Ben MacIntyre on Casino Royale:
I think it’s the best of them, and it’s wonderful because it reveals what I think is the essential Bond. The film Bond is very, very different from the character that Ian Fleming invented. The real character was unknowable. There’s something rather creepy and peculiar about the original James Bond and you get that in buckets in Casino Royale. He’s a tough man and he’s absolutely ruthless. He’s a rather distant character and when Vesper commits suicide at the end, he feels nothing. He says: ‘The bitch is dead.’
It was 1953 and it was very remarkable for the time, because Bond was so cruel. He’s horribly tortured in the book and there are some very grim moments in it. But I also think it’s Fleming’s best writing. It wings along – it’s very hard to stop reading. It’s also brilliant at place. He manages to summon up the smoky stench of a casino in a way that no one else has ever managed to do. And it was incredibly glamorous. Here was Britain emerging from the depredations of war in a time of great austerity and here was a character on an apparently limitless expense account, having guilt-free sex and ordering dry martinis in the most glamorous places. It was a wonderful bit of escapism for the time. It’s a tour de force and by far his best novel.
Keith Jeffery on From Russia, With Love
The James Bond books represent the other end of the spectrum. These are cartoon characters in a way, but they produced the most famous single fictional spy who worked for MI6. Bond is very important. It is also quite difficult to extract the novels from the movies because we sort of visualise them. But From Russia with Love is on my list for two reasons. The first is it is the only one with an Irish angle and I am always looking for the Irish angle. And the second is there is a clear connection to Fleming’s work as an intelligence officer in the Second World War.
According to the book, Grant, this Russian killer, is the son of an Irish mother and a German circus strongman. Now, in fact, a circus strongman really did exist. In April 1940 a German agent called Ernest Weber-Drohl landed in Southern Ireland, which was neutral during the Second World War, and he was captured by the Irish police and prosecuted in the Dublin district court for being a foreign agent. His defence was that he was a professional weightlifter who had appeared as ‘Atlas the Strong’ with a circus in Ireland before the war, and he had come back to Ireland to find his two illegitimate children.
And this was the kind of little news item which would have gone through to Britain because they were so worried about German spies in the Second World War. Ian Fleming was the personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence at the time, and it seems to me almost inconceivable the item didn’t pass across his desk, because the co-incidence of writing about it in From Russia with Love is just too strong.
James Twining on From Russia, With Love
I think this is probably the best Bond book. It was one of Kennedy’s top ten reads. It’s different from the others in that the first third is about Smersh and Grant, who turns out to be an assassin. Also, it’s set in Istanbul which is my favourite city. I told my wife we should buy a place there but she’s not having any of it. Bond always takes us to places that, I suppose especially in the 60s, are so exotic. Fleming was actually in Istanbul in the 1950s and he uses an incident in this book, I think, where the Greek Commissioner was attacked by the Turks and the Turkish authorities just stood by.
What Fleming does is he has a central character who’s totally compelling – a fantasy figure who men want to be like and women want to sleep with. He’s sophisticated and charming with a slight brutality. It dates a bit now some of that, the language and the racial depictions perhaps don’t work so well. But you’d have to struggle to look at literary fiction over the past 50 years and come up with a character who has really inhabited the popular consciousness.
Also, Fleming’s a journalist and he writes in this muscular, punchy style. And, as you know, men are all slightly …
Stella Rimington on From Russia, With Love
I first discovered Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love in the early ’60s, before I knew that I would join MI5 and become part of that mysterious world myself, and before James Bond had become a worldwide phenomenon through the films.
About 30 years after I first read the book, as the Soviet Union was collapsing, I found myself, then deputy head of MI5, in the headquarters of the KGB in Moscow, making the first formal contact between the intelligence services of Britain and the USSR. I recalled Fleming’s description of the office on the second floor of the building in Moscow from which the Soviet counterintelligence agencies, SMERSH (an acronym of the Russian “Death to Spies”), was directed. To my slightly fevered imagination, it was all there — the long conference table, the desk with four telephones and the row of men with inscrutable faces on the other side of the table.
It is perhaps not surprising that in 1956, when Fleming wrote the book, he could imagine only two roles for women in the intelligence services: torturer or seductress. But it is a testament to his abiding influence that even in the ’90s, his was still the popular image. The idea that women like me might be leading investigations, running sources or even running entire intelligence services was unimaginable.
But this book isn’t about reality. With its exotic scenes in Istanbul, its struggle to the death with a psychopathic killer on the Orient Express, it is sheer escapism. And reading it again, even now, when I know so much more about how things really are, I’m with JFK in thinking this is one of the best of the Bond books.
Kingsley Amis on Casino Royale and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Certainly there is a power and freshness about the book which, in an age less rigidly hierarchical in its attitudes to literature, would have caused it to be hailed as one of the most remarkable first novels to be published in England in the previous thirty years. (Casino Royale)
There is hardly a page in all the 3,000 and more of the saga that does not testify to Fleming’s ability to realize a unique personal world with its own rules and its own unmistakable atmosphere.
His style is plain and flexible, serving equally well for fast action, lucid technical exposition, and sensuous evocation of place and climate; if it falls here and there into cliché or the language of the novelette, it never descends to pretentiousness. The strength of his work lies in its command of pace and its profound latent romanticism. (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service)
Christopher Hitchens on From Russia, With Love
Bond was designed in his turn as a lone hero to be sure, but as a hero of ‘The West’. Not for Fleming the moral ambiguities and shady compromises of a Graham Greene or John Le Carre agent: The West was coterminous with The Free World and that was – with a few very occasional moments of chivalrous doubt – that. Every line that he composed was either overt or subliminal propaganda for the great contest with Communism, and all the subordinate themes, from racism to sadism, were ancillary to it.
Fleming once confessed that he hoped to “take the story along so fast that nobody would notice the idiosyncrasies.” Fat chance. His “idiosyncrasies” jut out like Tatiana Romanova’s ass. What he ought to have said was that he hoped to pile on the pace and thereby hustle the reader past the point where belief has to be suspended. The smaller details, of products and appurtenances and accessories, fulfill the function of the conjuror’s other hand. They distract attention from the glaring lacunae in the plots, the amazing stupidity of the supposedly mastermind villains, and the reckless disregard for his own safety that this supposedly ice-cold agent displays by falling for every lure.
Charles Cumming on The Man With The Golden Gun and Casino Royale
Given the author’s fragile condition, TMWTGG is a remarkable success. The opening sequence is as good as anything Fleming ever received; I particularly love Moneypenny’s ‘quick, emphatic shake of the head’ as she desperately tries to warn Bill Tanner that something is amiss with Bond. Later, when 007 and Scaramanga are sizing one another up at the hotel, we are treated to dialogue worthy of Raymond Chandler.
I think it’s [Casino Royale] the cleanest of the Bond books in terms of style and content – a great story, well told, with a devastating love story at the heart of the narrative.
Whether you are a 10 year old schoolboy discovering Fleming for the first time, or a Bond addict searching for your latest fix, pour yourself a vodka Martini, light up a Morland Special – and enjoy!
Noel Coward on Moonraker
It is the best thing he has done yet, very exciting and, although as usual too far-fetched, not quite so much so s the last two and there are few purple sex passages. His observation is extraordinary and his talent for descriptions vivid. I wish he would try a non-thriller for a change; I would so love him to triumph over the sneers of Annie’s [Fleming] intellectual friends.
Andrew Taylor on Live and Let Die
It’s the first of Fleming’s books to use what was to become his classic formula. Bond is sent to an exotic location to deal with an amoral and physically unusual villain with limitless wealth and a superhuman lust for power.
A beautiful woman serves as both plot device and trophy […] Bond drinks heroic quantities of Haig and Haig whiskey and smokes three packs of cigarettes a day – he triumphs in the end because of his courage, his skill and sheer British grit
Umberto Eco on the Bond books
Fleming takes time to convey the familiar with photographic accuracy, because it is upon the familiar that he can solicit our capacity for identification. Our credulity is solicited, blandished, directed to the region of possible and desirable things.
Here the narration is realistic, the attention to detail intense, for the rest, so far as the unlikely is concerned a few pages suffice and an implicit wink of the eye.
Candia McWilliam on Casino Royale
Throughout, ‘cold’ and its derivatives and synonyms are terms of approval. Dissociation, distance, irony, poise, scrutiny, anathema, they all add to the layers of pleasure to be derived form reading these novels.
Richard Williams on The Spy Who Loved Me
For all the artlessness of Vivienne Michel’s voice, he kept hold of his ability to flood his story with beguiling incidental detail, tinged with his usual amused scorn for American habits.
Ken Follett on Live and Let Die
Bond has a different lover in every story, and this arouses hostility amongst some feminist critics. But I think it is unfair to say that he uses women. In Live and Let Die he rescues Solitaire from the man who is holding her prisoner: what can be more liberating?
Bond’s attitude to the beautiful women he meets is not exploitive. He is usually tender, romantic, and chivalrous.
Jeremy Duns on Casino Royale
I think it contains the strongest solution of the James Bond character. This is often the case with writers’ first novels, I suspect, but for me Fleming never quite matched the intensity and purity of atmosphere he managed to capture in Casino Royale, and Bond already faces his toughest test, both in the torture and his being betrayed by the woman he wants to marry. It’s a peculiar and rather disturbing book, a fever dream as John Pearson called it, and Fleming really takes you in to the sweat and fear of that casino.
Anthony Burgess on Goldfinger
Guardians of the good name of the novel (some of them, anyway) may be shocked at this inclusion. But Fleming raised the standard of the popular story of espionage through good writing—a heightened journalistic style—and the creation of a government agent—James Bond, 007—who is sufficiently complicated to compel our interest over a whole series of adventures. A patriotic lecher with a tinge of Scottish puritanism in him, a gourmand and amateur of vodka martinis, a smoker of strong tobacco who does not lose his wind, he is pitted against impossible villains, enemies of democracy, megalomaniacs.
Fleming’s passion for plausibility, his own naval intelligence background, and a kind of sincere Manicheism, allied to journalistic efficiency in the management of his récit, make his work rather impressive.
Anthony Horowitz on Goldfinger
Goldfinger is not perfect. The main plot, which Fleming delightfully refers to as the “Crime de la Crime,” isn’t actually introduced until chapter 16 and there’s a huge flaw at the heart of it all. Why does Goldfinger let Bond live when he’s so obviously dangerous? Hiring him as a sort of personal assistant-cum-secretary is patently absurd. But you can forgive almost anything when there are so many pleasures to be found between the covers.
Where to begin? First of all it has two of Fleming’s most iconic villains — Goldfinger, the squat, ginger-haired master criminal of the title, and, of course, his accomplice, the bowler-hatted Oddjob. It has the best set pieces; the game of Canasta in which Bond exposes Goldfinger as a cheat, the round of golf at Royal St Marks which turns into a mortal duel, the wonderful torture scene with the rotating saw (it was an industrial laser in the movie), and the fantastic climax at Fort Knox. It has Pussy Galore and with a name like that what more do you need to know about her? And it has one of the most memorable deaths in all of crime fiction, the girl painted gold and left to suffocate.
And of course, it has Bond himself, tired and cynical after a dirty assignment at the start of the book. The sequence at Miami airport as he watches the sun set and considers the vicissitudes of fate is writing of the highest order.
Len Deighton on Ian Fleming and Bond
The fictional character James Bond was his screwball alter ego. Writing provided him a chance to depict the foreign dreams of this outwardly cool, but morose and moody Royal Naval officer. Bond: the cruel and sadomasochistic womanizer,not notably clever but effortlessly coping with the fast cars and boats. jet helicopters and lethal electronic technology that was taking over the world came from deep within Ian’s creative imagination. Bond was everything that Ian despised and admired, everything he feared and everything he cherished.
But Bond was not Ian Fleming. It was hard to think of an upstart being elected to Eton’s exclusive fraternity, or allowed through the portals of Ian’s exclusive London clubs such as White’s or Boodles. Ian gave me a file copy of You Only Live Twice. I treasure it.
Andrew Lycett on From Russia With Love
It took a while for James Bond as a character to permeate popular consciousness. Fleming’s first Bond novel Casino Royale garnered a low key response and sold just about 4,000 copies. In the U.S. it was basically Fleming’s From Russia with Love , which figured among President J.F. Kennedy’s top 10 favourite books in the 1960s, that introduced James Bond to the American public.
Philip Larkin on Octopussy & The Living Daylights
It would be difficult to deduce from them the staggeringly gigantic reputation, amounting almost to a folk-myth, that grown out of the novels. Indeed, it would be difficult nowadays to deduce it from the novels. No sooner were we told that the Bond novels represented a vulgarisation and brutalisation of Western values than the Bond films came along to vulgarise and brutalise—and in a way sterilise—the Bond novels.
With our minds full of Sean Connery in Technicolor, or whatever it’s called now, this study of a retired Secret Service major drinking himself towards his final coronary, and its cover-mate, an assignment for 007 in Berlin to out-snipe a sniper, seem sensitive, civilised, full of shading and nuance.
William Boyd on From Russia With Love & The Man with the Golden Gun
My favourite Bond novel is From Russia, With Lov” because it’s a real spy story. It’s a classic spy story of a honey trap set for Bond, which he falls right in to. I think it’s possibly structurally, and in terms of writing, Fleming’s best. But I also like his last novel, which is much maligned, The Man with the Golden Gun, which again is a straightforward mission: “Go and kill this bloke.” I’m writing an introduction to it at the moment, so it’s very much on my mind at the moment.
But I think From Russia, With Love – which was the first one I read as a panting pre-adolescent – I still think was his best work.
Charlie Higson From Russia with Love
The extraordinary thing about Fleming is just how readable his books still are today. He puts most other thriller writers to shame. This was the first Bond novel I ever read. And by chance I happened to start with the best written of them.
Fleming put everything he had into this, fully expecting it to be his last Bond effort. In fact it turned out to be the book that finally catapulted Bond into the stratosphere.
Jeffery Deaver on From Russia, With Love
When I reread the whole series in anticipation of writing my book, Carte Blanche, I was struck by the really innovative approach that Fleming took to writing From Russia with Love. We don’t meet Bond for roughly 60 or 70 pages of the book. We deal with a really rich study of the bad guy and the world in which he is operating—a Russian assassin. I kept turning pages, thinking, “I know this guy really, really well.” And it taught me that every character in the book is of equal importance.
There’s nothing worse than any old cardboard caricature of a villain. Usually they have my hairstyle—not much hair—in a ponytail. Right away you know that’s the bad guy. For the ultimate bad guy, if you don’t want to waste much time developing him, you make him the head of a drug company or an oil company. Fleming showed that you have to create multidimensional characters. From Russia with Love is a sterling example of how to craft characters and make them real.
Barry Eisler on For Your Eyes Only
If you’re looking for what you know, you’re sure to find it in this thrilling collection of stories. Exotic locations like the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, where The Hildebrand Rarity opens with Bond spear-fishing a Stingray; perfectly executed action sequences like the motorcycle assassination that opens From A View to a Kill; gorgeous, dangerous women like the avenging angel of For Your Eyes Only, the title story.
All of which, as the lawyers say, is necessary, but not sufficient. Because the books are more than just locations, action, and Bond’s refreshingly antiquated view of women. They’re also about Bond himself. Ever wonder where and how Bond lost his virginity? From A View to a Kill is the place to find out. Where did he acquire his worldview? In Quantum of Solace, Bond receives an unforgettable lesson on human nature. How does Bond feel after he has killed? In Risico, you’ll find the answer might not be what you think. Does Bond have a soft side? He shows one in The Hildebrand Rarity…
If you don’t know Bond, “For Your Eyes Only” is a great place to start. If you think you know him, this collection will deepen your understanding and your appreciation. Either way, you’re certain to enjoy your time with Ian Fleming’s unforgettable creation. He’s a professional, but not without rough edges; determinedly cynical, but driven by some inner decency; larger than life, and yet surprisingly human. All of which makes James Bond what he is: the best in the business.
Henry Chancellor on Diamonds Are Forever
As if in response to disgruntled readers craving the exotic, the plot of Diamonds Are Forever delivers something of a geography lesson. It begins beside a scrubby road in French Guinea, at one end of a diamond smuggling pipeline, then proceeds at breakneck pace to Hatton Garden in London, New York, Saratoga, Las Vegas, Spectreville and Los Angeles.
The villains are Jack and Serrifimo Spang and their unpleasant sidekicks, Wint and Kidd. Diamonds, like gold, fascinated Fleming, and through some old school connections he found an entree into the closed world of diamond trading.
O.F. Snelling on Dr. No, Live and Let Die and Goldfinger
Doctor No is first rate, but it’s a throwback to Sax Rohmer and Dr. Fu Manchu. Fleming and I both loved ‘Dr. Fu,’ as did every other twelve year old English lad, growing up in the 1920s and 30s. I have spent a lot of time in Jamaica – my wife, Molly, is from there – and I can tell you, Ian Fleming gets it right, like no one else I’ve ever read.
The first book [Casino Royale] was good, but now, on re-reading all of them, it is apparent that Ian Fleming was merely serving an apprenticeship with that initial essay in sensational fiction. This second book [Live and Let Die] is far superior in characterizations, in pace and in excitement. While I have never thought that Fleming was at his best when writing about America and Americans, I believe that his Harlem chapters in the book are some of his finest. ‘Seventh Avenue’ and ‘Table Z’ , while not entirely necessary to the atmosphere, his handling of urban negro dialect is, to me, completely convincing.
Ian Fleming walked an extremely shaky tight-rope across a pond of very thin ice when he wrote Goldfinger. It is only that the mixing of my metaphors might become too maladroit that I hesitate to say outright that he eventually came down firmly on both feet. What with its characters and situations, Goldfinger is the most bizarre example in a generally somewhat extraordinary output. But it is also, I submit, at the same time one of the best.
Mo Hayder on You Only Live Twice
Fleming’s view on the world is surprisingly fresh, gently insightful even [..] and his representation of the Japanese is no more racist or imperialist than his treatment of infamous Bond girls is prurient […] Fleming’s description never feel cumbersome. His life as a travel writer hasn’t been headlined in the way his life as the creator of Bond has, but in You Only Live Twice he shows his love of foreign culture – giving us not only an easily absorbed glance at an intriguing society, but also a telling document of Japan’s role in the West’s fight against the rise of communism, without ever descending into the pedantic or gratuitously ornate.
Jonathan Kellerman on Diamonds Are Forever
Bond makes mistakes and pays for them. He feels pain and regret. Most tellingly, his approach to Tiffany Case is anything other than predatory. On the contrary, Bond contemplates the long-term ethical consequences of a romantic relationship with this complex, damaged young woman and engages in a bit of – dare I say? – introspection.
Which isn’t to say this book isn’t exciting. The plot hurtles at breakneck pace. […] Fleming exhibits flexibility, allowing Bond to take a vacation from his vodka fetish and enjoy a true (e.g. gin-based) Martini at the suggestion of his America pal, Felix Leiter.
From the first page of Diamonds Are Forever, it’s easy to see why Fleming evoked praise from the likes of Kingsley Amis and Raymond Chandler. This is a first-rate thriller but above all, it’s a terrific novel.
Simon Winder on Dr. No
Dr. No is definitely Fleming at his peak, even when he turns silly, and Dr. No is perhaps his most attractively crazy villain. It is probably also the only novel in any language where the hero’s penis is directly threatened not just by a centipede’s jaws, but by a giant squid’s tentacle too.
Fifty years after it was written it remains – even with all its racism, snobbery and chaotic plotting – a book that can be read over and over again with immense pleasure.
Nick Stone on The Spy Who Loved Me
The Spy Who Loved Me – the tenth of the twelve Bond novels – is not for newcomers to the series, because it is an anomaly, an exercise in style, an experiment in genre-blending. Here Fleming jettisons most of the key ingredients in his highly successful formula: he switches from a third person narrative focusing entirely on Bond to a first person narrative and, most importantly, the narrator is a woman – his best realized Bond heroine, Vivienne Michel.
Two parts thriller, one part romantic novel, the boundaries between the two never blurring or fusing, but circling each other to the very end. Fleming’s eye for detail is acute as ever, the build-up to Bond’s arrival painstakingly layered, the villains thoroughly odious – but above all, The Spy Who Loved Me is that rare thing in the thriller genre – a risk, and one which mostly pays off handsomely.
Susan Hill on Moonraker
Ian Fleming began this novel as a film screenplay and hoped that it would be the first story to make him serious money, but it was the next novel that did so. There were many wrangles between studios before the movie was eventually made. With Roger Moore as Bond, it is perhaps the poorest of the films. For the novel is a dark one, the only Bond dealing with those ‘serious issues of contemporary concern’, and it does not profit from being given the usual hung-ho treatment, for all that the Moonraker rocket would provide opportunities for.
The reader though does not need the film to see a Moonraker like this in the mind’s eye. Try it and you begin to understand what a magnificent, dark and disturbingly serious novel Ian Fleming wrote.
Giles Foden on Diamonds Are Forever
It would be six years after the novel’s publication before former US Secretary of State , Dean Acheson, would make the famous speech at West Point in which he said: ‘Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found its role.’ The writing was on the wall and this novel adumbrates that moment with its characterization of the Sierra Leonian mines as ‘a rich capital asset of the British Commonwealth.‘
It is M. who outlines the relation between declining political power, the need for foreign exchange, and diamonds. […] it instantiates the realization that the Empire will not be ‘forever’ and at the same time it protests against and resists that lack continuance.
Damien Lewis on Diamonds Are Forever
It’s very muscular, very visceral and at times he’s right in Hemingway and Mailer country. Fleming doesn’t mind going there with a gritty, very manly simile – some of his descriptions are hard-boiled.
Fleming is always putting Bond in impossible scrapes, generally of his own making. He’s an escapologist really. The chapter when they realize the operation is being run off an oil rig is fantastic drama. It’s another isolated alternative reality away from everything else. There will be a world there that he will be trapped in and will have to get away from.
Samantha Weinberg on Fleming and Bond
I think he’s a great writer. The Bond books were so fresh when they came out, and so deft. He is brilliant at pace and description, and at creating tension. I don’t think he’s the best at character and emotion, but that’s not what the books were about. They redefined a time.
I read my first one when I was in my teens – a long time ago. It was Moonraker and I found it on my father’s bookshelves. I particulalry remember the bridge hand. As for my favourite – hmm, probably Casino Royale; I like it for Bond’s uncertainty and vulnerability, and for that devastating last chapter twist.
Matthew Parker on Live and Let Die and Thunderball
Live and Let Die is pure boy’s own adventure, mining Fleming’s boyhood reading with the plot hinging on the discovery of the lost treasure of buccaneer Henry Morgan. It is also tautly written, which each short chapter dragging the reader onto the next. It is infused as well, with Fleming’s passionate love for Jamaica, or at least his version of it.
Thunderball, of course, introduces Blofeld, Fleming’s greatest villain. The plot strikes just the right balance between excitement and credibility, and Bond’s relationship with Domino – named of course like Solitaire after a West Indian bird – is touching and credible.
Wesley Wark on Goldfinger
If you have never read a Bond novel in your life, read Goldfinger. You will be surprised at the quality of the writing, but you will also sit in a time capsule — and you can imagine what it was to read such a self-assured tale of civilizational survival in the midst of the Cold War. In our current times of cyber threats and economic espionage, of economic insecurity, even of Canadian gold barons, Goldfinger is a tonic.
Fleming was at the height of his powers with Goldfinger and had learned how to dash off a compelling story. He had also perfected a formula perfect for the dark days of the Cold War.
Francine Mathews on Ian Fleming’s Bond
I learned two things from Ian Fleming’s Bond as a young woman–long before I wrote about him in TOO BAD TO DIE. Never wear high heels while evading a killer, and learn to drive stick. Because if you’re ever in a dicey situation outside the US, the car is sure to have a manual transmission; and if you’re running in heels, you’re going to die.
I took those two lessons into my adulthood as rules to live by. They helped me get through paramilitary and tradecraft training at the CIA. So in a sense, Fleming teaches women by example…