For a character whose screen adventures always end with, “James Bond will return,” it’s interesting how much of a struggle it has been to try to make the literary character undertake a new adventure on the page. In many ways, the fact that Bond ever graced the page again after the death of creator Ian Fleming in 1964 is surprising. Fleming’s widow, Ann Fleming, was more than happy to let Bond die with his creator. But, of course, fans were loathe to do such a thing.
Literary star Kingsley Amis was the first to pick up the golden pen, penning two books that were more celebration of Bond than continuation. (1965’s James Bond Dossier, under mis’s own name and The Book of Bond, or, Every Man His Own 007 under the pseudonym of Bill Tanner, the chief of staff to MI6’s head M in the books.
Bond, however, was certainly not the first literary character to carry on after its creator’s passing; the estate of L. Frank Baum released The Royal Book of Oz only one year after’s Baum’s death, claiming that the story was based on notes that Baum had left behind. Given the popularity of the Oz books, is it any shock that the notes didn’t exist and were likely created to help ease readers into someone else telling these fantastical stories?
In his new book, James Bond After Fleming, author Mark Edlitz examines the world of 007 post-Fleming. And, like any story that spans the decades, there is good and then there is bad.
Amis was also picked to write the first continuation novel, titled Colonel Sun, released in 1968, which thrilled readers and some critics. While some reviews called the book a pale imitation of Fleming’s voice, the critic for the British magazine, The Listener, described the book at “good dirty fun, once read and soon forgotten.” (It should be noted that it wasn’t forgotten and despite film producers repeatedly insisting that they don’t take story ideas from the books, elements of Colonel Sun have appeared in several Bond films, most notably, Die Another Day and Spectre.)
To help keep tab on 007 post-Fleming, Edlitz breaks every book down to several categories, including noting how Bond eats his eggs, because, of course, Bond fans simply must know these things. And in recapping the plot and the backstory of each book, readers get a good sense of the story and can easily figure out which books are essential reading and, perhaps, more importantly, which ones are worth a pass.
The Bond book went into hiatus for most of the 1970s, with Christopher Wood penning two books, James Bond, the Spy Who Loved Me and James Bond and Moonraker, because both films deviated so distinctly from the origin novels. (Though Spy was Fleming’s own doing – he was too embarrassed by the book after its publication to allow an adaptation, selling producers the name alone and forcing them to create their own story.)
The 80s were dominated by the work of John Gardner, whose Bond output surpassed Fleming himself. Over 14 original novels and two film novelizations, Gardner brought Bond current, trading in the Aston-Martin for a Saab and the Walther PPK for a 9mm Browning. Edlitz helpfully places each book in place on the Bond timeline, so we can continue to argue endlessly over the ‘is Bond a codename, given to different spies or one individual going on all of these missions’ debate, which, never ever grows tiresome or misses the whole point of Bond as a fantasy character.
After Gardner came a unique choice – an American. Raymond Benson, who in the early 80s published The James Bond Bedside Companion, one of the early serious studies of Bond and his world up to that point. (Benson hasn’t updated the book since its original publication, due to his affiliation with the character after the book’s release.) Benson wrote six Bond originals and three film novelizations and, for some readers, brought back the Bond they missed since Gardner had taken over. (High Time to Kill, Benson’s third Bond novel is, for me, one of the greats of the series.) And then, in 2002, after the publication of The Man with the Red Tattoo, Benson had moved on to different pastures.
Ian Fleming Publications, the company tasked with maintaining the Fleming catalogue of books and continuing the legacy of 007, then decided to try something different – not cede control on Bond to one writer. (This was something the film producers learned a few years earlier, preferring to keep their name in lights and let each movie’s director come and go.)
And so, on what would have been Fleming’s 100th birthday, Devil May Care, by Sebastian Faulks was released on May 28th, 2008. The book carried the sub-credit ‘writing as Ian Fleming,’ which, is a new one for continuation novels. Reception for the novel was muted, so, this new plan of one book per writer really came in handy and, Jeffery Deaver next took up the pen, producing Carte Blanche, which kept Bond in the present day.
It was also at this time that IFP decided to spread its wings a little bit and delve deeper into several aspects of the Bond universe, with Charlie Higson and then Steve Cole writing nine Young Bond books for younger readers. Much put-upon secretary Miss Moneypenny also got into telling her story in three books by Samantha Weinberg (writing under the pseudonym Kate Westbrook).
William Boyd wrote Solo in 2013, bringing Bond back to the late 1960s and Anthony Horowitz produced a trilogy of books all set even earlier than Boyd’s.
Edlitz details all of the back-and-forth incredibly well, including short stories, essays and the novels that were never meant to be. (But oh how the mind reels at what Geoffrey Jenkins was working up.) By the time you finish, you are likely picking up at least one of the many books covered here and diving in, or you’re fixing yourself a stiff drink… either one would be acceptable for any serious Bond fan.
In this book, and in his previous The Lost Adventures of James Bond, Edlitz does the leg work, allowing readers to simply enjoy the fruits of his labors, as he educates us in the never ending dark corners of Bond’s world. While some may consider Fleming’s work the beginning and end of Bond’s literary exploits, Edlitz provides a detailed guide through the decades.
In many ways, the saga of gentleman secret agent James Bond will never end because we will have these books and these stories to entertain us. Bond will always be available for us to settle down with some evening, when the world is a little bit quieter and still. As we let our daily problems drift away and prepare ourselves for the fate of the world, we will turn to the first page and, in the words of Q in Never Say Never Again, will think to ourselves “I hope we’re going to have some gratuitous sex and violence.”