Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Diamond Smugglers

Even though I have let my Bondage series (where I review the James Bond movies) linger just post-Timothy Dalton, I still have a great love for the franchise. Picking up a used copy of the old TSR game Top Secret, S.I. returned my interest to spy stuff.

It's funny that as much as I enjoy Bond movies, I've not read many of the original Ian Fleming books. My son found an old copy of The Man with the Golden Gun and gave it to me for Christmas. The only others I'd read were Casino Royale, The Spy Who Loved Me, and For Your Eyes Only. None of them were anything like the movies, of course, the Bond movies being among the very worst films of all time in the "true to the source material" category. Nevertheless, I was inspired to dig in to Ian Fleming's original version of everyone's favorite spy.

Luckily, a very handsome set of reissues has come out recently, and I treated myself by picking up every single one of Ian Fleming's Bond books (it shouldn't matter, but the covers are awesome, and look great together on my bookshelf).

In that series, however, are two non-fiction books Fleming wrote. One is called Thrilling Cities, which I'll discuss later. The other is called The Diamond Smugglers, and it was thoroughly entertaining.

Fleming interviews a real-life spy who gives a "tell-all," or "tell-most," about British efforts to thwart rampant diamond smuggling in Africa. The spy, whose fake name for Fleming was John Blaize, frankly wanted a little bit of credit, and wanted the world to know what a big problem diamond smuggling was, and furthermore had permission from his superiors, who felt that revelations about the case would help national security more than it would hurt. Blaize was familiar with Fleming, admired his book Diamonds Are Forever, and sought him out. Fleming spent some time with Blaize in Tangiers, interviewing him, and the book is the result.

Either that, or Fleming made the whole thing up. But if he had, he would have included some gunfights or scantily clad women with ridiculous names.

Truth is, Blaize (through Fleming) weaves an extremely entertaining spy story out of very boring ingredients. There's not a single fist-fight, let alone a gun-fight. Aside from one guy who got a fever in Africa, no one died or came to grief. But over the course of several years, a spy ring put a huge dent in the diamond smuggling business (particularly out of Liberia and Sierra Leone) that, the publishers note, it has still not recovered from.

The book is slim and it's a quick read, feeling more like a lengthy magazine article than a book. If you want to hear a real-life spy story, and learn about the unglamorous workaday world of real-life spies, I heartily recommend this book.

It did give me some great ideas for a Fleming-esque villain character I've been working up for a hypothetical future spy game: Diamondface.

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