Last night, while reading "Moonraker", I wondered why I liked it a lot more than "Live and Let Die", which I had read before it, going as chronologically as I can, at least with the Fleming books, since I decided to start on the Bond novels by John Gardner at the same time.
I finished it this morning, and I know why. It's because "Moonraker" is as compact as "Casino Royale." The card game that Bond joins to expose Sir Hugo Drax as a cheat at M's request is brilliant in its detail not only of the Blades club, but how Bond sets out to defeat Drax, the methods he uses, the history of what he knows in card playing. It's also interesting to see M differently here. He's usually the boss behind the desk, but here he spends time with Bond at this club.
Plus, Drax ties right into the rest of the story, so Bond doesn't have to travel far this time, getting special permission from Her Majesty's government to operate inside England, which is never the case, as MI6's Special Service (the "00" agents) operates outside of England, around the world, with no jurisdiction within England's borders.
But I know that I liked "Moonraker" because unlike "Live and Let Die", there's no interminable pages involving train travel. The only benefit for me were the descriptions of parts of Florida, and I always love to learn about the history of my home state. But all that time with Solitaire, who's as weak as Jane Seymour's Solitaire in "Live and Let Die"? It takes too long, and the excitement of Bond going after Mr. Big fades for a time because of those pages.
Gala Brand, the woman in this novel, isn't as interesting or really as mysterious as Vesper Lynd in "Casino Royale", but she is as strong as Bond in mind and skill, so it feels like an equal team at least. And the end of "Moonraker", which smashes all of Bond's assumptions about Brand and underscores why he can't have that particular world in which Brand exists as long as he remains 007, is shattering in its cold simplicity. It is indeed a cold world for Bond when he's not being that dashing, skilled agent.
Next is "Diamonds are Forever", and I think the last time I tried to read all the Bond novels, back in 2002 when I was attending classes at Broward Community College at its campus in Pembroke Pines, and hanging out all the time in the Southwest Regional Library (part of the Broward library system) next door, I only got up to "Moonraker." And since I didn't like "Diamonds are Forever" as a Bond film, I hope for better from the original work.