There are only a few authors I return to time and again. Ian Fleming is naturally one, PG Wodehouse another. A third is George MacDonald Fraser. I can't remember how many times I've read the Flashman Papers, George MacDonald Fraser's series of adventures featuring Harry Flashman, a Victorian cad, scoundrel, poltroon and undeserving hero, but the novels, presented in the form of Flashman's memoirs, are becoming as dog-eared and well-thumbed as my Bond books.
I was re-reading the tenth volume in the series – Flashman and the Angel of the Lord (1994), in which Flashman reluctantly joins John Brown and takes part in the infamous raid at Harper's Ferry in 1859 that presaged the American Civil War – and was struck by a number of similarities between the book and the novel of Live and Let Die (1954).
For example, after a remarkable series of events, Flashman finds himself in Washington. Escaping from an organisation keen for him to join John Brown, Flashman hails a cab and is invited in by a mysterious woman already occupying it. Flashman tells her he's from Canada, to which the woman replies 'uh-huh'. Flashman remarks in his memoirs that uh-huh “is the most expressive word in the American language.” This brought to mind Felix Leiter's advice to James Bond in Live and Let Die that “you can get through any American conversation with 'yeah', 'nope' and 'sure'.”
While in New York, Flashman meets and is arrested by Allan Pinkerton, who founded his famous detective agency in 1852-3. (Felix Leiter would become a Pinkerton's agent in Diamonds are Forever.) In his cell, Flashman consumes a “disgusting luncheon consisting of a cake of fried chopped beef smothered in onions and train oil.” Flashman's first experience of a hamburger is rather different to Bond's. He describes his meal of “flat beef Hamburgers, medium-rare” (among other items) as “American cooking at its rare best.”
Earlier, while still in Washington, Flashman is dining in a restaurant and eavesdrops on the conversations of fellow diners. One conversation gives us a flavour of the political background in 1859, and George MacDonald Fraser, through his writing, attempts to convey the accents and dialects that Flashman is likely to have heard. Inevitably, this reminded me of Bond and Leiter in Sugar Ray's in Harlem, where they listen to a couple's conversation so that Bond can get a feel of the accent and the colloquialisms. (Today, the passage makes rather uncomfortable reading, but Fleming was no doubt well intentioned.)
It also occurred to me that both Live and Let Die and Flashman and the Angel of the Lord feature secret organisations that have spies everywhere to keep tabs on the movements of the books' respective heroes. Mr Big has his Big Switchboard in the former, and while the latter introduces us to a secret network sympathetic to the southern states.
Live and Let Die and Flashman and the Angel of the Lord are very different novels, and the similarities may well be completely coincidental. But George MacDonald Fraser did, of course, co-write the screenplay of Octopussy, and his comic historical novel, The Reavers (2007), is packed with Bond references (the hero of the novel is the spy, Archie Noble, who, as head of Station B for Border, is ‘licensed to slay’, and a ‘double-nought operative'). It is not impossible that as a Bond aficionado, George MacDonald Fraser alluded to the Bond books in some of his other work.