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Literature / Dr. No

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The sixth James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, published in 1958.

Bond has recovered from the attempt on his life from the end of the previous book, and is given a supposedly-easy assignment in Jamaica, where he has to investigate the disappearance of the local head of operations. He learns that he has been investigating the activities of one Dr. Julius No, who is in fact working for the Soviets to sabotage nearby American missile tests.

The novel became the basis for the first James Bond film. It also got a Radio Drama adaptation on BBC Radio 4 in 2008, introducing Toby Stephens as the voice of Bond and with David Suchet (of Poirot fame) as Dr. No.

This novel has the examples of:

  • Agony of the Feet: Plus every other part of his body, but Bond's feet certainly aren't spared by Dr. No's death-course. Honey suffers similar injuries escaping her own trap - probably the most serious ones she experiences in the whole book, aside from her broken nose.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Subverted. The air vent system in Bond's cell is purposely designed to allow passage by a man... but as an endurance-course, to see how much pain a man can endure, through mounting physical challenges—which are also psychologically testing Bond, as they get more horrific. It ends with Bond having to fight a Giant Squid.
  • Animal Assassin: No's agents attempt to kill Bond by releasing a venomous centipede in his room.
  • Antagonist Title: The titular Dr. No.
  • Artificial Limbs: Dr. No has two artificial pincer hands because they were cut off by his former Tong employers as a punishment. He uses them for dramatic effect to enhance his ominous nature.
  • Back for the Dead: Strangways and Quarrel, Bond's allies in Live and Let Die, return and are killed off. The former is shot and the latter is burned alive.
  • Big Bad: Dr. No.
  • Bus Crash: The fate of Rosa Klebb, the Big Bad of the previous novel, is summed up as "She died."
  • Busman's Holiday: M. originally meant Bond's Jamaican "assignment" as a thinly-veiled vacation (Strangways being assumed to have eloped with his secretary). What ensues may well be the roughest adventure Bond's ever had.
  • Continuity Nod: Apart from references to the immediate fallout of From Russia with Love, there's a brief moment where Bond, upon arriving in Jamaica, wonders what became of Solitaire from Live and Let Die.
  • Creepy Centipedes: An attempt is made on Bond's life by letting a venomous centipede in his room.
  • Cutlery Escape Aid: Bond steals a steak knife and a lighter while he is having Dinner with Dr No.
  • Epic Fail: While Dr. No puts Bond through a Death Course, his deathtrap for Honey involves him stringing her up in the way of a seemingly-endless mass of crabs which will very slowly pinch her to death. Except that Honey knows that this particular breed of crab isn't hostile and won't attack unless provoked, so she simply holds still until the crabs disperse. She's not even frightened by them and grows fond of their company as she waits. Once they're gone, she tugs the poles she's tied to out of their cracks and just walks away.
  • Evil Is Petty: Dr. No torched an entire bird sanctuary and had its staff brutally murdered simply because it was a bit too close to his base. Fortunately it's this act that eventually brings the authorities down on him.
  • First Law of Resurrection: Invoked in a justifiable manner. Bond wasn't dead at the end of the previous book, he was only dying, and the people who were with him managed to keep him alive long enough for a doctor to be summoned.
  • Freudian Excuse: The title character changes his name to Julius No upon going into business for himself—Julius after his father, and No as a rejection of him and all authority in general (since his parents abandoned him as a baby).
  • Genre Shift: Hoo boy. The previous books were all gritty, grounded spy thrillers set against the backdrop of the Cold War, in appropriate locations with plausible villains, with Bond being a ruthless, anti-heroic hitman throughout, while the women were mostly protected/saved by him. Dr. No, however, reads much more like a traditional adventure/superhero story, being set on a very exotic tropical island with a hidden underground base. Instead of a crime lord, Dr. No is a hammy supervillain with a private army to go along with it and a very unusual physical appearance, compared to the other villains from before. Bond, while still an assassin, is much more polite and kind this time round and pulls off some very traditional heroic acts, such as fighting a giant squid. Honey Ryder is not only capable of kicking ass, she actually escapes without his help and even drags him into bed instead of the other way round.
  • Giant Squid: The title character puts him through a torture labyrinth ending with an apparent escape only to be attacked by a giant squid. Improbably, Bond wins.
  • Groin Attack: Honey gets one on Bond after escaping from her captivity and mistaking him for a mook (which puts her quite far above her film counterpart in terms of pro-activeness). It doesn't do much, although she is a slightly-built shell collector and he is a trained secret agent/assassin in his prime.
  • Heart in the Wrong Place: Dr. No tells Bond how he survived reprisal from the Tong after embezzling funds - after hours of prison torture, they chopped off his hands and shot him through the heart, or thought they did. As it turned out, he was a rare case with his heart on the right side of his body.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Dr. No dies by being Buried Alive in the same guano that was a key component in his operation.
  • Hollywood Silencer: In the opening chapter, the three beggars use revolvers fitted with silencers to kill Strangways.
  • Innocent Fanservice Girl: Played with regarding Honey Rider. She casually mentions her ambition to work in New York as an escort girl, unaware that society would find this idea objectionable.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: According to Bond, everyone on Dr. No's island (save the grunts) wear "kimonos" - a Japanese article that a Chinese (especially one who would've been alive to see World War II) would be very unlikely to have anything to do with. That said, Bond is the only one who refers to them as such, so it might just be his go-to word for any vaguely Asian-looking robe.
  • Karmic Death: Dr. No gets crushed by a crane load of guano.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Several characters remark on how one of the most extensive and sinister criminal conspiracies in the West only started unravelling because a few people from a birdwatching society had gone missing.
  • Naked First Impression: Bond first meets Honey Ryder when she's seashell hunting while wearing only goggles, a snorkel, and a belt for her knife.
  • The Name Is Bond, James Bond: Bond introduces himself this way to Honey.
  • Nasal Trauma: Honey had her nose broken by her rapist, something which she is a bit self-conscious about, choosing to cover her face rather than her breasts in her Naked First Impression.
  • Rape as Backstory: Honey Rider was raped by the man who oversaw the property where she is currently living. She retaliated by putting a venomous spider in his bed.
  • Red Right Hand: Dr. No has no eyelashes (he has a pair of contact lenses to protect his eyes), eyebrows or any hair on top of his head. Instead of hands, he has a pair of steel pincers.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Zig-zagged. Bond takes both a Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight revolver (.38 Special) and a Walther PPK semiautomatic (7.65 mm) to Jamaica, but uses only the former gun at Crab Key because it has a longer range. It does fine against Dr. No's mooks, but it can't puncture the tires on the "dragon" swamp buggy. Starting with the next book in the series, Goldfinger, he carries the Walther almost exclusively.
  • So Last Season: After its less-than-stellar performance in From Russia with Love, M. makes Bond trade in his beloved Beretta for more modern guns—a Smith & Wesson revolver and a Walther PPK pistol. Bond hates the idea at first, though he eventually gets over it and carries the Walther almost exclusively in later books.
  • The Swarm: Honey Rider is tied down on the shoreline ostensibly to be eaten by a swarm of crabs, but more likely to scare her to death. However, she knew her sea life and knew them to be harmless, so she calmly let them march over her.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink:
    • Bond receives a basket of fruit that he sends for testing. The telegram he receives in reply says, "Each object contained enough cyanide to kill a horse. Suggest you change your grocer."
    • Dr. No repeats the trick several chapters later, once he's actually captured Bond and Honey. This time it works, mostly because they're too exhausted to worry about tricks (fortunately, the drug isn't lethal this time).
  • Tank Goodness: Dr. No's most terrifying weapon is a black-and-gold armored car with a flamethrower that also looks rather like an actual dragon.
  • Troll: Interestingly enough, Honey has shades of this. She hits on Bond repeatedly in Dr. No's lair, after Bond has established that he's reluctant to seduce her.
  • Tuckerization:
    • Honey was named after Fleming's friend Patricia Wilder, whose nickname was Honey Chile.
    • Fleming named the guano-collecting ship Blanche after his neighbour and lover in Jamaica Blanche Maxwell.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The novel prominently features Doctor No's incredibly elaborate, cozy island lair, which was later immortalized in the film adaptation and set the standard for larger-than-life evil lairs everywhere. However, it also goes into detail about the time, money and resources that would go into constructing such a thing — Dr. No first appears in person as Bond wonders just how he managed to build a window facing out into the ocean into the wall, and how much such an operation would cost. Bond is also well aware of how strange, surreal, and (given that he isn't expected to leave alive) morbid his welcome is. The whole thing exists to serve Dr. No's special brand of megalomania. The movie included the impressive lair, but cut out the details of its construction and the kind of mind that led to its creation, making it seem a good deal less extraordinary.
  • Undignified Death: Being buried under a ton of guano, aka bat shit, was a much worse death than falling into a nuclear reactor cooling tank for Dr. No.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: Averted. Bond has to tell himself that the two nameless security guards he is about kill were almost certainly murderers themselves.