In September 1965, Kingsley was offered the opportunity to write his own Bond story after the success of both his literary critique The James Bond Dossier and tongue-in-cheek The Book Of Bond (Or Every Man His Own 007).
Shortly afterwards, in 1966, official Bond publisher Glidrose Productions Ltd. commissioned novelist Geoffrey Jenkins to also write a Bond novel. Set in South Africa, the story was based on an idea that Fleming had discussed with his friend Jenkins, but the resulting Per Fine Ounce was rejected in the end. And so, Colonel Sun became the first James Bond adventure after Fleming’s passing.
Amis also chose the nom de plume of Robert Markham.
The Trouble with Ann
Ann Fleming sparred with Glidrose over the Ian’s legacy; particularly over the choice of Kingsley Amis to write the first James Bond continuation novel.
‘Though I do not admire Bond, he was Ian’s creation and should not be commercialized to this extent.’
To Lord Campbell – Chairman of Booker McConnell which bought Bond – in 1967, Ann wrote:
Since Peter Fleming agrees to the counterfeit Bond, I am prepared to accept his judgement. Though my distaste for the project is in no way altered.
I think Amis should publish under his own name and show the world his left-wing intellectual pretensions were easily turned to money-grubbing – like everyone else.’
Ann was asked to review the book in 1968 for the Sunday Telegraph but they refused to publish it out of fear of libel. An unfinished draft survives. Ann remarked:
‘Since the exploiters hope Colonel Sun will be the first of a new and successful series, they may find themselves exploited. Amis will slip Lucky Jim into Bond’s clothing, we shall have a petit bourgeois red-brick Bond, he will resent the authority of M., then the discipline of the Secret Service, and end as Philby Bond selling his country to SPECTRE.’
Kingsley Amis shot back in an essay ‘A New James Bond’ written in 1968 that appeared in What Became of Jane Austen:
‘Why do it?…well, yes, I do indeed expect to make quite lot of money out of the venture and jolly good luck to me…What at the outset was an unimportant motive but has since developed into a major fringe benefit, is the thought of how cross with me the intellectual left will get…Enough of negatives: I consider it an honor to have been selected.’
So is ‘Colonel Sun‘ any good?*
The book begins with Bond feeling like he’s getting too soft, a typical opening of some of Fleming’s books such as Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Thunderball and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. There is a golf game at Sunningdale with Bill Tanner and then all hell breaks loose with the kidnapping of M, a nasty torture scene reminiscent of Casino Royale, perhaps outweighing it. Overall, a great effort but with surprisingly little sex from old devil Kingsley.
It’s easily the most convincing of the continuation novels. Why? Because you never get the feeling that you’re reading a pastiche of the movies. Amis was defiant about avoiding such influences. Yet he might have gone too far in austerity–Colonel Sun feels even lower-tech and lower-scale than most of Fleming’s novels. Even the weaponry dates back to WWII. And the climax doesn’t have the explosive feel one wants from Bond (the film of For Your Eyes Only, which was also set in Greece, featured a rock-climbing climax that felt suitably Flemingian and climactic).
The book also lacks “the Fleming sweep”–the writing is solid and straightforward, but it doesn’t have Fleming’s propulsive force. That’s partly why the book sags in the middle. Another reason is that way too much of the book consist of deliberative dialogue (Amis is not an action novelist). And aside from the excellent villain, the book doesn’t have the little bizarre/quasi-surrealistic touches that Fleming applied to his books.
Lastly, given how deftly Amis examined the disturbing side of Bond and M’s relationship in The James Bond Dossier, it’s surprising that the characters’ interplay doesn’t have the emotional charge one would expect.
*Additional content by Revelator:
Kingsley Amis’ James Bond Novel (The Paris Review)