This rushed, journalistic coverage of the fascinating Fleming only rarely lives up to its sensational and complex subject, even while dispatching many of the occluding myths around him. Like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Fleming did not originate the genre in which he wrote but instead gave it its enduring archetypal hero, James Bond, who in turn grafted himself onto Fleming's fame. McCormick (How to Buy an Island, 1973, etc.), Fleming's sometime junior colleague in wartime intelligence and global reporting, portrays the author as far more complex than his charismatic creation—both more ordinarily human and far more exotically eccentric. Though McCormick generally accounts for the biographical factors in Fleming's childhood (his father's death and his mother's strong nurturing) and his restless youth (studies in Germany and international reporting for Reuters), Fleming seems incomplete and distant by the time he has his crucial experience in naval intelligence in WW II under the code name ``17F.'' With these espionage operations still partially classified and permanently obscure, McCormick plays down Fleming's adventurism, with the exception of the bizarre case of Rudolph Hess. In the book's most mysterious chapter (which digs into Fleming's interest in the occult), McCormick places Fleming murkily in the plot that, by playing on Hess's superstitions and interest in astrology, lured the Nazi to England with the false promise of negotiating peace. McCormick paints a curiously selective portrait of Fleming's rise to fame—even his postwar career managing a global newspaper chain is given more attention than his turbulent marriage to the witty Lady Anne Rothermore or his phenomenally successful writing career. Although Fleming was ultimately a private character with a very public quasi-alter ego in James Bond, this thin work has the whitewashed feel of an authorized biography—but without the privileged access or intimacy with its subject.
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