Ian Fleming's Goldfinger, the seventh title in his popular "James Bond" series, is partly just a darn good read and partly a sort of cultural primer. Set (as are the other Bond novels) in the bygone mid-century world of the British upper class, where a man's golf shoes were a reliable indicator of his character, the book is replete with card games, golfing and champagne suppers. The cars are superb, the martinis are dry, and even the villains are gentlemen – although not as much so, of course, as Bond. The book is full of the fantastic gizmos, intricate plots and the dazzling action scenes that Fleming made famous.
Bond is assigned to find out what pawnbroker Auric Goldfinger is doing with all his gold, and decides to "accidentally" run into him while golfing in order to feel him out a bit. He knows just where to find him, as well as his approximate handicap, due to an earlier encounter at the card table. Not many authors could devote 26 pages to a golf game without becoming mind-numbingly dull, but Fleming manages it, somehow. Perhaps it is the valuable information imparted amidst the tees and birdies – that the dastardly Goldfinger, already a proven card cheat, cheats at golf as well; that Bond's shoes and clubs are obviously superior to the nouveau riche matching ensemble Goldfinger sports; and that even Bond's caddy is more of a gentleman than our arch villain o' the day – that keep it humming along. Perhaps it is the suspense of wondering when Bond and Goldfinger will drop the nicey-nice act and reveal their enmity. We all know it's coming, they obviously know it's coming – so come on, Ian, when's it gonna happen?
After their golf game, Bond is invited to dine at Goldfinger's house and gets to know the man a bit better. He is also introduced to the terrifying and unique Korean handyman, Odd Job. Continuing the cat-and-mouse game, Bond follows Goldfinger to France, and through the interference of young Tilly Masterson, who is pursuing her own vendetta, ends up first as Goldfinger's captive, then his employee. As such, he becomes privy to the fantastic scheme that Goldfinger has cooked up – and it is, of course, much worse than Bond had imagined. The evil schemes of his enemies almost always are more horrible than he thinks, or than HQ leads him to believe, which is part of the charm of Fleming's works. How, the reader wonders, is James possibly going to get out of that?
Each Bond book must have a heroine (although perhaps female lead would be a better term) and in this one, it is Pussy Galore, leader of an all-female gang of circus performers turned cat burglars, who abandons her lesbian proclivities for James's overwhelming manliness – a thing that most politically correct 21st century writers would probably not come up with. But in the context of this story, it seems appropriate, albeit predictable. Of course the girl is going to fall for Bond, no matter what -- although this book's other female lead, Tilly Masterson, does not. But she's a rare one; most of them do.
Goldfinger is highly recommended for spy fans, Anglophiles, and all retro-loving souls who wish they drove a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, just like Auric Goldfinger.