|Cover artist:||Kenneth Lewis|
|Published by:||Jonathan Cape|
|Release date:||5 April, 1955|
|Alternate title:||Too Hot to Handle|
|Live and Let Die||Diamonds Are Forever|
Moonraker is the third novel by the British author Ian Fleming to feature his fictional British Secret Service agent Commander James Bond. The book was first published by Jonathan Cape on 5 April 1955 with a paperback version was published the following year. Uniquely for a Bond novel, the story is set entirely in Britain.
The book plays on a number of 1950s fears, including attack by rockets (following the V2 strikes of the Second World War), Soviet communism, the re-emergence of Nazism and the "threat from within" posed by both ideologies. Fleming examines Englishness, and the novel shows the virtues and strength of England.
The novel opens with Bond practicing at a gun range before returning to his dully described office and desk in Whitehall for a look at his normal, deeply boring routine and his teasing relationship with his secretary Loelia Ponsonby. After reading reports he's called into M's office by Miss Moneypenny, where M informs him that he wants Bond to take on a personal task for him -- to determine if Sir Hugo Drax, national hero metallurgist millionaire and both mastermind and funder of the "Moonraker" ballistic missile program designed to give Britain atomic security, cheats at cards. At M's exclusive private club, Blades, the chairman believes Drax is cheating -- one of the last ways remaining a gentleman can truly scandalize in high society -- and has asked M to look into it. M wants Bond to come to dinner with him and observe Drax to see if he is cheating.
At Blades, Bond watches Drax play and figures out how he's cheating at bridge, and reports it to the chairman. Bond and M play Drax, determined to out-cheat him to put him on notice. With some luck and a stacked deck, Bond takes Drax for a huge sum, revealing Drax to be a rather nasty loser and classless in general.
The next day, Bond is called in by M after being informed by Ronnie Vallance of Scotland Yard that the head of security at Drax's Moonraker site has been killed in a murder-suicide by one of the fifty German engineers working on the rocket project -- after phoning in a suspicion that something was going on. M needs to send in Bond to take his place and figure out what's going on, if anything. Bond goes in, finds Drax cooperative, and tries to make inroads with Drax's secretary, Gala Brand, an undercover Special Branch plant.
Bond realizes that his predecessor may have seen something off the coast, and gets suspicious of Drax's right-hand man, Krebs, whom he finds snooping around in his room. When Bond finally gets time alone with Brand and has her warming up to him, someone dynamites the top of the cliff they're under in an attempt to kill them in a landslide. Everyone seems shocked when they show up to dinner that night.
The next day, Drax takes Brand and Krebs into London while Bond goes in alone to report, with a dinner appointment with Brand. On the way there, Brand gets suspicious of Drax and picks his pocket for his personal notebook, finding that his calculations for the crucial Moonraker test launch that Friday are very different from hers. Krebs catches her trying to put the notebook back, and the two of them start speaking German to each other and tie her up in a room full of radio equipment for the day, then take her back to the Moonraker site to dispose of her after their business is done. Bond, meanwhile, gets suspicious and goes looking for her.
He sees Drax putting her in her car and starts a high-speed chase of Drax all the way back to the Moonraker in Kent. Brand is able to put everything together and realizes that Drax means to send a fully armed atomic Moonraker into London, guided by the radio beacons in the room. Drax and Krebs wreck Bond and capture him by causing a bunch of barrels to fall on the road as they pass them ensuring Bond would drive into them. Bond crashes and is knocked unconscious. He is captured by Drax and Krebs and taken back to Kent along with Gala.
Drax gives Bond a villainous monologue, explaining that he is a German named Graf Hugo von der Drache and was in the Waffen SS during World War II. His last operation was as a saboteur operating behind enemy lines in the Ardennes in British uniform who was accidentally caught in an explosion at a rear headquarters by one of his own planes. He faked amnesia, and claimed a missing British soldier from Liverpool's identity, and used his background in the family mineral business to build his wealth and put it to use seeking revenge against England, with Soviet assistance.
Drax remained a dedicated Nazi, bent on revenge against England for the wartime defeat of his Fatherland and his prior history of social slights suffered as a youth growing up in an English boarding school before the war. He explains that he now means to destroy London with the missile he had constructed, by means of a Soviet-supplied nuclear warhead that has been secretly fitted to the Moonraker. He also plans to play the stock market the day before to make a huge profit from the imminent disaster.
Drax leaves Bond and Brand securely tied in his office, to be incinerated by the Moonraker test-firing that morning, but Bond uses a blowtorch to burn away their bonds and they hide inside the facility until everyone has cleared out. Bond then runs quickly into the rocket, reprograms it to land at the original test target in the North Sea, and takes shelter with Gala.
They survive the launch, but Drax, fleeing with his German collaborators in a Soviet submarine running through the target zone, doesn't. Bond ends up surprised when, planning to run off with Brand on his post-mission leave, he realizes she has a fiance and decides not to interfere with their romance and withdrew like a gentleman.
The plot came about from a screenplay Fleming had written that was too short for a full novel so, for the first half of the book, he added a game of bridge between Bond and the industrialist Sir Hugo Drax, in which the latter is caught cheating.