We’ve had what feels like a lifetime’s worth of debates over who should be the next James Bond. Bookies hope to keep adaptation stars in the family by rooting for James Norton (Andrei Bolkonsky from War & Peace), Stephen Spielberg has his sights on Idris Elba, and Elba’s pick is not throwing his back out on-set. But long before this admittedly entertaining bickering began, Ian Fleming created Bond in his own image, distilling portions of his own military and personal life throughout the agent’s twelve novels and sundry short stories. The trajectory of Bond has been out of his hands now for some time, but it does make us wonder…If I wanted to know who the original 007 was, where would I begin? Wonder no longer! We’ve helped you out by putting together this dossier of the seven best Bond novels – for your eyes only, of course.
This is Ian Fleming’s original Bond novel, the one that started it all. This is Bond in all his bitter literary glory. It’s often pointed out that the book Bond is a bit different than his on-screen counterpart: book Bond is more melancholy, more of a drinker, and more bitter. All of that is on display here.
Moonraker typifies the Cold War/space age flavor that makes the 50s and 60s Bond novels so iconic. It’s got it all: former Nazis, contemporary communist tensions, and, of course, space! The Moonraker novel manages to be as fun as the film version without being quite as silly.
Fleming plays with his formula a bit in From Russia, With Love, and he does so with great success. In this novel, Bond’s appearance is delayed as we get to know the antagonists. Tensions builds for an unforgettable conclusion.
Book-Bond fans love to point out how different the books are from the movies. They’re more plausible, and Bond is broodier, these fans point out. These know-it-alls are generally correct, but the book series is not immune to the campy fun of the movie franchise. By the time the 50s were closing out, Fleming was really starting to have fun with his superspy. 1959’s Goldfinger was the most ridiculous Bond novel yet – but in a good way.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service features a well-known Bond bad guy: Blofeld, the supervillian and head of SPECTRE. This novel offers a more intimate view of Bond than most others. The unusually emotional Bond of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service even (gasp) decides to get married. This novel is, unlike the film adaptation, a fan favorite.
When Ian Fleming passed away, James Bond lived on. The franchise was too valuable to die with Fleming, and his publisher turned to the great writer Kingsley Amis to keep the series going. Writing under a pen name, Amis revived the series in a project very similar to the one that David Lagercrantz just undertook with Steig Larsson’s Millennium series. Amis’ Bond is a particularly serious one, a clear reaction to the silliness of the 80s Bond films.
The in between Amis and Faulks, plenty of other writers tried their hand at crafting a Bond novel. Nobody got it quite right until Faulks, who painstakingly recreated the writing style of Bond’s original creator, Ian Fleming. Devil May Care was published in 2008 to celebrate Fleming’s 100th birthday. Fleming would have been pleased with his present.
Featured image courtesy of Frank McCarthy / Illustrated007.