Thunderball (1961)

Author: Ian Fleming
Published: 27th March 1961
MI6 Rating:

Data Stream
Villains: Emilio Largo, SPECTRE, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Count Lippe, Guiseppe Petachi
Plot: Hijacking of nuclear bombs for blackmail of Western governments.
Bond Girls: Domino Vitali, Patricia Fearing
Allies: Felix Leiter
Locations: Shrublands, Sussex, UK; Paris, France; London, UK; Nassau, Bahamas
Highlights: Shrublands rack, hijacking of bombs, card game with Largo, underwater swim under Disco Volante, underwater battle

Capsule Synopsis
A new criminal organisation has been formed, by the name of SPECTRE. They steal two atomic weapons, and blackmail the governments of Britain and America with the threat of their use.
Above: 1st edition Jonathan Cape hardback (UK). Artwork by Richard Chopping.

Official Blurb (Penguin 2002 Edition)
When a stranger arrives in the Bahamas, the locals barely turn their heads, seeing another ex-pat with money to burn at the casino tables. But James Bond has more than money on his mind: he's got less than a week to find two stolen atom bombs hidden among the coral reefs. While acting the playboy, Bond meets Domino, sultry plaything of secretive treasure hunter Emilio Largo. In getting close to this gorgeous Italian girl, Bond hopes to learn more about Largo's hidden operation...

Official Blurb (Penguin 2004 Edition)
Blofeld – leader of the terror organization SPECTRE – is holding the world to ransom. He has stolen two powerful atomic weapons and will destroy a major city if his demands for £100,000,000 are not met. Given one week to find the missing bombs, Bond goes to the Bahamas, where he encounters sultry Domino – mistress of Blofeld’s right hand man, Emilio Largo. By getting closer to her, 007 hopes to find out more about Largo’s hidden operation among the coral reefs, but soon finds himself getting deep into shark infested waters...

In Thunderball, Fleming created a tale of breathless excitement amid the stunning scenery of the Bahamas, and in the chilling, puritanical killer Blofeld, he introduced Bond’s arch nemesis.

Chapter Listing

  1. Take it Easy, Mr Bond
  2. Shrublands
  3. The Rack
  4. Tea and Animosity
  6. Violet-Scented Breath
  7. "Fasten Your Lap-Strap"
  8. "Big Fleas Have Little Fleas..."
  9. Multiple Requiem
  10. The Disco Volante
  11. Domino
  12. The Man from the CIA
  13. "My Name is Emilio Largo"
  14. Sour Martinis
  15. Cardboard Hero
  16. Swimming the Gauntlet
  17. The Red-Eyed Catacomb
  18. How to Eat a Girl
  19. When the Kissing Stopped
  20. Time for Decision
  21. Very Softly, Very Slowly
  22. The Shadower
  23. Naked Warfare
  24. "Take it Easy, Mr Bond"
Above: British Book Club hardback edition (1961). Artwork by Cuthill.

The girl looked him up and down. He had dark, rather cruel good looks and very clear, blue-grey eyes. He was wearing a very dark-blue lightweight single-breasted suit over a cream silk shirt and a black knitted silk tie. Despite the heat, he looked cool and clean. 'And who might you be?' she asked sharply.
'My name's Bond, James Bond ...'

Above: British Pan paperback 14th edition (1965); American Signet paperback 1st-23rd editions (1962 onwards); British Pan paperback 1st-12th editions (1963), designed by Raymond Hawkey

M hilariously sends Bond to a health farm with a diet of soup, and there Bond comes Count Lippe, whose small tattoo arouses Bond's suspicions. Lippe tries to kill him on a spinal rack, but Bond gets his revenge by scorching Lippe in a Turkish bath. This upsets SPECTRE, the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, who are a criminal organisation currently plotting from a front in Paris. Blofeld, their leader, and Largo, No1, have arranged a plan to steal nuclear bombs from NATO and by bribing pilot Giuseppe Pettachi to fly his vulcan to the Bahamas after poisoning the crew they do so, demanding $100,000,000 or they will blow up a valuable site and then a city.

M has a hunch that the plane may have gone to the Bahamas, and Bond flies there after Lippe tried to kill him, but was himself assassinated by SPECTRE because his misfortune had endangered the plot. Bond meets up with old buddy Felix Leiter, and their suspicions are aroused by a group of wealthy treasure-hunters, led by Emilio Largo. Various tiny pointers, including Largo's reaction to Bond using the word spectre in the casino, cause an underwater survey of his ship, the Disco Volante, to be undertaken. His suspicions of a hidden underwater compartment are confirmed, and he barely survives an encounter with an armed SPECTRE diver. Felix calls in the US Navy's submarine Manta after spotting a supposedly dead nuclear-physicist with Largo's men.

Bond and Felix spot the Vulcan's wreckage hidden underwater, and Bond finds the bodies of the crew and the plane, minus the bombs. He takes Petacchi's ID bracelet, and shows it to his sister Domino (who he had previously met and who is Largo's mistress) after he has sex with her. Distraught, she agrees to take a geiger counter aboard the Disco and signal Bond when the bombs are back on the ship. However, no signal proceeds because she has been found out and tortured by Largo.

So the Disco Volante leaves Nassau, but the submarine can't follow the hydrofoil through the shallow waters. Bond and Leiter choose to gamble by awaiting Largo's arrival at a US rocket base nearby, and when Largo does turn up with the bomb they encounter him in a massive underwater battle, in which Largo is about to kill Bond, but is instead speared by Domino who had escaped his cabin. The bombs are recaptured, and Bond and Domino recover from their ordeals together at a hotel.

"Perhaps it's just that in England we don't feel quite as secure as you do in America. The war just doesn't seem to have ended for us - Berlin, Cyprus, Kenya, Suez, let alone these jobs with people like SMERSH that I used to get tangled up in. There always seems to be something boiling up somewhere. Now this damned business."

"He had disobeyed many orders in his life, but this was to disobey the Prime Minister of England and the President of the United States - a mighty left and right."

"Not bothering to open the low door of the MG, the girl swung one brown leg and then the other over the side of the car, showing her thighs under the pleated cream cotton shirt almost to her waist, and slipped to the pavement."

"Women are often meticulous and safe drivers, but they are very seldom first-class. In general Bond regarded them as a mild hazard and he always gave them plenty of road and was ready for the unpredictable."

"Leiter banked the little plane sharply. 'But you see what I mean? If that little heap of ironmongery isn't worth a quarter of a billion dollars my name's P. Rick.'"

"A girl, sunbathing naked on the roof of a smart cabin cruiser, hastily snatched at a towel. 'Authentic blonde!' commented Leiter."

Above: British Pan paperback 15th-17th editions (1971 onwards)

Above: British Panther paperback 1st edition (1978); British Coronet paperback 4th edition (1988), illustration by Bill Gregory; British Penguin paperback edition (2002)


"The Mixture - of good living, sex and violent action -is as before, but this highly polished performance, with an ingenious plot, well documented, and plenty of excitement"
- The Times

"Mr Fleming's special magic lies in his power to impart sophistication to his mighty nonsense; his fantasies connect with up-to-date and lively knowledge of places and of the general sphere of crime and espionage."
- Times Literary Supplement

"He writes in a style which combines the sophistication and worldliness of S.S. Van Dine (brought up to date), the sex and violence of Spillane, and the excitement of Eric Ambler."
- Los Angeles Times

"Thunderball is the best written book since Diamonds are Forever, four books back. It has pace and humour and style."
- Financial Times

"The book is a mystery story, a thriller, a chiller, and a pleasure to read"
- New York Times

Above: Penguin USA paperback 1st edition (2003)