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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.
  • 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. He, however, goes on to state that SMERSH was still a functioning department of the Soviet intelligence apparatus and gives the agency's address. In reality... 
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  • Big Bad: Rosa Klebb.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Kerim is described to be a big man with lust for life. He even states that he'll propably 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Broken Bird: Tatiana.
  • 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.
  • 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 big chunk of the book is spent outlining how life in the USSR sucks, and how only the most depraved of sociopaths such as Red Grant actually enjoy working for its intelligence apparatus. Beatings, forced labor, and extrajudicial killings are commonly used by authorities to crush dissidents, and if the government wanted to purge "enemies of the state" en masse as it did under Stalin, then it has no qualms doing so again. The book also describes that no ordinary citizen would dare utter SMERSH's name at all in public lest they face the KGB knocking at their door. All in all, the average Joe in Soviet Russia has no stomach for a possible revolt.
  • Cyanide Pill: Bond is issued a cyanide pill with his kit. He flushes it down the toilet at the first opportunity.
  • 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).
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Bond is poisoned at the very end of the book, while Tatiana is at the Embassy.
  • 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 SMERSH's's name lest they get arrested and possibly executed.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The Soviet colonel interviewing Red Grant at the start of the book looked visibly nervous 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.
  • 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, Krebb is dressed in a babydoll-ish nightie and giggly tries to seduce Tatiana.
  • 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 for arguably that he gets from killing.
  • Greater-Scope Villain:
  • Happy Ending Massage: Narration in the book's opening about Red Grant's masseuse tells that she doesn't go out of her way to do this with her clients, per se, but... it apparently turns out that way a lot. Grant stands out in that (among other things) he doesn't react at all.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Red Grant is done in by his own pistol-book.
  • 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 likewise gets away unscathed.
  • Lunacy: Red Grant, SMERSH's Chief Executioner, has homicidal urges coinciding with the full moon; his SMERSH file categorizes him as a manic-depressive psychopath. In the intro of the novel his wristwatch is described to show the phases of the moon.
    • Even SMERSH almost consider killing him on the spot; they also arrange his assignments so they don't coincide with the full moon.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Lesbian: Rosa Klebb.
  • Ready for Lovemaking: Klebb tries to seduce Tatiana by putting on nighties 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 (nude except for choker and stockings) as part of her seduction of 007.
  • 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".
  • Serious Business: Kronsteen endangers his life by ignoring a message from the head of SMERSH to meet at once, because he has to finish a chess tournament. He justifies his action by claiming security considerations — his fans are as dedicated to the game as he is, and would realise he'd only forfeit the match if he was summoned by a 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.
  • Serial Killer: Grant began killing at age seventeen, murdering men and women alike. He became known as the "Moon Killer" in his native Ireland, before eventually joining the army, and then defecting to the KGB. At that point, he turned his passion into a career.
  • 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 War and Peace. Oh, and Rosa Klebb has a machine gun built into her phone.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Kronsteen, who 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.
  • 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 MI6 agent, and tries to kill him during a train ride.
  • 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: 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.
  • 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 it will still be a major embarrassment for both the British and the Americans.
  • 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.


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