I read the Bond books aged roughly 10-14, starting with Diamonds are Forever, which was the only one in my parents’ house. This was also the first film I saw — birthday outing, my 11th birthday: three schoolfriends and me plus mum, who lied brazenly to the ticket-taker about our ages (she was an excellent and useful liar). I definitely remember discussing Felix Leiter with Dad. who seemed to enjoy the fact that this was a character who appeared in several books, and had a hook for a hand (also for a foot, presumably, but this wasn’t mentioned). Between them, they helped me source several more: some from Ian, an old work colleague of dad’s based in Devon (our family staying with his family for a working summer, as dad was lecturing at slapton field centre); and another from another family friend, Joan Tate, who i wrote about here a while back. Ian I remember throwing open a great cupboard full of books, stacked three deep on makeshift shelves, a fact I found amazing (who shelves books three deep!!?), while Joan — who was an active local liberal politician with three very counter-cultural radical student kids — gave me a mini-lecture, to signal her disapproval of this fascist nonsense (as a consequence I got to keep the book). I bought a few myself — I still own half a dozen, bcz I am terrible abt getting rid of books, “just in case” — but looked the rest out wherever I could find them.
I’ve tried to find the covers from the versions I read, and noted below is — as best as I can manage — what I recall from the books without re-reading, sometimes across 40+ years. As will quickly be evident, my memory is rather teen-shaped, and not entirely reliable. I discussed this post with a friend a couple of nights back, sister among three brothers, also from a politically radical family. She said they all read Bond and loved him age c.11-14: and astutely pointed out that there was a natural identification with an agent who is basically pushed out into harm’s way by grown-ups who don’t really care what happens to him. The licence to kill is really more of a “licence to be killed and we’re not bothered” — hence his endlessly needy rules-busting and etc.
Casino Royale (1953)
This is the one I’ve re-read most recently, mainly bcz it’s easily the best. JAMES BOND’S bosses are arseholes who don’t really care about him and make slimy deals with his foes while he’s fighting them, physical violence hurts and is horrible to witness, the ppl you meet and possibly like are entirely treacherous, “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning… Bond undressed and took a cold shower. Then he lit his seventieth cigarette of the day”. Two foolish Bulgarian agents in red and blue plastic hats tinker with their instructions setting off a bomb, and blow themselves up (leaving tatters of flesh in a nearby tree). Bond pretends to be ill to get out of having his spine blown silently off at the blackjack table, hurling his chair backwards so that it snatches the silent bamboo-housed gun out of the assassin’s hand. The Chiffre attempts to gweld him with a carpet beater, but is assassinated in turns by Moscow Central, for being unreliable. Vesper Lynd takes pills rather than
marry confess all to JB.
Live and Let Die (1954)
Set in Harlem and the Caribbean iirc: JAMES BOND captured in a circular booth that can spin round and deliver him to the villains. But this is in the film, so I may have recalled it from there. Felix Leiter is tossed into a tub of sharks — and to be honest the main thing I remember is that the copy I read of this was (a) the only hardback, without a just jacket, and (b) had someone’s pencil sketch of a lonely beach scene drawn onto one of the endpapers. I also remember MAD magazine’s parody of the (early 70s) film for its quaint and quasi-racist handling of characters and context. The book is unlikely to be very much better in this regard — but was possibly original in its time for noting that MI6 might soon run up against a sophisticated black crime operation, however cartoonishly portrayed.
One of the last I read, so I always assumed it was a bit crap cz IF was running out of steam. Actually it’s one of the earliest. HUGO DRAX né GRAF VON DRACHE is a sekrit nazi building a private spacerocket/missile. JAMES BOND spots he’s a wrong un when he catchers him cheating at cards by means of PERIPHERAL VISION and a polished cigarette case, and has him chucked out of his club. I liked the idea of PERIPHERAL VISION a lot, and spent some time trying to enhance my own (as I have no memory for cards, esp.bridge, I was never able to re-purpose this in the direction of EVIL: also it never really manifested, as I already wore glasses).
Diamonds Are Forever (1956)
Mainly what I recall is an early scene with scorpions fighting, a snitch being assaulted in a mud bath by having boiling mud poured on him, and a lightning sketch from IF of the history of Las Vegas, a town invented by the MAFIA (in this case some fellows called the SPANGLED GANG). Felix Leiter makes a brief appearance (see above). Great Pan!
From Russia, with Love (1957)
Low-level Russian agents get hot and bothered filming JAMES BOND and Natasha Romanov [that name can’t be right] having sex on a big bed. The evil heavy is Irish, hence a traitor to the West, called RED BUTTONS [also can’t be right]: he also gives himself away by drinking red wine with fish (though I possibly remember this mainly from the film): “I may drink red wine with fish but you’re the one on your knees, Mr Bond”. As I myself prefer red wine with fish,I probably use this catchphrase too often myself. The head of SMERSH [short for DEATH TO SPIES in Russian!] is an ugly lesbian called Rosa Klebb, who is in love with Natasha and has poisoned knives concealed in her shoes.
Dr No (1958)
JAMES BOND finds himself in bed with a GIANT MILLIPEDE: “What if it wants to nestle in the nice warm crevices!” He leaps from his bed and smashes it with an espadrille. Swims to the perilous quay with his new pal Quarrell, a local fisherman, where they encounter a terrible dragon (= a jeep with a flame-thrower. Quarrell is black and therefore dies v quickly and horribly (tho Bond does right by him by pouring sand into his dead eyes). Then he HONEYCHILE RIDER, who is white but gone native and thus able to look after herself. DR JULIUS NO is a halfbreed with pincers for hands, thus EVIL, who lives in a lair and has cornered the world market in GUANO [a commodity fleefully explained by IF]. Bond crawls through a red hot tunnel of insects and scorpions and buries No in guaNO oh NO. IF owned a house in Jamaica called Goldeneye, and does get across a feel for the Caribbean (not that I’ve ever been).
The villain is called AURIC GOLDFINGER. Cheating at golf via BONDGIRL ONE (Tilly Masterson or her sister): as punishment for being suborned, BONDGIRL ONE is painted all over gold. Which in science will not kill you but in a Bond book (and film) will. Goldfinger’s minion is a Korean adept of karate, and IF’s info includes a mini-history of same (much of it likely made up: it was relatively new to the west in the 50s and 60s). PUSSY GALORE hates men and favours women bcz men are all rapey arseholes. At Fort Knox, soldiers and a baby lie slumped on the tarmac, pinkish flecks of foam round their mouths. GF and/or his Korean minion are sucked out of a broken airplane window (more made-up science). PG, life saved and Bond-curious, wears nothing but a jumper, decent by half an inch.
First appearance of ERNST STAVRO BLOFELD [not real name] and (possibly)
RESPECT SPECTRE in the books. Bomb narrative. The paperback copy I had — borrowed, see above — had a naked back with two bullet holes in it, that went through to the title page. Oddly enough I was at school with some Blofelds.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
Had a nice map on the cover and JAMES BOND is barely in it. The narrator is a woman who begins with a story of having sex (not with JB) in one of the theatre boxes of an old-school cinema, and being thrown out by a furious manager.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963)
A brainwashed JAMES BOND returns from Japan and attempts assassinate M, who is saved by a — rather dangerous sounding — plate glass screen installed which hurtles down when M steps on a concealed floor button [note: this is misremembered, it’s actually the start of Man w/Golden Gun]. End-papers include a Who’s Who entry for Commander JB where we learn he was orphaned and went to Eton.
You Only Live Twice (1964)
Title from a haiku written by JAMES BOND. The head of the Japanese Secret Service is called Tiger Tanaka — he shoes him round the security facilitiers, where he learns that the martial arts students teach themselves to retract their testicles to safety by massaging the relevant area. Fleming likes to throw unexpected or exotic facts into his stories. He also totally makes stuff up to fvck with the reader. The villain is DOCTOR GUNTHER SHATTERHAND: he has contructed an evil “ farewell garden” open to the Japanese public, in which citizens can wander and choose horrible ways to suicide (dangerous beasts, poisonous plants,
profiteroles fumaroles): it is built on a volcano, with hilarious results. Bond disables this, loses his memory and marries a pretty peasant fishergirl, who reads up on sex stuff in a “ pillow book” the local priest gives her.
The Man with the Golden Gun (1965)
Real name The Man with the Golden Gun and Three Nipples, since this is how many Scaramanga has. On stage a naked girl writhes round a glistening giant leather hand. This is literally all I remember, I was 13 shut up.
Colonel Sun (1968) [by Robert Markham aka Kingsley bloody Amis]
M is kidnapped! His real name is Admiral Sir Miles Messerby (or Messervy?). The Bondgirl is blonde, long-legged for a Greek [in JAMES BOND’s critical and prejudiced opinion], and has an unusually shaped [see previous bracket] pubic triangle, wide but not deep. JB kills CS by stabbing him in the heart but CS doesn’t die before he hisses some final mot, bon or not I forget, in Bond’s face.
Notes on cover designs: — from five different unified design packages, the paintings (as per Diamonds), which are very much of the pulp style and heritage, the striking item(s) (as per Casino, Thunderball, Spy, Service and Twice, the girl (as per Russia), the bunch of associated stuff (as per Moonraker, No, Finger and Gun) and whatever Sun fits into, as a non-Fleming addition. I recall my art teacher commenting on the excellent of the striking item series — he was a curious and interesting fellow, but that’s probably a different story. I liked the “bunch of stuff” series best, though (judging by its presence on the net) it’s somewhat out of favour currently.