Why the James Bond continuation authors have a thankless task

Some time ago I was thinking about why it is that so many fans of James Bond dislike the continuation novels. While the Bond community seems to look forward to their release, they always seem to meet with a tepid reception and, sometimes, outright hostility.

devil-may-care What brought this to mind was that I was re-reading Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks and since I was heading to the beach I didn’t fancy taking a hardback with me.  Instead I took the ebook version of Casino Royale, which highlighted the difference in style of the two authors, even though Faulks supposedly wrote his book in the style of Fleming.

I gave up several years ago hoping for the continuation authors to fulfil my personal vision of James Bond and instead I just try and enjoy them for what they are, so I don’t particularly want to criticise Faulks, nor any of the other continuation authors; many people don’t like John Gardner’s books, while others complain about Raymond Benson, even though he clearly demonstrated in the James Bond Bedside Companion that he knows Bond’s world inside out.

But if Ian Fleming Publications suddenly offered me the job of writing the next 007 continuation novel I’d jump at the chance, despite knowing how it is likely to be received.

Anyway, one thing that stood out when comparing Devil May Care and Casino Royale was how Faulks referred to Ian Fleming’s books quite often, in a way to make his own book more authentic to the Fleming universe. However, it doesn’t quite work for me and often comes across as rather clumsy, more like a wink to fans who know Ian Fleming’s books well.

This is where the continuation authors are never going to be able to win; on one hand they need to show that they know the Bond universe but they also need to add their own personality to the writing too. And here, I’m sure, is where the problem lies; Fleming wrote about what he knew, he lived life through Bond’s eyes.

I spoke to John Pearson toward the end of last year (November 2012) and he was absolutely adamant that Ian Fleming and James Bond were one and the same person. Pearson should know; as well as working for Fleming at the Sunday Times he wrote his biography, then became the second continuation author (following Kingsley Amis as “Robert Markham”) when he wrote the official biography of 007.

The problem for the continuation authors is that they are writing James Bond books without having lived life as James Bond. They don’t have the experiences that Fleming had, they don’t see life through the same lens and as a result they can only approximate Fleming’s Bond.

carte-blancheBoth Sebastian Faulks and Jeffery Deaver were quite different from John Gardner and Raymond Benson in the respect that they had just one shot at writing a James Bond novel. While in some ways this is a good move because they were able to do their work then move on, it also seems like they both threw everything they knew about the Bond universe into a single book.

Unfortunately it sometimes comes across as showing off and there is at least one point where Faulks gets it wrong; Faulks writes that this is the first time Bond has visited Russia, despite Fleming telling us in Moonraker that he picked up his habit of sprinkling pepper on vodka when he was stationed at the Embassy in Moscow. And what about Bond’s brainwashing between the events of You Only Live Twice and the start of The Man With The Golden Gun?

For most readers it doesn’t matter, but it just demonstrates that when there are people like me – and you – reading these books then the authors are going to have a tough time winning.

william-boyd-james-bond-ukLater this year will see another author take on the challenge of writing a James Bond novel. After Jeffery Deaver’s reboot of Bond in Carte Blanche the as yet unnamed novel by William Boyd, due to be released in September, will be set back in the 1960s.

You can pre-order it from the links below:
Amazon UK | Amazon.com

David Leigh founded The James Bond Dossier in 2002. A fan of 007 since the age of 8, he is also author of The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond. You can order a copy here if you don't own it already.

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5 Responses to “Why the James Bond continuation authors have a thankless task”

  • Le Thirst

    Good article! I think part of the problem too is that they all have to live up to Fleming. Fleming had only himself to compete with and he was writing for a world relatively unaware, or at least, unconcerned with his little James Bond character. The pressure to somehow live up to the monster that 007 has become must be enormous.

  • M

    Thanks! You’re right about them living up to Fleming, I suppose I’d assumed that was a given.

  • Hilko

    I’m not quite convinced. Isn’t living up to the
    expectations of fans a challenge that the Bond film makers, too,
    have to face every other year? How come that they seem to be more
    up for the task?

  • M

    I’d argue that the filmakers aren’t really up to the task. The only really good Bond films are more or less based on Fleming’s stories.

  • David Craggs

    Nice article but I don’t altogether agree with the conclusion.
    Kingsley Amis did a fabulous job with ‘Colonel Son’. He captured the tone of the master perfectly and hardened it up into a perfect spy thriller that had the pace and authenticity of FRWL & OHMSS.
    John Gardner also made a good fist of it with his first five outings producing a very creditable ’80s reboot.After that,wether through illness or boredom, he lost interest.
    Everything since then has gone rapidly down hill with IFP commissioning authors who were disinterested (Faulks) or incapable (Benson & Deaver).
    On the other hand, two excellent spin offs (Young Bond & Moneypenny Diaries) have been excellent.
    When it comes to adult Bond, IFP simply have to make better choices. Hopefully they’ve done that with Boyd but personally, I’d have gone for Charlie Higson. He did a fabulous job with “Young Bond’ why not have him continue the franchise through the war years?