Author: Ian Fleming
Cover artist: Richard Chopping
Published by: Jonathan Cape
Release date: 27 March, 1961
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For Your Eyes Only The Spy Who Loved Me

Thunderball is the ninth book in Ian Fleming's James Bond series, and the eighth full-length James Bond novel. It was first published in the UK by Jonathan Cape on 27 March 1961, where the initial print run of 50,938 copies quickly sold out. The first novelization of an unfilmed James Bond screenplay, it was born from a collaboration by five people: Ian Fleming, Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ivar Bryce and Ernest Cuneo, although the controversial shared credit of Fleming, McClory and Whittingham was the result of a courtroom decision.

Thunderball introduces the villainous SPECTRE and its leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in the first of three appearances in Bond novels, with On Her Majesty's Secret Service and You Only Live Twice being the others. Cumulatively, they are known as the "Blofeld Trilogy".


Bond wakes up with a nasty hangover after a night of losing at bridge, because he was too drunk to play well. He feels awful, and he does not have much to look forward to except more paperwork. Then his telephone rings, a call from Headquarters. Bond rushes to headquarters to meet with his superior, M, but the urgent call is not as urgent as he anticipated. M sends Bond to a health clinic to recover from over-drinking and over-smoking after feeling much refreshed after staying there himself.

A personable young taxi driver shuttles James Bond to Shrublands. At first, Bond thinks the boy is arrogant because the driver combs his hair haughtily after Bond gets in the taxi. The boy turns out to be an excellent driver, and the two begin talking. The driver gives Bond the low-down on Shrublands, explaining how the clients cheat on their diets by binging at the local tea-shops. Bond arrives at the clinic and meets Joshua Wain, the head naturopath. Wain looks over Bond and his medical records, noting the scars Bond has accumulated in his life of adventure. Bond passes them off as accidents or results of war duty. Wain outlines a plan of diet, massage, and other treatments, including traction techniques.

Encountering a mysterious man known as Count Lippe, Bond grows suspicious of him. Bond is exhausted at the end of his day's treatment, but he takes the time to call MI6 Headquarters and discover that Count Lippe's tattoo marks him as a member of a Macau-based criminal organization called The Red Lightning Tong. Lippe himself, meanwhile, overhears Bond enquiring into him on the phone.

Bond continues to go through his treatments and live on a starvation diet of vegetable soup and tea. After a few days, Bond feels awful, but the workers assure him it is the poisons leaving his system. After three days, Bond goes in for osteopathic manipulation. He meets the masseuse, the gorgeous Patricia Fearing. He finds her objective, professional treatment of his body difficult to tolerate. Finally, he kisses her on purpose. She nearly slaps him in shock. Fearing sets Bond up on top of the traction table and leaves him for a few moments, however, during her time away Bond is attacked by Count Lippe who turns up the power on the traction table in an attempt to kill him. Bond is ultimately saved when Fearing returns.

Bond awakes with the memory of pain already dim. He overhears Patricia Fearing explaining how she found him at the machine with the dial turned all the way up and did everything she could for him. Mr. Wain speculates Bond must have turned it up himself, possibly by accident. Bond passes out again. When Bond wakes again, he is being gently massaged with fur gloves by Patricia. She gives him some brandy. Bond pretends he turned the dial by accident, and he promises to keep the affair secret.

James Bond is a new man. He has learned all about proper diet, and he has never felt better in his life. He has got more energy, and he no longer finds paperwork annoying. He even gets to the office early and only smokes low-tar cigarettes. His secretary Loelia Ponsonby is increasingly irritated, but she is reassured by Miss Moneypenny that as soon as something stressful happens, Bond will be back to normal. May, Bond's Scottish housekeeper, tells Bond it is not good for him to eat only yogurt and whole wheat bread. She guesses he is a secret agent or something similar, and she says that with his life, he needs real food to sustain him. Bond dismisses her concerns as the onset of menopause.

Another phone call arrives from Headquarters. This time, when Bond arrives, everything is in an uproar at MI6 when they receive a communiqué from an unknown terrorist organization called SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion). SPECTRE has hijacked a new military aircraft, the Villiers Vindicator, by bribing the NATO observer on board, Giuseppe Petacchi, to kill the crew with gas and redirect the plane.

No one knows who SPECTRE is, but M knows of some indications of an independent organization at work in Europe. The letter's details about the aircraft are accurate, and the government believes SPECTRE does have the nuclear weapons. The plane was manned by a small crew and a NATO observer, an Italian pilot with a good war record. It disappeared off the radar and was not picked up by DEW, the U.S. Distant Early Warning system. Perhaps it flew lower, in the flight streams of commercial aircraft. There is some indication of a plane turning south off the commercial aircraft track toward Idle wild, but it is a thin lead. The plane could be literally anywhere.

MI6 and the CIA join to formulate Operation Thunderball, a task group to retrieve the missing weapons. Bond is sent to the Bahamas by M to investigate the possibility of the warheads being there. In Nassau, he sees a woman named Domino going into a tobacconist store and buys her a carton of low-tobacco cigarettes, flirting with her. He offers to buy her a drink, and they head off to a bar. Bond is thrilled to have picked up Domino so quickly. The authorities described her as an "Italian tart," but Bond can see she is an independent woman. She is also an excellent driver, garnering Bond's respect. She tells him of Emilio Largo who is engaged in hunting pirate's treasure with the Disco Volante and Largo's investors have arrived to oversee the recovery. Bond knows Domino is Largo's lover, but Domino describes him as a guardian, Bond and Domino flirt further over their drinks together.

Bond then goes by taxi to meet the CIA man assigned to help him in the Bahamas. Bond himself arrives earlier that morning. He meets with the Bahamas officials, where he learns about Largo and Domino. When the CIA man arrives, he is Felix Leiter, an old friend and colleague of Bond's. Leiter sports a hook instead of a hand, from a battle injury. In Leiter's rental car, he and Bond drive back to the hotel. Bond asks Leiter why he is working for the CIA again, because the last Bond knew, Leiter was working for Pinkerton's, the private security firm. Leiter explains that former field agents have been called to duty to help out with Operation Thunderball. Bond tells Leiter everything that has happened, and Leiter's quick mind puts together the puzzle of Lippe and Largo.

Bond and Leiter go to Largo's ship to investigate. Leiter brings his disguised Geiger counter. Bond introduces Leiter as his attorney. Bond says he is interested in purchasing Palmyra, the estate Largo is renting. He asks for permission to look over the property. Largo acquiesces and asks Bond to call Domino and arrange a visit.

Bond pretends interest in the ship, and Largo is obviously proud of his toy. Largo shows Bond and Leiter around the ship, but he will not show them the hold, which he claims holds extra stores of fuel, or the radio room. The Geiger counter picks up nothing on Largo's ship. Then, reports come back negative on all the men in Largo's party. Irritatingly, none of them have criminal records.

Bond does not report his leads on Largo to M, in case they amount to nothing. He learns, though, that Largo's ship does not use as much fuel as he claimed, so Largo is definitely hiding something in the hold. After a brief rest, Bond and Leiter go to the bar for drinks. Leiter asks Bond if the espionage business has gotten boring, but Bond claims some enemy always arises. Bond suggests he and Leiter search for the downed airplane with a small plane the next day and Leiter agrees. Leiter tells Bond the U.S. has put a squadron of aircraft and a nuclear submarine at their disposal.

Bond and Leiter go to the casino to scope out the men in Largo's party. Largo is at the baccarat table with Domino watching over his shoulder. Bond goes up to the table and takes the seat next to Largo. He challenges Largo by matching his bet. Bond's two cards are a nine and a ten, for a total of nine, the best possible hand. Largo loses by one. Then, Largo bets against Bond. Bond wins again, six against five. Then, Largo takes the bank again, and again Bond bets against him. It seems almost personal. Bond casually uses the word "specter" to see how Largo reacts and Largo's face changes instantly and his manner hardens at the quip, giving Bond and Leiter another clue. After Bond left the casino, Leiter recognized one of Largo's companions as Kotze, a fugitive physicist from East Germany.

That night, Bond goes with a local constable to check out Largo's ship. Bond dons an aqualung and swims out toward the vessel. His plan is to survey Largo's ship from underneath the ocean. Bond gets to the hull and sees there is an underwater door, as he suspected. Bond turns to go back to land when he is attacked by a guard armed with a spear gun. Bond narrowly avoids the guard's shot, and then Bond attacks him while the guard is reloading. The two men struggle, and Bond wounds the man with his knife.

Bond rejoins Leiter, anxious to send a report about Largo to M, and to Bond's surprise, Leiter agrees. Bond recommends sending for the Manta, the nuclear-powered U.S. naval submarine at Leiter's disposal, and waiting for Largo's next move. Leiter agrees to the plan. The next morning, Bond and Leiter take out an amphibian plane to search for the downed aircraft. First, they fly over the base on Grand Bahama to scope out the potential target. After being warned off by the base, they fly over the most likely location of the aircraft and discover the wreckage underwater.

On the way back to Nassau, Leiter spots some suspicious tracks leading into an outbuilding at Palmyra. He leaves to investigate them. Bond determines a course of action of his own. Bond arranges to meet Domino at the beach. When he arrives, he does not see her. Then, Domino appears in the ocean, complaining of the spines of a sea creature stuck in her foot. Bond lifts her out of the ocean and brings her to the shade. Then, he sucks the spines out of her foot with his mouth. The spikes come out slowly, and Bond sucks painfully hard, drawing blood. Afterwards, Bond carries Domino to the changing area to make love to her.

After the intimacy, Bond shows Domino her brother's locket and informs her of Giuseppe’s death and that Largo was the man behind it. She agrees to help Bond in any way to avenge her brother and thwart Largo. Bond asks her to make sure she is onboard the Disco Volante when it leaves to complete Plan Omega. She is given the Geiger counter and told to stand on the bow of the deck if the warheads are onboard, or stay off deck if they aren’t.

Bond and Leiter board the Manta and meet with its captain, Commander Peter Pedersen. Pedersen has orders to obey Leiter and Bond. The two agents brief Pedersen and outline their plan to follow Largo's boat. Pedersen explains the boat can navigate in shallow water the submarine cannot. The agents decide to bring in the fighter squadron at Leiter's disposal to watch the U.S. coast for Largo's yacht. Meanwhile, Bond and Leiter determine to follow a different path and intercept Largo at his presumed target, the British base on Grand Bahama.

Bond receives word that Largo's yacht has left harbour. Largo has returned from his air trip, and Bond believes the nuclear bombs are on board. However, Domino has not appeared on the ship's deck. Bond wonders what has happened. He thinks perhaps the bombs are not yet on board.

Largo discovers Domino with a camera, acting suspiciously. Largo forcibly detained her, incapacitated her, and examined the camera. It is a Geiger counter. Largo has tied Domino up in her cabin and will proceed to question her. Blofeld has been informed of this, and the leaders have agreed to move forward with the plan. Largo doubts he is under any special suspicion, but he thinks Bond and Leiter may be agents and perhaps bribed Domino to take Geiger counter readings. Largo proceeds as planned.

Operation Thunderball

Operation Thunderball in action.

The Manta carries Bond and Leiter toward Grand Bahama, where they suspect Largo is headed. Bond outlines his plan for the intercept. He is concerned that, once Largo knows he has been detected, he will steer the boat over deep water and drop the nuclear bombs into the depths of the ocean. With the evidence disposed of, the police will have no connection between the gang and the blackmail. Largo and his cohorts will escape. Bond wants to catch Largo and the SPECTRE men red-handed with the evidence. Due to the underwater exit in the yacht, Bond believes the criminals plan to anchor the yacht some distance from the target and remove the bombs from the boat through the bottom of the hull.

Bond and his men exit the submarine and get into formation for the attack. Bond rises to the surface to get his bearings and then leads the men toward where he estimates they will meet up with the underwater party of SPECTRE men. When they begin to get close, Bond rises to the surface again. At first, he sees nothing on the water's surface. Then, a diver comes up briefly. Now, Bond has an accurate bearing.

The ambush party comes upon the SPECTRE thugs. Bond flanks them, but they are going faster than expected, using special boosters to speed their progress. There are also more men than Bond expected. His party is outnumbered. Still, the SPECTRE group has not detected the ambushers, giving them one advantage at least.

After an undersea battle between the crews of the Manta and the Disco Volante, Largo squares off in underwater battle against Bond. Largo gets the upper hand in the fight , but is shot in the back by Domino with a harpoon gun.