Moonraker sees James Bond on assignment in the UK, where strictly he is not supposed to operate. The book again features the thrilling card games of Casino Royale and has to be noted as the only book where 007 does not get the girl.
Author: Ian Fleming
Publication date: 5th April 1955
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Cover artist: Kenneth Lewis
The plot centres around a wealthy industrialist, Sir Hugo Drax, and his ambition to finance Britain’s nuclear strike capability. We first meet him at M’s private members club, where he is exposed as a cheat by Bond and needless to say all is not as it seems.
The novel is unique in that it all takes place in England. The Moonraker site is located three miles north of Dover, an area known well by Fleming as the location of his weekend retreat.
What we say
After the exotic locations of the first two books, Moonraker was far more modestly set in London and Kent. Ian Fleming knew this area of England well, owning a weekend cottage at St Margaret’s Bay, outside Dover.
The plot concerns a wealthy industrialist, Sir Hugo Drax, who is financing the Moonraker missile. The project is intended to provide Britain with an independent strategic nuclear capability. When a Ministry of Supply officer working on the project is murdered Bond is sent to investigate. He soon learns that Drax’s motives are not as philanthropic as they first appear.
While the locations are not as exciting as the previous books, Fleming does provide a gripping bridge game. However, readers used to overseas adventures wrote to complain they felt short-changed by the locations. Fleming took the criticism to heart and with the exception of one short story, The Property of a Lady, all subsequent Bond adventures took place overseas.
The opening chapters of Moonraker mouth-wateringly detail Bond’s dinner and drinks at Blades with M. Then immediately afterwards the reader is treated to the excitement of the card tables. Both are subjects Fleming wrote exceptionally well about after introducing them as part of his formula in Casino Royale.
But the third novel disappointingly sees 007 on a mission in the south of England and instead of the exotic locations of its predecessors, Moonraker makes do with London and Kent. While that’s not entirely a bad thing, the novel does suffer as a result with one of the key elements of Fleming’s novels abandoned. On the other hand Fleming is able to provide more details of Bond’s day-to-day life in London.
There is no real love interest either, as Gala Brand is engaged and, at the end of the book, about to become married. While Bond does his best to seduce her, Gala gives him the cold shoulder, which he can’t quite make out until the last page.
Friends & foes
M is the head of the Secret Service and while he appears in the first two James Bond novels, Moonraker is the first time the reader encounters him outside his office. Bond joins him for dinner at his private member’s club, Blades, prior to partnering him against Sir Hugo Drax at bridge. As the result Ian Fleming has a better opportunity to expand the character, including his food and drink preferences.
Assistant Commissioner Ronnie Vallance works for the Special Branch at Scotland Yard and although Bond prepares himself for rivalry with his own organisation instead finds him cooperative. Vallance has an undercover agent working for as Drax’s private secretary and relies on Bond to ensure her safety and throughout the mission Bond relies upon Vallance’s support.
Gala Brand is a Special Branch agent who is working on the Moonraker project to help ensure its success. Although she is attracted to Bond, she makes it clear she is not interested. Only at the end of the novel does Bond learn she is engaged to a detective inspector and is to be married the following day.
Sir Hugo Drax is “a ruthless man with deplorable manners” who was badly injured during the Second World War. His face is disfigured by scar tissue, which he attempts to conceal with a bushy moustache. Following the explosion in which he was injured Drax suffered total amnesia but after the war became a wealthy industrialist.
Drax is considered a national hero for personally financing the Moonraker, an independent nuclear missile. Bond is sent to find out what is happening after the murder of the government appointed security officer. It soon become apparent that Drax is not what he appears.
Moonraker is unique among the James Bond novel in that it takes place entirely in Britain. The story begins with M inviting Bond to Blades, his private club. He is asked in a personal capacity to help out as one of the members, Sir Hugo Drax, is suspected of cheating at bridge.
Also see: Moonraker: locations from the novel
Sir Hugo funded the Moonraker rocket project and is a national hero as a result. To avoid a public scandal, M tasks Bond with investigating how Drax is doing this and warning him off the behaviour. After dealing with Drax’s cheating tactics, Bond is sent to investigate an overnight incident at the Moonraker site near St Margaret’s Bay, Kent. Fleming new this area of the country well as he owned a weekend retreat there.
During the course of the investigation, Bond follows Drax’s Mercedes from London to his residence in Ebury Street. Fleming had lived there for a few years befor the war.
The chase continues across Chelsea Bridge to the south of the river, Clapham Common, the South Circular, and finally the A20 to Dover, where Bond tragically loses his beloved Bentley.
At the staff canteen, Bond drinks half a carafe of white Bordeaux and two cups of black coffee to go with his lunch of grilled sole, Brie and toast, and a large mixed salad with mustard-laced dressing.
Also see: Moonraker: food & drink from the novel
Invited to dine with M at Blades, Bond drinks a vodka martini with a large slice of lemon peel when he arrives, while M enjoys his whiskey and soda. After ordering M orders a carafe of Wolfschmidt vodka and pours Bond three fingers into his glass.
Bond sprinkles black pepper onto the surface of the vodka, explaining to M it was a habit he’d picked the habit up while stationed in Moscow. The pepper takes the impurities found in low quality vodka to the bottom of the glass and Bond liked the flavour.
Bond also stirs Benzedrine into his Dom Perignon ’46 champagne to accompany his meal, smoked salmon followed by lamb cutlets and asparagus with Béarnaise sauce.
When later assigned to the Moonraker case, Bond drinks Black & White whiskey in a pub near Dover. At the Moonraker complex he is served an excellent dry martini, and at the Granville hotel, Bond drinks stiff brandy-and-sodas followed by fried soles and Welsh rarebits. Finally, Bond enjoys vodka martinis at Scott’s while waiting for Scotland Yard to find Gala Brand.
Once again Moonraker provides an insight into the luxurious lifestyle of James Bond and the brands he associates himself with. From his expertly tuned 4½-litre supercharged Bentley coupé to his Ronson lighter, Morland cigarettes, Wolfschmidt vodka and Dom Perignon champagne, it’s clear that Bond has a keen sense of taste. In this section, we will delve deeper into the brands mentioned by Ian Fleming.
In Moonraker Fleming gives more information about James Bond’s 1930 4½-litre supercharged Bentley coupé, “which he kept expertly tuned so that he could do a hundred when he wanted to”. Later in the book though it is destroyed by several tons of newsprint from the back of a lorry.
After beating Drax at Blades, thinks about what he will spend his winnings on. Top of the list is a “Rolls-Bentley Convertible, say £5000” and at the end of the book he orders on trial a 1953 Mark VI with an open touring body. However the car is different to the Bentley drives in later books.
Bond’s Ronson lighter is mentioned once again. Fleming describes it as “black-oxidized”.
The natural partner with his Ronson are Bond’s handmade Morland’s cigarettes, described as a “Macedonian blend”.
Before going to bed Bond removes his Beretta from its shoulder-holster and puts it under his pillow. Fleming describes the gun as having a skeleton grip. After concluding his mission Bond is given a new Beretta by M to replace the lost gun.
Bond drinks half a carafe of white Bordeaux to go with his lunch in the staff canteen.
Prior to dinner M orders a carafe of pre-war Wolfschmidt vodka for them to share.
The wine waiter recommends the Dom Perignon ’46 to Bond, into which he drops Benzedrine powder.
After dinner Bond and M partner against Drax and Meyer at Bridge. All four men have coffee and cigars, as well as the club brandy, a Cognac from the Rothschild estates.
Black & White
Sent to investigate the murder of Major Tallon in a pub close to Dover, Bond orders a large whisky and soda made with Black & White
Haig and Haig
Searching Drax’s desk, Bond finds a bottle of Haig and Haig whisky. He three-quarter fills a tooth glass and knocks it back in two gulps.
Although not named in Moonraker, Bond dines at his favourite London restaurant. It’s location clearly identifies it as as Scott’s, which at the time was at 18-20 Coventry Street.
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