder of an allied courier in the outskirts of Paris. In “For Your Eyes Only,” Bond tracked a vicious war criminal to the forests on the U.S./Canada border, where he subordinates his deadly mission to the quest for vengeance of a grieving young woman. “Quantum of Solace” cast Bond as the audience for a tale of the ways a mismatched married couple visited cruelties upon one another. “Risico” dropped Bond into the world of Italian drug gangs, in a desperate quest to cut off the heroin supply to England. And in “The Hildebrand Rarity,” Bond endured the company of a rich, bullying American in the search for a rare aquatic specimen, before things took a violent turn.
Ian Fleming was rightfully celebrated for his Bond novels, but the author was a deft hand with the shorter format, too. There’s a certain charm to seeing these tales boil down and focus on essential elements of the franchise, freed from some of the more complicated plot structures of the novels. “For Your Eyes Only” is probably the most typical “Bond Story” here, with its kill mission and espionage games. But it also was the rare glimpse of the personal loyalty Bond had for his enigmatic boss, M, who had a personal stake in the case. “From A View To A Kill” showed off Bond’s intelligence and ability as an investigator, while also spotlighting some of his more entertainingly roguish characteristics. “Risico” was an excellent action piece that also made strong use of the period’s crime elements.
The other two entries are somewhat less expected. “The Hildebrand Rarity” spotlighted the franchise’s ability to transport readers to an exotic locale most would likely never visit (a group of small islands in the Indian Ocean, near the Seychelles), but also almost entirely jettisoned any sort of espionage underpinnings for a brutal turn of events rooted in a complex interpersonal dynamic. “Quantum of Solace” was the most offbeat entry of all, featuring nary a single action beat. Bond was cast in the role of listener, taking in a story of domestic emotional warfare from a fusty colonial governor that engaged the spy in spite of himself.
At their best, these stories illuminate particular qualities of Fleming’s famous anti-hero, whether spotlighting his complex, at times contradictory, moral code, or his ability to enjoy or deplore a variety of different cultures. His devilish sense of humor popped up at times, while other stories took a more stone cold approach. Whichever setting Fleming used, he always found some way to illuminate a facet of his lead, which is the true strength of the collection. As usual with this series, a modern reader needs to be prepared for some period-accurate attitudes about racial and gender characteristics that aren’t exactly in step with contemporary views.
And yes, that blasted Sheena Easton song will echo in your brain whether you want it to or not.
For Your Eyes Only isn’t the most essential entry in the Bond series. One could leave it for later to focus on the novels, but it’s worth getting to eventually.