In August of 2011, I wrote a post ranking all of the James Bond films released to date. Near the end, I mentioned that I’d started to read Ian Fleming’s James Bond books. That mission has now been accomplished.
I enjoyed the series tremendously. While some entries are better than others, as a whole Fleming’s writing is extremely entertaining and absorbing. It’s with a tear in my eye that I bid farewell to the literary Mr. Bond.
A few disclaimers before I share my rankings:
- Some of the film versions are very faithful to the stories, while others are almost entirely unrelated (sometimes using a title, sometimes using a few plot elements). If you’ve seen the movie, don’t assume you know the book.
- Some of the books weren’t critical darlings, but I’ve attempted to set the reviews aside and rank them based on my enjoyment level/how much they captured my imagination. I’m a man of the people.
- Fleming’s Bond material filled fourteen books. Twelve of them were novels and two of them were collections of short stories. I’ve made one list to rank the short stories and another to rank the novels.
Here we go…
The Short Stories
My least favorite of the short stories. Felt like a generic action movie.
Almost a non-story, but it gets points for including a scrambled eggs recipe.
7) “The Property of a Lady” (1963)
Apparently Fleming refused payment for this story since he considered it lackluster. I thought it was decent, but not especially exciting.
6) “From a View to a Kill” (1960)
I enjoyed the concept of the underground base used by the assassins. Quite literally a view to a kill. The fact that the unrelated film version brought Christopher Walken into the mix only adds to the magic.
5) “The Living Daylights” (1962)
A pretty solid piece, and a nice description of Berlin.
4) “For Your Eyes Only” (1960)
Fairly large in scope for a short story. The “countryside house” part of The Bourne Identity seemed a bit inspired by the Canadian portion at the end.
3) “The Hildebrand Rarity” (1960)
A tale of revenge. Colorful and entertaining.
A sketchy octopus plays a key role. That alone places this one high on my list.
Interesting in that it has almost nothing to do with Bond (he’s just listening to someone else’s story). A really powerful look at human relationships.
12) The Man With The Golden Gun (1965)
Apparently Fleming died before he could make revisions to this manuscript (this was the final published novel). It’s still decent, just a little deflated.
11) Moonraker (1955)
Enjoyable, but smaller in scope (no trips to space in the novel).
10) The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)
Sounds like people hated this one, but I found it to be a relatively compelling change of direction. It’s told from another character’s point of view, and done in the style of a “trapped in a location” TV episode. A bit Bates Motel-y as well.
9) Diamonds Are Forever (1956)
I enjoyed the period descriptions of Vegas, and you can’t beat the “Spangled Mob” run by Jack and Seraffimo Spang.
The first novel, and it starts with a bang. I think the recent film did a pretty solid job of capturing this story’s spirit.
This story is extremely similar to the film, largely since it started life as a screenplay. It’s certainly entertaining, but it left me a little fatigued, having seen both the Thunderball movie and Never Say Never Again (the unofficial ‘80s movie also based on the Thunderball plot).
Same feeling here. Pretty similar to the Goldfinger film, and while the golf scene is just as great in the novel, it wasn’t as exciting of a read given that I generally knew what was around the corner.
5) From Russia, With Love (1957)
Really solid, with an interesting look at the Russian side of the espionage business. It was apparently one of JFK’s ten favorite books.
Roald Dahl apparently called this Fleming’s worst novel, but I enjoyed it. I mean, it has a “Garden of Death” run by someone using the name Dr. Guntram Shatterhand. What more do you need?
3) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1963)
Like Thunderball and Goldfinger, this novel was very similar to the film. Regardless (and it may be that it’s just fresher in my memory), I still enjoyed it a great deal.
Something about the Dr. No plot appeals to me on a deep level. It’s one of my favorite Bond films, and the novel was just as enjoyable. Perhaps even more enjoyable considering that Bond fights a giant octopus.
Awesome. From Felix Leiter’s “accident” to Bond’s terrifying night swim through predator-infested waters, this novel rocks.
It’s been real, Mr. Fleming. While I wish the stories could’ve continued, I can take solace (pun intended) in the fact that your character continues to evolve and thrive nearly 60 years later. Bring on Skyfall!