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Literature / From Russia with Love

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The fifth James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, published in 1957.

Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH devises an Evil Plan to enact a devastating blow against the British Secret Service by killing James Bond in the most humiliating manner possible. Departs from the formula a little in that the first third of the novel is dedicated to describing the trap from SMERSH's point of view, only switching to Bond's narrative once it's laid.

The novel got made into the second James Bond film. John F. Kennedy famously listed From Russia, with Love as his 9th favourite book.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Abduction Is Love: In his backstory, Darko Kerim abducted a gypsy girl, stripped her naked and chained her to his table. When she was given the chance to go free, though, she chose to stay with him instead.
  • Abusive Parents: Kerim's father was a brutish man who stole other men's wives and thrashed his kids for discipline. Nevertheless his community respected him (as does Kerim in an odd way) due to being a poor village that prized strength.
  • Artistic Licence – History: Fleming claims that SMERSH was a Soviet intelligence operation, derived from the Russian "Smert' Sphionam", or "Death to Spies." To this extent, he's telling the truth. However, he goes on to state that at the time of writing (1956), SMERSH was still a functioning department of the Soviet intelligence apparatus and gives the agency's address. In reality... 
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  • Avenging the Villain: SMERSH carry out the plan to kill James Bond in retaliation for the deaths of Le Chiffre and Mr. Big.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: At sixteen, Grant strangled a cat to satiate his urges, and continued to kill animals until he moved on to killing people a year later.
  • Blue Blood: Tatiana Romanova is said to be a distantly related to the old Royal family, although she doesn't frequent buivshi circles and is seemingly loyal to the Soviet regime.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Kerim is described to be a big man with lust for life. He even states that he'll probably die from living too much.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The book ends with a Downer Ending, where Bond has just been poisoned and is passing out from the toxin mid-sentence, giving an impression that Our Hero Is Dead. 40+ books written after this one can attest that it didn't stick. Fleming had originally intended From Russia With Love to be the final book in the series, but demand both from the publisher and the fans convinced him to continue.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: In the crucial moment of Kronsteen's carefully laid plan, the assassin "Red" Grant - an Irishman who joined the Soviets - makes the fatal mistake of engaging in prolonged crowing, boasting and gloating instead of just going ahead with his assigned task of killing Bond. This allows Bond the chance to improvise a desperate last-moment plan which works, enabling him to kill Grant and use the information which Grant carelessly revealed in order to catch the senior Soviet operative Rosa Klebb.
  • Book Dumb: Grant failed the political indoctrination portion of his training, but showed high skill levels in the technical subjects. As it turned out, this was exactly what his superiors in SMERSH wanted to hear. Once in the field, he shows that he's not just Dumb Muscle when he demonstrates skills that other henchmen in the franchise are incapable of.
  • Book Safe: Grant has a .25 pistol concealed in a copy of War and Peace, which fires if you press the spine in the right place.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: Tatiana's resemblance to Greta Garbo is commented on by several characters. Incidentally, Bond (likened to Hoagy Carmichael on more than one occasion) has this to say about telling someone he looks like an (American) movie star:
    "For God's sake! That's the worst insult you can pay a man!"
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Bond uses a chair to defend himself from Rosa Klebb's poisoned knitting needles, and pins her to a wall with it. She is then captured by his fellow agents, but not before she manages to land a hit on him with a small blade on her shoe, which is also poisoned.
  • The Chessmaster: Literally so. Kronsteen gets a summons from SMERSH during a championship match but waits to obey it until he's won, risking his superiors' displeasure and possibly his life. They let it slide after he explains that he's raised enough suspicion by leaving immediately as soon as he's won, and it would have looked even more suspicious if he'd suddenly resigned during the match.
  • Chest of Medals: A paragraph is dedicated to what General G. has on his chest, naming a list of Russian honors, including, late in the list and through circumstances not elaborated on but likely related to World War II, two Western recognitions note .
  • Cluster F-Bomb: General G. bombards the assembled intelligence generals with Russian swear words when they only bring up Bond halfway through the meeting, starting with the Russian "Holy shit!"
  • Continuity Nod: The deaths of SMERSH agents Le Chiffre, Mr. Big, and Hugo Drax are listed at a meeting between Soviet intelligence officials. Bond's mission involving diamond smuggling is also mentioned.
  • Crapsack World: A portion of the book outlines how life in the USSR sucks and why only depraved sociopaths such as Red Grant actually enjoy working for its espionage apparatus. Authorities use beatings, forced labor, and the like to quash dissent. If the government wanted to purge "enemies of the state" en masse, then it has no qualms doing so. The book also describes that no ordinary citizen would dare utter the word SMERSH openly lest they face the KGB knocking at their door. In the end, the average Joe in Soviet Russia has no stomach for a possible revolt.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: General G. and his fellow intelligence big shots brainstorm a lot of creative deaths for Bond before ultimately deciding on a sex scandal to humiliate MI6.
  • Cyanide Pill: Bond is issued a cyanide pill with his kit. He flushes it down the toilet at the first opportunity.
  • Dan Browned: Fleming's introduction insists that General G. was a real person and really ran SMERSH at the time the book was set. In fact, the real SMERSH never lasted beyond World War II, and the general never existed.
  • Date Peepers: Much more sinister than the usual version. Every moment of Bond's bedding of Tatiana is photographed by SMERSH agents who intend to use the photos as part of the murder-suicide framejob they've planned.
  • Deadpan Snarker: In the tense, backbiting atmosphere of the SMERSH meeting, General Vozdvishensky has room for a few wry remarks (mostly about American intelligence).
  • Defector from Decadence: Vozdvishensky felt reluctant about having Bond killed off despite signing off on the death warrant, given he enjoyed his time as a diplomat while stationed in London. The Tie-In Novel for The Spy Who Loved Me reveals that he's since defected to the West, conducting a language symposium for employees of the British Ministry of Defence.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Klebb apparently had an affair with Spanish Communist leader Andrés Nin (a historical figure), but was also pretty blatantly coming on to Tatiana.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Bond is poisoned at the very end of the book, while Tatiana is at the Embassy.
  • Dirty Communists: Grant defected to SMERSH just so he could become a paid assassin as compared to merely killing people like he did before.
  • The Dragon: General G. is mentioned to be the personal attack dog of General Ivan Serov, the ultimate head of Soviet Intelligence, who, unlike G, really did exist.
  • The Dreaded:
    • Various stories surround Rosa Klebb's status as a Torture Technician in the building she works. People feel much safer when she is in her office.
    • The various department heads of the Soviet intelligence apparatus - KGB (secret police), GRU (army intelligence), and RUMID (foreign affairs) - all fear SMERSH's head honcho General Grubozaboyschikov, better known as 'G' due to his long surname. G is well aware of this and watches all the others for signs of weakness when they have meetings, which he then in turn snitches on to General Serov, the ultimate head of Soviet intelligence.
    • No ordinary Soviet citizen would want to openly utter counterintelligence agency SMERSH's's name lest they get arrested and possibly executed.
  • Dumb Blonde: Subverted. While Grant doesn't seem like the sharpest tool in the shed (for starters, he mixed up Irish history with Russian propaganda slogans during training), he's actually able to do things that other Bond villain henchmen are completely incapable of (like use stealth or hold down a cover). Grant also failed his written courses in training, but was otherwise great at code breaking, stalking, tracking, communications and graduated top of his class, a far cry from when he was near the very bottom at the start.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Averted, actually; it's mentioned that Kronsteen has a wife and children, but his years as a merciless Soviet intelligence agent has left him unable to see them, or anyone, really, as anything other than pieces on a chessboard. Furthermore, depending on what he exactly meant by having to "put one of [his] children in hospital" as a cover for his being summoned away from a chess tournament in the book, it's possible he's willing to hurt his own family to protect his cover.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The Soviet colonel who interviewed Grant immediately after he defected was visibly nervous in the presence of the man, and briefly considered having Grant shot.
  • Fake Defector: Tatiana was told that her mission was to become one of these to leak false intelligence to the West. Her mission is actually a set up to lure Bond into a situation where SMERSH can kill both of them in a manner that embarrasses the British government.
  • Food Porn: Bond's breakfast in his London flat gets this treatment — even though it consists of a boiled egg, toast and black coffee. Later subverted when Kerim takes Bond out for dinner at the gipsy encampment, and tells him in advance that the food will be "disgusting".
  • Fridge Logic: In-Universe; Red admits the plan has some flaws (what if someone remembers seeing Red with Bond, for instance) but a bit of third man mystery will only help fuel the newsworthy scandal.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Clothing Damage in a fight between two Roma girls gets so bad that they are soon fighting each other naked.
  • Gonky Femme: Rosa Klebb is described in quite ugly terms, but when Tatiana is ordered to report to Krebb's apartment for a late night briefing, Klebb is dressed in a babydoll-ish nightie and giggly tries to seduce Tatiana, who runs away in terror.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: One of the few cases where Ian Fleming's pop psychology was close to Truth in Television is depicting the Psycho for Hire Red Grant as a homicidal maniac incapable of any kind of arousal except (arguably) for that which he gets from killing — as evidenced in the first chapter when the sexy masseuse has no effect on him whatsoever.
  • Greater-Scope Villain:
  • Groin Attack: Klebb attempts to be on the giving end when she tries to kill Bond at the end by kicking him in the crotch with her poison tipped shoe.
  • Happy Ending Massage: The first chapter is mostly about Grant's masseuse. She doesn't go out of her way to do this with her clients, but ... it apparently turns out that way a lot, as most of them find her sexually attractive. Grant stands out in that (among other things) he doesn't react to her at all.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Red Grant is done in by his own pistol-book.
  • Ignorance Is Bliss: It's stated in the first chapter that it's just as well that the masseuse does not know what Grant does for a living.
  • Internal Reveal: The novel spends nearly half of the text detailing the history of the assassin Red Grant and the decision-making processes of the upper echelons of the Soviet spy machine, before revealing its plan to murder James Bond (using Grant) by luring him with the Fake Defector Tatiana Romanova. The other half is how Bond falls into (and gets out of) the trap.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • There is no mention of anything happening to Kronsteen, either from MI6 for trying to kill one of their agents, or from SMERSH for failing.
    • General G. and Bond do not have any physical interaction. However, Trigger Mortis implies that he was forced to lay low after his scheme failed. What became of him is unknown to MI6, however.
  • Lunacy: Red Grant, SMERSH's chief executioner, has homicidal urges that coincide with the full moon; his SMERSH file categorizes him as a manic-depressive psychopath. In the first chapter of the novel, his wristwatch is described to show the phases of the moon.
    • Part of his back-story has him becoming a successful boxer while in the British Army, but he loses the respect of everyone in his unit when he takes part in a bout that happens to coincide with a full moon, and almost kills his opponent.
    • SMERSH makes a point of arranging his assignments so they don't coincide with the full moon. At such times, he's let loose in a torture chamber with a chainsaw in one of their prisons.
  • Meaningful Name: Noted In-Universe. Tatiana is unsettled when she and Bond first meet their contact Nash, because in Russian, nash means "one of ours". Bond assures her that she's worrying over nothing.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Ian Fleming, being Ian Fleming, goes to town with his descriptions of Tatiana, the fighting gipsy girls and Grant's masseuse.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Rosa Klebb, the head of SMERSH is a late middle-aged Big Bad who can dish out serious hurt and fights dirty.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: One personnel manager in the Secret Service is described to be a very irritating man. His job deals with the mundane paperwork involved in daily life. M picked an irritating man on purpose, because it is explained that every well-managed organization has at least one person whose job is to act as a "lightning rod" for all staff frustration.
  • One-Letter Name: General G. Probably at least partly because of his long surname, Grubozaboyschikov.
  • Pocket Protector: Bond is saved from Red Grant's bullet by his trusty cigarette case, which he was able to put in place while Grant was boasting.
  • Pop-Cultured Badass: Grant peppers his monologues to Bond with casual references to classic spy thrillers, such as Bulldog Drummond. He's also got several thrillers and pulp fiction works lining his bookshelf in the beginning of the book.
  • Product Placement. Bond's morning coffee is made with a Chemex Coffeemaker.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: A gypsy prophesies that Bond is under "the wings of death" and "must beware of a man who is owned by the moon." Bond ends up in a fight to the death with Red Grant, whose homicidal urges correspond to the full moon.
  • Psycho for Hire: SMERSH's first instinct is to have Grant killed, giving that he's an insane serial killer with no interest in the communist cause. But they realise that someone who can systematically kill without suffering mental breakdown is useful for a system that regularly requires the elimination of large numbers of people.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Rosa Klebb.
  • Ready for Lovemaking: Klebb tries to seduce Tatiana by putting on a nightie and posing seductively on a sofa, inviting her to come beside her. Tatiana runs away in revulsion. Later, Tatiana reclines invitingly under the bedsheets in Bond's hotel room, naked nude except for a choker and stockings, as part of her seduction of 007.
  • Real Men Take It Black: Bond does, at home as well as in Istanbul.
  • Red Right Hand: Almost literally — Grant's reddish skin tone is noted as marring what are otherwise extremely handsome physical features, giving a clue to his nature.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Fleming goes into detail describing the hideous appearance of Dirty Communist Rosa Klebb, before revealing her gender with the words "she pulled up her skirt and sat down".
  • Serial Killer: Grant began killing at age seventeen and committed many murders in his native Northern Ireland, becoming known as the "Moon Killer" because he usually killed when there was a full moon. Despite a giant manhunt, he was never caught.
  • Serious Business: Kronsteen endangers his life by ignoring a message from the head of SMERSH to meet immediately, because he has to finish a chess match. He justifies his action by claiming security considerations — he is a nationally-renowned chess champion, and if he were to forfeit a match and leave without explanation, it wouldn't take his fans long to figure out that he must've been summoned by a very powerful government figure.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: MI6's people in Turkey aren't shy about throwing money around to get intel, and SMERSH pretty much operates the same way with people they can't afford to liquidate. Though it's notably subverted when one Soviet official tries to bribe police on the Orient Express.
  • Shoe Phone: Arguably the genesis of all the wacky gadgets that the movies would become famous for. Bond's travel-bag has been gimmicked to the teeth (albeit with general-purpose tools like a knife, a gun and bribe money rather than weird gizmos custom tailored for escaping the scenario that the hero inevitably ends up in), while Red Grant makes do with a .25 Caliber copy of War and Peace. Oh, and Rosa Klebb has a machine gun built into her phone.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Kronsteen is a literal Chessmaster.
  • Stocking Filler: When Tatiana seduces Bond, she is nude except for a black satin choker tied around her neck and black silk stockings rolled above her knees, which are revealed when Bond pulls the sheet off her body.
  • Swarm of Rats: Bond and Kerim come by a swarm of rats that takes minutes to pass them by in an underground tunnel.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Grant began killing at age seventeen, murdering men and women alike. He became known as the "Moon Killer" in his native Northern Ireland before being called up for National Service in the British Army.
  • Textual Celebrity Resemblance: Tatiana bears a strong resemblance to a young Greta Garbo, with a wide mouth and dark brown hair intentionally styled after the Swedish-born actress.
  • This Is Reality: When he's finally got Bond cornered, Red Grant warns Bond that "no Bulldog Drummond stuff" will save him. A very meta comment, since the Drummond stories were perhaps the biggest literary influence on Bond.
  • Thriller on the Express: Red Grant tricks Bond into thinking that he is a fellow-MI6 agent, and tries to kill him during a ride on the Orient Express.
  • Token Good Teammate: Vozdvishensky reluctantly signs off the death warrant against Bond, despite his reservations about the plan to humiliate MI6. It's later revealed in the Tie-In Novel for The Spy Who Loved Me that he's since defected to Britain.
  • Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth:
    • Everyone he works for and with is absolutely terrified of Grant. Even when he first meets a Soviet colonel after defecting from the British military, the colonel looks unnerved and even seriously considered having Grant shot or deported to Siberia.
    • SMERSH also consider killing Grant straight off, but decide that a psychotic killer is useful as he won't suffer the Villainous Breakdown that normal people do when killing large numbers of people over a long period of time. They keep tight control of Grant during his lunatic phases, just using him for executions instead of missions at such times.
  • Torture Technician: Klebb has a reputation for overseeing the interrogations of enemy agents in which, after exacting various methods of torture on the target, she speaks to them in a warm and motherly tone in an unusual and apparently effective method of extracting necessary information.
  • Tricked-Out Shoes: Klebb has small poisoned blade hidden in her shoe.
  • Uncanny Valley (In-Universe):
    • Despite her client being a Mr. Fanservice, the masseuse has this reaction to Grant and is repulsed rather than attracted to him.
    • When Bond meets Grant posing as a British gentleman agent, he can't help noticing there's something off about him, but puts this down to "Captain Nash" being a Shell-Shocked Veteran from World War 2.
  • Understatement: General G. says in the meeting that if they don't do something to humiliate British intelligence, "There will be ... displeasure."
    • The narrative goes out of its way to clarify that General G picked the vaguest-sounding menacing word possible.
  • Verbal Tic: Grant-as-Nash repeatedly refers to Bond as "old man". It's a put-on to make him seem more harmless to 007.
  • Villain Episode: While previous Bond books usually had at least a paragraph or two told from the villain's perspective, this is the first to devote whole chapters (ten in all!) to their lives.
  • Villain Opening Scene: A significant portion of the book is devoted to Red Grant's backstory and SMERSH concocting a Fake Defector plot to kill Bond and humiliate MI6 in retaliation for foiling their earlier schemes.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Kronsteen is a famous Russian chess champion and has enough admirers to rival any star athlete's, with his games being household talk throughout the Soviet Union. He even has his own nickname, the Wizard of Ice.
  • Xanatos Gambit: In Grant's backstory, the Soviet intelligence officer who considers his defection assigns him to kill a British operative as proof of his sincerity and skill. If Grant succeeds, it will of course be ideal, but if he fails — well, having a British soldier try and kill a British officer in West Berlin would still be a major embarrassment for the British.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Justified, as the point isn't just to kill Bond, but to create a scandal that will discredit and demoralise British Intelligence. Bond himself thinks this point when seeing indications that he's walking into a trap, not realising SMERSH's plan is more elaborate.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Suggested, depending on what Kronsteen meant by having to "put a child into hospital" to support his story that one of his children had fallen gravely ill to force him to leave a chess championship as quickly as he did, although all this is because he's mortally terrified of what the office might do to him simply for not leaving immediately (as opposed to staying long enough to finish the game) without one hell of an excuse.