Some author or other once wrote, “History is moving pretty quickly these days, and the heroes and villains keep on changing parts.” But if there’s one man you can rely on; one man to go toe to toe with the worst and come out the best, it’s chain-smoker, borderline dipsomaniac, serial womaniser and murderer, Commander James Bond.
Of the fourteen Bond books in publication (not including the additions of Amis, Faulks, Higson and others) we’ve picked out five key tomes. Perhaps not the best, perhaps not your favourites, but each significant in their own way. Nobody does it better than Ian Fleming.
“Like all harsh, cold men he was easily tipped over into sentiment.”
The first in the series, and regarded by many as the best, Casino Royale is a tightly plotted, cleanly told thriller with a sting in the tail. That said, it might equally be viewed as a 213-page excuse for creating a rather lovely drink. Now pay attention 007…
“A Dry Martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet… Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
Well, have you? Good. We’ll fetch the ice.
“He shrugged his shoulders to shift the pain of failure — the pain that is so much greater than the pleasure of success.”
For a first class lesson in bridge, the opening chapters of Moonraker are hard to beat. The novel is the only one of the series to take place entirely in Britain and sees our hero try to defeat the megalomaniacal Hugo Drax.
We also have a glance into 007’s domestic routine and have a quick nose around his rooms just of the King’s Road. The KR, Bond? Her Majesty does pay well.
The Spy Who Loved Me
“All women love semi-rape. They love to be taken. It was his sweet brutality against my bruised body that made his act of love so piercingly wonderful.”
The most experimental — and possibly the most explicit — book in the canon, The Spy Who Loved Me has Fleming writing in the first person, from the feminine perspective.
Frankly, it’s a bit grim, taking place in a motel and then round the back of it in some woods. The book took a critical beating, but it is worth a read for the most developed female character in the canon. Not here an unlikely named milquetoast maiden, but an ordinary woman in all sorts of trouble.
You Only Live Twice
“You only live twice: Once when you’re born and once when you look death in the face.”
You Only Live Twice is notable for several reasons. For one, it was the last book published in Fleming’s lifetime. For another, it paints a picture of a broken Bond, clumsy and vengeful in the wake of his wife’s death.
A significant portion of the book sees our hero struck with memory loss and believing himself to be a Japanese fisherman. That this delusion is sustained for any amount of time by a blue eyed, six foot Hoagy Carmichael look-alike, perhaps begs belief. The gem in the novel comes when Bond, presumed dead, has his obit appear in the Times of London providing interesting biographical gobbets, including his removal from Eton after, “some alleged trouble with one of the maids.” Oh, James, you’re incorrigible.
For Your Eyes Only
“You can get far in North America with laconic grunts. “Huh,” “hun,” and “hi!” in their various modulations, together with “sure,” “guess so,” “that so?” and “nuts!” will meet almost any contingency.”
If you only have moments to enjoy Fleming’s writing – if you’re waiting to pick up a cipher machine, if the girl is undressing in the next room, if you’re about to have your balls given a good going over by a SMERSH agent (whatever floats your Bentley 4 ½ litre) – you might enjoy his short stories.
There are two anthologies: This one and the posthumously published Octopussy and The Living Daylights. A nice mix of action, suspense and some more thoughtful prose, For Your Eyes Only is a good collection, showing the complexity of our man; his compassion, his ruthlessness… oh, and someone actually explains what ‘Quantum Of Solace’ means.
Grab a vodka martini and experience the thrill of the casino like Bond himself by visiting Gala Casino. Which game will you choose?