Thursday, October 29, 2009

"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" Is One Of The Best Bond Films In The Series

Cinematical takes a look back at the 1969 James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
The reviewer, like me, believes the film is one is one of the best in the film series. Peter Hunt, previously an editor on the Bond series, directed this film and he was faithful to the Ian Fleming novel.

Although I dearly missed the great Sean Connery, George Lazenby was a fairly good Bond, especially when you consider that he had never acted before. He looks like Fleming's Bond and he  handled the fight and action scenes well.

Although I would have preferred an European actor to portray the mad, evil genius, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Telly Salvalas was very good in the role. Salvalas had a great sense of command and madness and I believe he was the best Blofeld in the film series.

The beautiful and alluring Diana Rigg was also very good as Bond's doomed girlfriend, and briefly, his wife.

Lastly, John Barry's musical soundtrack is truly outstanding.

It is a pity that Lazenby did not continue in the series, as I believe he would have grown into the role and perhaps given Connery a run for his money. And we would have been spared the decade of Bond-lite with Roger Moore portraying a lighthearted, comical Bond

The below link is to the piece:

My Crime Beat Column: Through a Thriller-Writer's Eyes: The Life & Work of Ian Fleming & My Q & A With Fergus Fleming

Last year was the centenary of Ian Fleming (1908-1964). It was a very good year for the creator of Bond, James Bond.

To celebrate his life and work, a good number of events took place in the United Kingdom, the U.S. and around the world.

As his family-run web site,, noted, the year’s highlights included the publication of Devil May Care, the new Bond continuation novel written by Sebastian Faulks (I gave the book a mixed review in the Philadelphia Inquirer) and a major exhibition celebrating Fleming’s life at the Imperial War Museum in London. More than 100,000 people visited the exhibition, which was called For Your Eyes Only - Ian Fleming and James Bond. The exhibition will run until April of this year.

The United Kingdom issued Royal Mail stamps in Fleming’s honor last year and events, books, and numerous articles in newspapers, magazines and Internet publications praised Fleming and celebrated his life, legacy and the impact of his fictional character James Bond.

The year 2008 also saw the release of the Bond film Quantum of Solace. Although I was not totally thrilled with the non-stop slam-bam action, I was glad that the producers have returned to making Fleming/Bond thrillers, rather than the camp action-comedies of earlier years.

Since the publication of Casino Royale in 1953 more than than 100 million Bond novels have been sold. Last year Penguin published new hardback editions of Fleming’s books. Also last year, Queen Anne Press published a limited high quality edition of Fleming’s complete works.

Fleming wrote 17 books: 12 Bond thrillers, two volumes of Bond short stories, a book of travel journalism, Thrilling Cities; a nonfiction account of the diamond trade, The Diamond Smugglers; and the children’s book Chitty-Chitty, Bang-Bang. The publisher also added Talk of the Devil, a posthumous collection of rarely seen material, including some unpublished material. The title, according to the publisher, was taken from a list that Fleming kept in his notebook.

Fleming’s travel book Thrilling Cities, a collection of pieces on the most interesting cities in the world that originally appeared in the Sunday Times of London, was reprinted this year. The introduction was written by travel writer Jan Morris.

“The essays in Thrilling Cities were originally written as journalism, but display the kind of patrician literary defiance, peculiar I think to himself, that gave the Bond novels their style,” Morris wrote in the introduction.

“They are a very unorthodox kind of travel writing; Fleming was rich, he was fashionably connected, he was famously successful, he was a man of cultivated and urbane tastes and he didn’t give a damn,” Morris wrote.

”He was not out to thrill his readers, most of them Bond addicts by then, with his evocations and often severe critiques of places around the world; he was out to inform and entertain himself. Not often for him the museum or the guided tour: he traveled in the spirit of 007, with an eye for the slinky and the significant, in places where the martinis were shaken not stirred (or was it vice versa?), and all life could be viewed with a cool raised eyebrow.”

With his interest in crime and espionage, Fleming interviewed Charles “Charlie Lucky” Luciano, the exiled prince of American organized crime, in Naples. In Berlin, he interviewed a Cold War spy, and in other cities he interviewed detectives, crooks, journalists, authors and other interesting people. This is not your typical travel book.

I carried a paperback copy of Thrilling Cities with me throughout my time in the U.S. Navy in the early and mid-1970s. I was thrilled that I was able to visit many of the cities Fleming visited and wrote about two decades before me.

“All my life I have been interested in adventure, and, abroad, I have enjoyed the frisson of leaving the wide, well-lit streets and venturing up back alleys in search of the hidden, authentic pulse of towns,” Fleming wrote in his introduction. “It was perhaps this habit that turned me into a writer of thrillers and by the time I made the journeys that produced these essays, I had certainly got into the way of looking at people and places and things through a thriller-writer’s eye.”

The Diamond Smugglers, a nonfiction account of a smuggling ring, was also reissued. The book’s introduction was written by Ian Fleming’s nephew, Fergus Fleming.

The Sunday Times had acquired a manuscript from an ex-MI5 agent named John Collard who had been employed by De Beers to break up a diamond smuggling ring,” Fergus Fleming wrote in his introduction to the book.

“Fleming, whose Diamonds Are Forever had been one of the hits of 1956, was invited to bring it to life. Treasure, travel, cunning and criminality: here were the things he loved. Flying to Tangier - home to every shade of murky dealing - he spent ten days interviewing Collard, for whom he had already prepared the romantic pseudonym “John Blaize” and the equally romanticized job description of “diamond spy.”

Fergus Fleming goes on to describe Ian Fleming’s disappointment in the book, noting that De Beers wanted material to be cut from the book and they threatened legal action if it were not. “It was a good story until all the possible libel was cut out,” Ian Fleming said at the time.

“Yet if The Diamond Smugglers was a disappointment to its author it still contains flashes of Fleming-esque magic,” Fergus Fleming wrote in the introduction. “More than forty years later it remains something of a conundrum: a journalistic chore that its author disliked but which nevertheless became a best-seller and very nearly his first film; a book that is neither travelogue nor thriller but contains the discarded hopes of both; a tale of international intrigue…”

Fergus Fleming took note of a sentence his uncle wrote in the opening paragraph: “One day in April 1957 I had just answered a letter from an expert in unarmed combat from a cover address in Mexico City, and I was thanking a fan in Chile, when my telephone rang.”

And now in 2009, his nephew writes “If you’re given a line like that you can only read on.”

I contacted Fergus Fleming and asked him about his uncle’s life and work.

DAVIS: Would you explain your personal and professional relationship with Ian Fleming?

FLEMING: Personally, I am his nephew. Professionally, I am a Director of Ian Fleming Publications (IFP), the company which manages his literary estate. Also, with my cousin Kate Grimond, I am the co-publisher of Queen Anne Press, the firm of which he was once Managing Director. I’m the son of Richard, Ian’s younger brother. My cousin and co-publisher Kate is the daughter of his older brother Peter.

DAVIS: Are you old enough to have known him?

FLEMING: I don’t remember meeting Ian - he died when I was five years old - but his books were on the family shelves and of course every new Bond film was a must-see.

DAVIS: Can you tell us about your professional background?

FLEMING: My background is unglamorous. Having trained as an accountant and barrister I worked as a furniture maker before becoming a writer and editor at Time-Life Books. Since the 1990s I have written several works of narrative nonfiction, including Barrow's Boys, Killing Dragons and Ninety Degrees North.

DAVIS: Please tell us about the Queen Anne series of Fleming’s novels and the compilation of Fleming’s journalistic pieces, Talk of the Devil?

FLEMING: Talk of the Devil is a collection of rarely seen material, some of it unpublished. The contents are mainly journalistic but they also include two short stories. One of them, A Poor Man Escapes, is Ian’s earliest known attempt at fiction. The other, The Shameful Dream, was written in 1951 and has as its hero a journalist named Bone - a year and a letter-change later the hero would be Bond. For fuller details, see our web site, The book is restricted currently to the Centenary Edition but it will be available as a single volume sometime in the future.

DAVIS:: I read The Diamond Smugglers and Thrilling Cities again and I enjoyed them. I thought the new editions and covers were smart-looking. Would you please tell us about the genesis of these non-fiction books and why they’ve been reprinted again?

FLEMING: They are pieces of extended journalism that were first published by The Sunday Times in the late 1950s. Of the two, Thrilling Cities is probably the most entertaining but The Diamond Smugglers was something of a hit at the time - remarkably, it was the first of Ian’s books to be optioned (by Rank). They have been reissued by IFP not only to mark the centenary but because they are good books in their own right which have been overshadowed by the more glamorous Bond novels.

DAVIS: Ian Fleming’s Centenary, 2008, was a good one, I thought. What were the highlights for you?

FLEMING: Yes, the Centenary Year was excellent, its highlights many and varied. The Ian Fleming Gala evening was outstanding. My personal favorite was the launch of Sebastian Faulkes’ Devil May Care.

DAVIS: Considering Ian Fleming’s WWII service as a naval intelligence officer and his father’s death in WWI and his brother’s death in WWII, do you think he would have been pleased with the Imperial War Museum tribute to him?

FLEMING: Ian would definitely have been pleased with the Imperial War Museum exhibition. He was brought up in the shadow of WWI, served in WWII and created a fictional spy for the Cold War. He never forgot that his father and brother had died defending their country. The Imperial war Museum was therefore a perfect place to celebrate his life and works.

DAVIS: I believe thrillers are an art form, with thrillers being like jazz to literary fiction’s classical music. I also believe that Fleming was a first-class thriller writer. Although he said numerous times that he unabashedly wrote the Bond books as entertainment and wrote primarily for money and personal pleasure, he was also a serious craftsman who took thriller-writing seriously. Do you agree?

FLEMING: I couldn’t comment on the jazz/classical analogy! I agree that Ian wrote for a living and avoided any hint of pretentiousness. He drew a sharp line between those who called themselves “authors” and those who called themselves “writers,” numbering himself in the later. In a 1960s Who’s Who entry he described himself as having written “several novels of suspense.” In my view he wrote novels not of suspense but sensation. In this respect he took his job seriously and at the same time made money and had a lot of fun.

DAVIS: Has a new writer been selected to pen a new James Bond continuation novel? Do you have input into the selection? If so, may I suggest that you pick a thriller writer this time. Frederick Forsyth would be my pick.

FLEMING: No comment on the next Bond author. But Frederick Forsyth is an interesting idea.

DAVIS: I first read Fleming’s thrillers when I was about 11 or 12 in the 1960s after I saw the first couple of Sean Connery-Bond films. I became a Fleming aficionado then and I remain one today. When did you first read the Bond thrillers and what did you initially think of them?

FLEMING Like you I first read the Bond books aged 11-12, but in the early 70s. I thought they were excellent (naturally) and re-read them constantly for the next four years. Then didn’t them up again until 2005. What struck me the second time around was how colorful, vibrant and dramatic they were.

DAVIS: What do you think of the Bond films?

FLEMING: The films are very good and very entertaining but after a while one tends to assume they are the be-all and end-all of Bond. This is probably why the books seemed so fresh on a second approach.

DAVIS: In re-reading The Diamond Smugglers and Thrilling Cities I was struck by Ian Fleming’s droll sense of humor. One criticism I always see of Fleming is that the Bond books lack humor. Granted that the book Bond does not have the sophomoric, flippant sense of humor of the movie Bond, but there are pieces of humor in the books. For example, From Russia With Love has a character named Darko Kerim who has a good sense of humor. And when Tatiana asks Bond why British men don’t use perfume like Russian men, Bond replies “We wash.” What can you tell us about Fleming’s sense of humor in the thrillers and in his nonfiction?

FLEMING: Yes, he had a sense of humor. But he had to keep it low-key lest he compromise the seriousness of Bond’s profession. His nonfiction is more humorous but equally dry and self-deprecating.

DAVIS: I’ve read that an Ian Fleming film biography is in the works. Do you know anything about the film? I understand that Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company owns the rights. I hope he is not planning on portraying Fleming. What actor would you pick?

FLEMING: A Fleming film biography is news to me. It would be interesting if he was played by a complete stranger.

DAVIS: If Ian Fleming were alive today, what do you think he would think of his still-growing popularity?

FLEMING: If Ian was alive today he would be amazed and delighted to find he had such a large body of fans. Many thanks on his behalf - and keep turning the pages.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Crime Beat Column: The Outfit's Family Secrets, The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob

In Martin Scorsese's great crime film Casino Joe Pesci plays a vicious mob enforcer and hit man in Las Vegas who reports to the bosses "back home," as Pesci's character describes them in the film's voice-over narration.
The bosses are portrayed in the film as a group of elderly and infirm men who hang around eating, playing cards and collecting money from their criminal underlings.
Pesci's character, based on on a very real gangster named Anthony "Tony Ant" Spilotro, is brutally murdered, along with his brother Michael, in a mid-west cornfield in the film. Their murder, along with several other murders, were ordered by the bosses back home.

Back home is Chicago, home of the criminal organization known as "the Outfit."
Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob (Chicago Review Press) covers the Spilotro murders and much more in this revealing look at organized crime. The book, written by  Chicago Tribune reporter Jeff Coen, covers the trial of the outfit bosses in 2007.
"The scale of the case was unprecedented, for the first time naming the Chicago Outfit itself as a criminal enterprise under federal anti-racketeering laws and alleging a conspiracy that was born with Al Capone and flourished from the 1960s forward," Coen wrote in the book. "The case included fourteen defendants, eighteen murders and decades of bookmaking, loan sharking, extortion and violence."
The investigation of the Outfit began in 1998 when the FBI received a letter from Frank Calabrese, Jr., son of one of the Outfit's most violent bosses, Frank Calabrese, Sr.
Due to a sour relationship with his father, the son told the FBI that he was willing to wear a wire and gather evidence against his father while they were incarcerated together. The father enjoyed explaining how the Outfit worked to his son. He also allowed his son to observe how he conducted business from the prison yard.
The FBI was later able to turn Nicholas Calabrese, a hit man for his brother Frank Calabrese, Sr., into a key witness against the Outfit bosses.
The FBI called the seven-year investigation "Operation Family Secrets." According to the FBI, the list of those charged read like a "Who's Who" of the Chicago mob.
After several mobsters pleaded guilty, the remaining five defendants were Frank Calabrese, Sr., James "Jimmy Light" Marcello, the reputed boss of the Outfit, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, a tough, old-school mob boss, Anthony "Twan" Doyle, a former Chicago police officer accused of leaking information to Frank Calabrese, Sr., and Outfit enforcer Paul "the Indian' Schiro.
In September of 2007 the jury convicted the five men on broad conspiracy charges.
Jeff Coen does a fine job of covering the trial and he offers vivid descriptions of the defendants, the witnesses and the prosecutors, who are as colorful as the gangsters.
Reading the book makes you feel like you are sitting in the courtroom. This is a very good true crime book.
Note: The above column originally appeared at 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My On Crime & Security Column: Burnsville Police Sgt. Says Business Watch Program Stops Crime

The online magazine, published my On Crime & Security column today.
The column featured a police officer from Burnsville, MN, Sgt. Witte, who suggested that small business people should join a local Business Watch program to help prevent crime.
You can read the column here  

Friday, October 16, 2009

Five Authors More Badass Than The Badass Characters They Created has a funny piece on five authors more badass than the badass characters they created.
The link to the piece is below:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Crime Beat Column: A Soviet Serial Killer and a Secret Speech Provides Suspense in Tom Rob Smith's Two Thrillers

Andrei Chikatilo is not as well known as his fellow serial killers Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, and if the Soviets had their way, no one would have ever heard of him.

According to the Soviets, crime did not exist in their worker’s paradise. But as the dead bodies piled up, the killer who came to be known as The Rostov Ripper was finally caught and convicted of brutally murdering 52 women and children between the years 1978 and 1990.

Chikatilo told the Soviet court that he performed a service for the Soviet system by eliminating what he called “worthless people.” Chikatilo was executed in 1994.

HBO made a good film about Chikatilo called Citizen X and Tom Rob Smith has written a good fictional account of the Chikatilo case, called Child 44.

The 30-year-old writer said he was researching a screenplay when he came across the Chikatilo case.

“The more I dug into the case, the more clear it became that he evaded capture not because he was ingenious but because the Soviet criminal system was reluctant to admit he even existed,” Smith wrote in his web page

“Their preconceptions about their society were as important, if not more important than stopping these terrible murders,” Smith continued. “Reading the nonfiction account of the investigations was incredibly frustrating. My reaction was so strong I knew I wanted to tell my own version of the story.”

Smith wrote that he moved the story back in time, from the 1980s to the 1950s, reasoning that the pressure on the hero would be greater under Stalin’s regime.

The hero in Child 44 is a war hero turned MGB officer named Leo Demidov.
The MGB, which later became the KGB, was the state security service that the Soviet people justifiably feared. As an MGB officer, Demidov was a privileged man in Stalin’s 1953 Soviet Union.
He lived with his beautiful wife Raisa, who is a teacher, in a comfortable apartment (by Soviet standards). Demidov, his wife and his parents all ate well, shopped in MGB stores and lived a much higher standard of living than the average Soviet worker.

But hero may be the wrong word for Demidov, as he routinely arrests people for political crimes such as owning a Western book or speaking critically of the state. The unfortunate people that Demidov arrest are often tortured and then executed or shipped off to the Gulags, the cruel and inhuman prison system run by the Soviet state.

When a young boy is found dead on train tracks outside Moscow, apparently hit by a train, the boy’s father, a low-ranking MGB member, insists that his son was chopped up and murdered. Demidov is assigned to explain to the grieving father and his family that they are mistaken. For a brutal crime like that would not, could not, happen in the Soviet Union.

Demidov also has a problem with another MGB officer who claims that a traitor has named Raisa as an associate. To save his career, Demidov has to denounce his wife or risk becoming a suspected traitor as well.

Although his marriage is complicated and strained, Demidov refuses to denounce his wife and he is demoted to a lowly position in the Militia and sent to a small industrial town.

While on duty in this small town he comes across two children who have been mutilated and murdered just like the boy near Moscow. Against the orders of his bosses, Demidov begins to investigate and discovers that the boy killed outside Moscow was the 44th victim of a serial killer.

Demidov fights his former MGB officers and the Soviet system as he tracks down the serial killer.

In Smith’s follow up novel The Secret Speech Demidov has been allowed to form a homicide unit in Moscow. The year is 1956. Stalin is dead and the new Soviet ruler, Nikita Khrushchev, delivers a speech condemning Stalin for his use of state murder and other atrocities.
The secret speech is leaked to the West and within the Soviet Union the people are hearing something new and fresh — criticism of Stalin and the Soviet state.

When former MGB officers are found dead and other MGB officers are threatened by packages that contain photos and records of their past actions, Demidov begins to investigate. Demidov is also left a package that contains evidence of his former work as an MGB officer.

The deaths appear to be in reprisal against Stalin’s secret policemen. Demidov’s investigation leads him to the Vory, the criminal gangs that will later evolve into the Russian Mafia.

Demidov goes undercover as a prisoner and he is transported by a prisoner ship to an isolated and very cold Gulag. He eventually ends up in Hungry during the uprising against the Soviets in 1956.

Smith’s novels bring to mind Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park and his series of thrillers with Militia investigator Arkady Renko, but Smith also gives a nod to Robert Conquest’s The Harvest of Sorrow, a classic book about the Soviet Union’s forced famine of the Ukraine, as a book that influenced him.

I enjoyed both Child 44 and The Secret Speech. They are good thrillers and the historical backdrop will perhaps introduce younger readers to the inner working of the “Evil Empire” of the Soviet Union.

Younger readers might even learn to be thankful that the United States and the West won the Cold War.

After reading Smith’s thrillers, one should go on to read Conquest’s book and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle, Cancer Ward and The Gulag Archipelago.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My On Espionage Column: The Secret History of History at The International Spy Museum in Washington D.C.

You can read my column on the International Spy Museum here

My On Crime & Security Column: Omaha Police Officer Explains Why Local Businesses Should Join Business Crime Watches

My latest On Crime & Security column, which appears in the national web site Businessknowhow,  covers the reasons why small businesses and home business people should join a local Business Watch.

Angie Echtenkamp, the Business Watch Officer from the Omaha, Nebraska Police Department, explains why you should join or start a local Business Watch.

The link to the column is here

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My On Espionage Column: Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence Inside MI5 And MI6

The Weider History Group's web page published my column on Gordon Thomas' book Secret Wars: One Hundred Years of British Intelligence Inside MI5 and MI6.

This past August marked a century of the two oldest and most powerful secret intelligence services in the world: the British Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). Thomas, an author who has covered intelligence and espionage for more than 50 years and has published 40 books, interviewed a wide array of current and former intelligence chiefs and officers for this book.

He interviewed the former directors of the British security services as well as the former directors and senior officers of the American CIA and the Israeli Mossad. He also interviewed the legendary spymaster East German Stasi espionage chief Markus Wolf.

You can read the column here