Crimezine notes that since the untimely death of James Bond creator Ian Fleming in 1964 there has been a veritable plethora of criminal masterminds sent to plague the world, how appropriate then, that James Bond should now return in a new novel Solo penned by Brit author William Boyd.
Fleming died age 56 from the very lifestyle he portrayed in the Bond books. Although many of his books had hit the heights of the bestseller lists by then, Fleming got only the slightest taste of the success Bond would become. Fleming visited the set of the third Bond film Goldfinger but died before its release.
It is perhaps ironic then that the first Bond book Casino Royale, published by Jonathan Cape in 1952, only saw the light of day because Fleming’s brother Peter, a well known travel writer, persuaded Cape to publish the book, which was thought to, “lack suspense.”
The Bond series went on to sell over 100 million books, making Fleming one of the most successful novelists of the twentieth century. The success came in spite of mixed critical acclaim that took issue with the quality of Fleming’s writing and the political, social and sexual ethics of the character he created.
Publishers Cape got over their initial reservations very quickly, and after the success of the original Fleming novels conspired with the Fleming estate to keep the Bond novels coming. The result was a coveted writing gig, that saw many veteran writers clambering over each other for the lucrative honor of writing 007 stories.
Many have tried with varying degrees of success to keep the Bond legend alive, from grand literary windbag Kingsley Amis, (who wrote Colonel Sun under the pseudonym Robert Markham) to Draculian doppelganger Jeffery Deaver, who produced the post 9-11 Carte Blanche in 2011.
Interestingly, Cape asked Amis to make suggestions for The Man with the Golden Gun, which was still unfinished at the time of Fleming’s death. None of Amis’s suggestions were used, but the great man subsequently wrote two non-fiction books on Bond directly after Fleming’s death, The James Bond Dossier and The Book of Bond (both in 1965).
John Gardener was the most prolific writer of “new Bonds” however. Between 1981 and 1996 he wrote 16 Bond Books—more than Fleming, who only managed 14. (12 novels & two short story collections.) Gardener wrote novelizations of the movies Licence to Kill and Goldeneye and is perhaps best remembered for dragging Bond into the 1980’s. But Gardner took the books in an increasingly ludicrous direction, that perhaps mirrored the Roger Moore era Bond movies. The results included the resolutely British Bond slipping into an increasingly mid Atlantic way of speaking, and plotlines that became ever more unrealistic. A famous and widely mocked example of this can be found in the novel Win, Lose or Die, where Bond rescues Margret Thatcher, George Bush, and Mikhail Gorbachev from the clutches of the Brotherhood of Anarchy. The book included much “glove puppet” dialogue between Bond and the famously hard faced Thatcher. Chortle.
American author Raymond Benson was next to take on the Bond franchise, producing an impressive 12 Bond Books—six novels, three short stories and three novelizations, including Die Another Day, and Tomorrow Never Dies. Benson moved Bond into the naughty Nineties, but restored much of the Fleming feel that came with the original books.
Completists will no doubt raise the name of Christopher Wood, who wrote novelizations of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker in the seventies, Crimezine includes his name to avoid trainspotterish correspondence.
More recently, Jack Reacher creator Lee Child has turned the Bond gig down on at least two separate occasions, after which Sebastian Faulks wrote the The Devil May Care, returning Bond to the Flemingesque 60s milieu.
But what of William Boyd? Boyd is an award winning novelist, screenwriter and Citizen of the British Empire. Although British, Boyd was Born in Ghana Africa and has written extensively on the continent of his birth, including the novel A Good Man in Africa, the story of a disaster prone British diplomat in West Africa. It is perhaps unsurprising then, that the new Bond novel Solo is set partly in West Africa, which will prove an interesting challenge, as many of Fleming’s original novels struggled with the idea of Britain’s place in the post colonial world. More reassuringly however, Boyd takes Bond back to 1960s London, a realm of glamour and excess that was the home turf for both Ian Fleming and James Bond 007, the worlds most famous secret agent.
Solo is released in the United States October 8th 2013.