So, in the end it wasn’t Shatterhand, Eclipse or A Reason To Die announced as the title of Daniel Craig’s 007 swansong, but No Time To Die. The news this week was met with some amusement – conjuring as it does the thought of Bond in a hurry, case file in one hand and a soya latte in the other as he waves away a MI6 lackey – but excitement for the film is as high as ever.
Fans will bid Craig farewell with a heavy heart. Somehow, he has managed to combine the smirking panache of Connery, the sombre brutality of Dalton and added just a touch of humour without going full-Moore. In this, he has proven perhaps the closest iteration to Fleming’s original character – not to mention the most successful, with Skyfall alone making over $1bn worldwide – which makes it all the more surprising the original novels haven't found a wider modern audience.
Ian Fleming first put pen to paper in the early fifties, writing about his own experiences in naval intelligence during the Second World War. There was nothing ground-breaking about this: John le Carré and Len Deighton were doing the same to much acclaim. But what set Fleming’s novels apart was their sense of style. Where le Carré’s spymaster George Smiley spent his time in a grim post-war London flitting about in worn suits, Bond was galivanting around the world in a tuxedo, driving the best cars and staying in the best hotels. Fleming’s writing was a panacea to a Britain beset by economic strife. Today, as the threat of a Brexit-induced recession grows, Bond’s exotic adventures and devil-may-care approach to his troubles could be just the tonic we need once more.
And for the generation who have only ever known Craig’s version of the world’s most famous spy, Fleming’s 14 novels – and some of those published after his death – contain everything you need to know about where Bond came from, including lots of material that never made the transition to the cinema (which in some cases we should be thankful for). With their taut prose, bone-breaking action and plots to rival the best thrillers out there, this is as good a time as ever to reacquaint yourself with Her Majesty’s best.