Ian Fleming novel that introduces Bond's most implacable, sinister, and dedicated enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

The book opens with M., fresh from a health spa, sends Bond there for a naturopathic cure. He crosses paths with a Count Lippe, a man with a secret. He attempts to kill Bond in a traction machine "accident". Bond survives and burns him badly in a Turkish bath cabinet.

Lippe works for S.P.E.C.T.R.E., the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion. This organization of criminals and spies (including members of the now-defunct SMERSH) has been making money hand over fist through assassinations, spying, kidnapping, and now embarked on their final plan. S.P.E.C.T.R.E. has stolen two nuclear bombs, and is holding the governments of America and Britain hostage for 100,000,000 pounds.

The governments scramble. Operation Thunderball is the global search for the bombs. Bond ends up relegated to a backwater, following up on a minor lead, a hunch of M.'s that the plane might be in the Carribean. Once there, Bond hooks back up with Felix Leiter, his ex-CIA Pinkerton friend, now reactivated as a CIA agent for the emergency.

The bombs are there, ready to be set. Blofeld's lieutenant Emilio Largo is also there, coordinating the operation from his hydrofoil, the Disco Volante. His cover as a treasure hunter is unassailable, so Bond cannot move until Largo goes to set the first bomb. Bond, leading a navy crew from a nuclear submarine, captures the bomb, and is nearly killed by Largo. The Girl (did I mention the girl?) saves him, for her own reasons.

Blofeld never directly confronts Bond in this book. He is pulling the strings from Europe. But Bond has made a potent enemy...