Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
Upon retiring, Ian Fleming sat down at his typewriter with the ambition of writing the spy story to end all spy stories. He knocked it out of the park on his first try.
James Bond’s first adventure features all the hallmarks to be expected in a Bond novel. There’s glamour, gambling, guns and, of course, girls.
Casino Royale is very much Fleming setting out his market stall, one he would repeatedly crash through in an Aston Martin over the course of his career. Recurring characters Felix Leiter and Rene Mathis show their faces, as does Bond’s nemesis, the sinister Soviet organisation SMERSH.
It’s the perfect introduction to Bond’s world.
Fleming’s best Bond
From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming
From Russia With Love is widely considered to be the best Bond book. Like the others in the canon, a great deal of it is spent setting up a thrilling denouement. In fact, it isn’t until a third of the way in that Bond makes his appearance.
It’s the classic Fleming formula. The first couple of hundred pages are spent placing the train on the track, and the last 50 pages see it hurtling along the rails towards its conclusion (literally so, in this case.)
Like any Bond novel, this isn’t the place to look for subtlety. The only shades of grey you’ll find here are in Bond’s pedantic descriptions of tailoring. Worthy of special mention is Donovan Grant, the novels fascinatingly brutal villain.
The best Bond villain
Thunderball by Ian Fleming
Nine books into his career and it looks as if 60-a-day man Bond’s chain-smoking, heavy-drinking lifestyle might be catching up with him. A trip to a health spa on M’s orders soon leads to Bond becoming embroiled in a global plot involving atomic weapons and extortion.
Most people would write a strongly worded Trip Advisor review, but for Bond it’s just another day at the office.
Thunderball is particularly significant because it features the first appearance of crime organisation SPECTRE, and a glimpse of its iconic leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
A different kind of Bond story
For Your Eyes Only by Ian Fleming
With the demand for more Bond films outstripping the pace at which Fleming could write (and indeed eventually outlasting his life) it was inevitable Hollywood would look elsewhere for ideas.
A natural starting point was Fleming’s short story collection For Your Eyes Only, which contains the seeds to several future movies.
Fleming uses the freedom of the form to experiment a little, so we have A View To A Kill, in which Bond turns detective, and For Your Eyes Only, essentially a revenge tragedy.
A tale called The Quantum of Solace also features although it bears no resemblance to the film it gave its title to.
Bond minus Bond
Thrilling Cities by Ian Fleming
Over the course of the Bond books, James actually does an awful lot of sightseeing. Really, if it wasn’t for the shootouts, the intrigue, and the love affairs, you could pretty much swap Bond for Judith Chalmers.
It’s the way Fleming describes these exotic environments, peppering them with rich facts, that creates the wonderfully fertile contexts for Bond’s adventures.
The Sunday Times must have picked up on this, as they commissioned Fleming to write a collection of travel articles, which went on to be collected as Thrilling Cities. The results offer a fascinating snapshot of the world Bond inhabited.
Bond by other authors
Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis
Decades down the line, the appetite for Bond stories remains as strong as ever. Raymond Benson had a long stint on the books, and more recently literary heavyweights like Sebastian Faulks, Geoffrey Deaver, William Boyd, and Anthony Horowitz have each written their own Bond novel.
The question of which is best is an argument almost as feisty as that of the best Bond actor. But let’s not open that can of worms!
Before these efforts came Robert Markham’s Colonel Sun. Readers might be more familiar with his civilian name: Kingsley Amis. The tone of the novel remains pretty similar to earlier stories, as an increasingly world-weary Bond chases a gang who have kidnapped M.
James Bond junior
SilverFin by Charlie Higson
When his Young Bond series was announced in 2004, Fast Show actor Charlie Higson seemed an odd choice to many. Five well-received novels down the line, you’d have to say the gamble appears to have paid off.
Higson was under strict instructions from the Fleming estate to only pay attention to the continuity in Fleming’s novels. The first in the series, SilverFin, is the perfect introduction for young family members you don’t want to expose to Bond’s more mature adventures just yet.
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