When Ian Fleming sat down to write the “spy story to end all spy stories” little could he have imagined the phenomenon that would result.
Fleming first mentioned his desire to write a spy novel to Robert Harling while in France during World War II. However it wasn’t until early 1952 that he finally wrote the book at Goldeneye, his holiday home on the north shore of Jamaica.
Taking the name of his hero from an eminent ornithologist whose Field Guide to Birds of the West Indies was one of his bibles, Fleming later ungraciously claimed he started writing to take his mind of his impending marriage. His bride to be, Ann Rothermere, was recently divorced. And after a long-term affair with Fleming, she was expecting his child. Fleming’s knew his life was about to change beyond recognition.
Casino Royale was the first of 14 James Bond titles written by Fleming and enjoyed moderate success. Each new title added to the momentum though and by the time of his death in 1964, James Bond was a true phenomenon.
Casino Royale (1953)
Ian Fleming’s first book was inspired by an experience he had in Estoril during the Second World War that he later heavily embellished. We first meet James Bond while at the casino in Royale-les-Eaux where he has been sent to beat a Russian agent at baccarat.
The novel is extremely short, especially by the standards of the twenty-first century, and structurally is almost two separate but intertwined stories.
The first deals with his mission to beat Le Chiffre at the card tables, while the second is a love story as Bond recovers from a vicious beating. But rather than a happy ending this love story ends with a bitter twist.
The first edition of 4,728 copies was quickly followed by a second and then third printing. Both critically and commercially James Bond was a success from the start. But no one could have predicted just how successful 007 would become.
Live And Let Die (1954)
Although Casino Royale was not published until later that year, Fleming wrote his second novel during his annual winter holiday in Jamaica in early 1953.
007 is sent to New York to investigate Mr Big. There he teams up with CIA agent Felix Leiter, under whose guidance he gets to see the jazz clubs and dance halls of 1950s Harlem. From New York they travel to Florida and then, after Felix is almost killed after being fed to the sharks, Bond heads to Jamaica.
This is the first of several stories that take place in Fleming’s favourite place and provides the opportunity for Bond to don a wetsuit and scuba gear and explore the submarine world in which Ian Fleming was so interested.
After the exotic locations of the first two books, Moonraker was far more modestly set in London and Kent. Ian Fleming knew this area of England well, owning a weekend cottage at St Margaret’s Bay, outside Dover.
The plot concerns a wealthy industrialist, Sir Hugo Drax, who is financing the Moonraker missile. The project is intended to provide Britain with an independent strategic nuclear capability. When a Ministry of Supply officer working on the project is murdered Bond is sent to investigate. He soon learns that Drax’s motives are not as philanthropic as they first appear.
While the locations are not as exciting as the previous books, Fleming does provide a gripping bridge game. However, readers used to overseas adventures wrote to complain they felt short-changed by the locations.
Fleming took the criticism to heart and with the exception of one short story, The Property of a Lady, all subsequent Bond adventures took place overseas.
Diamonds Are Forever (1956)
Ian Fleming sent Bond is back to the United States in his fourth book. Working undercover as a diamond smuggler, Bond again teams up with Felix Leiter, now working for Pinkerton’s.
They travel in Leiter’s “Studillac” from New York to Saratoga, where Bond has been told to bet on a rigged horse race for his payment for the smuggled diamonds. When that fails he is directed to Las Vegas where he bets on a rigged blackjack game instead.
But when he continues to gamble, against explicit instructions from the Spangled Mob, Bond is taken prisoner in a Western ghost town with its own private railway. Interestingly, in Diamonds Are Forever Fleming names the ghost town Spectreville. The book isn’t Fleming at his best, but the reader gets another good look at 1950s America.
From Russia, With Love (1957)
With his fifth book, Ian Fleming really wanted to step up his game. A pure Cold War spy thriller, From Russia, With Love features Bond’s attempts at getting his hands on Russia’s Spektor cipher machine. Note the use again of a variation on the word “spectre”.
Bond doesn’t even appear until a third of the way through the book and the start of the novel, focusing on the Russian plot, sometimes drags. But once Bond is introduced Istanbul and then the Orient Express provide colourful backdrops to the story.
From Russia, With Love was the book that helped James Bond become established in the United States. When Life published an article about JFK’s reading habits, it appeared on his list of ten favourite books. Fleming couldn’t have asked for better publicity and US sales of all his books surged.
Dr No (1958)
After his attempt at a straight espionage thriller, Dr No turned out to be rather more fantastic. Fleming based the book on an unused screenplay he had written for a proposed TV show. The book was famously attacked by Paul Johnson in the New Statesman in a review titled “Sex, Snobbery and Sadism”.
Once again Bond is sent to Jamaica where he looks into the disappearance of local station chief John Strangways and his assistant. Bond links the disappearance with their investigation into the activities of Dr Julius No and sets sail for Dr No’s private island, Crab Key, recognisable as the archetypal Bond villain lair.
There he meets a beautiful girl, faces a fire-breathing “dragon”, is held captive in a “mink lined prison” and dines with Dr No, who reveals he is in the pay of Russia. Finally Bond must endure an obstacle course that ends with him face to face with a giant squid.
Goldfinger is probably the most iconic Bond title of all, mainly because of the 1964 film that united James Bond with the Aston Martin DB5.
After a chance encounter in with Auric Goldfinger in Miami, M sends Bond to investigate his suspected gold smuggling activities and links to SMERSH. After beating Goldfinger at golf, Bond trails him across Europe but is kidnapped and flown to the United States. There Goldfinger reveals his plan to steal the Federal gold reserves from Fort Knox.
Ian Fleming seems to run out of steam towards the end of the book, which feels a bit rushed. But Goldfinger starts well, with Bond meditating on a recently completed mission at Miami Airport. The round of golf is good too, easily matching Fleming’s descriptions of card games.
For Your Eyes Only (1960)
With For Your Eyes Only Ian Fleming broke with tradition. Rather than the regular annual novel his fans had become used to expecting he used the plotlines from an abandoned TV show for four of the stories and added a fifth.
Three of the stories are more or less traditional Bond stories in short form. These are “From A View to a Kill”, “For Your Eyes Only” and “Risico”. The remainder, “Quantum of Solace” and “The Hildebrand Rarity” are something of oddities that allowed Fleming to experiment with his writing. The former was first published in the November 1959 edition of Modern Woman’s Magazine.
While the short story collection disappointed many when first published, they work well and showcase a different style to Fleming.
Based on the screenplay for an aborted film project, Thunderball is notable for introducing SPECTRE to the series. The book is the first in what is sometimes known as the “Blofeld trilogy”.
After hijacking an experimental plane with two atomic bombs, SPECTRE attempts to blackmail the West into paying a large ransom. It is a great story, which still has resonance today, but landed Ian Fleming in trouble. Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham had also contributed to the screenplay on which he had based Thunderball.
Although McClory and Whittingham were unable to prevent publication, they sued Fleming for plagiarism. The stress of the 1963 court case caused Fleming to have a heart attack and instead the two parties reached a settlement. Subsequent editions of Thunderball acknowledge McClory and Whittingham’s contribution to the film scripts. The court battle is thought to be a contributing factor to his death at the age of 56, but of course he smoked and drank heavily.
McClory was also awarded the movie rights to Thunderball, which caused the case to rumble on for years. Although EON Productions teamed up with McClory for the film, McClory later used his rights to the film scripts to make Never Say Never Again and continued to threaten another Bond film until his death in 2006.
It was finally ended in 2013 when EON Productions obtained the full rights to Thunderball from McClory’s heirs.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
Ian Fleming experimented radically with The Spy Who Loved Me. The story is told in the first person by the heroine, Vivienne Michel, and James Bond only appears in the last third of the book.
Again, it showcases a different side of Fleming’s writing but received an extremely poor reception. As a result Fleming asked his publisher not to issue reprints or a paperback edition. He later explained that he wrote The Spy Who Loved Me because of his dismay of learning his books, written for adults, were being read by the young and wanted to write a cautionary tale.
Of course, he may have been bored with writing a new thriller year after year and wanted to try his hand at something different. But at the end Vivienne receives a lecture about the dangers of all men like Bond, good and bad.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963)
After The Spy Who Loved Me, Fleming’s next book was a much more straightforward Bond adventure.
The second book in the Blofeld trilogy sees Bond meet his future wife, learn the location of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and foil SPECTRE’s plan to decimate Britain’s agriculture using biological agents. Bond is also married, but his wife murdered before they even start their honeymoon.
Featuring some spectacular alpine action the plot is a little absurd, but ahead of its time in using biological warfare. There are some good moments in the book and 007 gets to spend Christmas Day with M. Amusingly Blofeld shares Ian Fleming‘s date of birth.
You Only Live Twice (1964)
In the third novel of the Blofeld trilogy M sends Bond to Tokyo on what he considers an impossible a diplomatic mission. Still in mourning for his wife, James Bond is drinking and gambling heavily, a shadow of his former self.
On the verge of sacking him, M instead decides to give Bond one last chance. He must persuade the Japanese secret service to allow Britain access to decrypted Russian radio transmissions. Bond’s mission soon takes on a personal element though.
The book features some great observation gained from Fleming’s trip there in 1959 although Japan and its culture is viewed through the lens of a rather cynical westerner. The book was the last to be published in Ian Fleming’s lifetime.
The Man With The Golden Gun (1965)
Ian Fleming’s last full-length novel was published the year after his death. As was his custom he wrote the first draft while in Jamaica but cut down on his daily word count because of increasing ill health.
The novel had yet to go through the usual rewriting and editing process during which much of the detail would be added, resulting in a slightly unsatisfying story. On the other hand The Man With The Golden Gun is set in Fleming’s beloved Jamaica.
Despite his ill health, Fleming’s love for the island still comes through, but the villain is a letdown and not fully fleshed out.
Octopussy & The Living Daylights (1966)
With no more unfinished Ian Fleming manuscripts to publish, Glidrose Productions collected a couple of previously published short stories for a second posthumous book.
The first of these, “Octopussy”, is far from a typical Bond adventure and features a character, much like Fleming himself, living on the north shore of Jamaica and numbing himself with alcohol as he waits out his remaining days. His life is turned upside down with the arrival of James Bond at his door. The story previously appeared in the Daily Express in October 1965.
On the other hand “The Living Daylights” is probably the best Fleming short. First published in the Sunday Times in February 1962, the story is set in West Berlin before the construction of the wall and concerns Bond’s tense wait for a defector to make the run across the wasteland that separates east from west. The Russians have been tipped off and have a sniper waiting on the other side.
In 1967 a third story, “The Property of a Lady” was added to paperback editions. It had first appeared in Sotheby’s annual journal, The Ivory Hammer, in November 1963.
Finally, in 2002, a fourth short was added to the collection. “007 in New York” first appeared in the New York Herald Tribune (as “Agent 007 in New York”) in October 1963 and features James Bond’s own recipe for scrambled eggs. It also appeared in the US edition of Thrilling Cities to balance Fleming’s harsh comments about New York.
Also see: James Bond continuation novels
Related books on James Bond
The Book of Bond (or Every Man his Own 007)
(1965), Lt-Col William (“Bill”) Tanner
The James Bond Bedside Companion
(1984), Raymond Benson
Annotations and Chronologies for Ian Fleming’s Bond Stories
(2005), John Griswold
James Bond Encyclopedia
(2007), John Cork & Collin Stutz
007 James Bond: A Report
(1964), O.F. Snelling
The James Bond Dossier
(1965), Kingsley Amis
James Bond: The Authorised Biography
(1973), John Pearson