An image of a bullseye with numbers across it and two bullet holes where the 00 should be
An image of a bullseye with numbers across it and two bullet holes where the 00 should be

Ian Fleming’s James Bond is a character drawn with fine-point sharpness. He smokes Morlands, made especially for him at a tobacconists on Grosvenor Street in Mayfair. He drives a 1930 4.5 litre Bentley in battleship grey. And if you’ve got a bottle in, he’ll have a glass of Taittinger Blanc de Blancs Brut 1943, thanks.

But while Fleming was very particular about Bond’s cigarettes, cars and champagne, he was somewhat less so about his diary.

Bond scholars have tried to piece together the proper order of Fleming’s stories, and come up with very different answers. On top of the original 12 Bond novels and two short story collections, there are dozens of ‘continuation’ novels. So what’s the proper place to begin, and where do you go from there?

The simple answer, and the way recommended by Ian Fleming Publications’ publication manager Simon Ward, is to start with Fleming’s 12 novels and read them in the order they were published, starting with Casino Royale and ending with the posthumously published The Man with the Golden Gun.

Dr No picks up From Russia with Love, for instance – they follow each other directly in the text, from one book to the next,” Ward explains. “It’s essential that you have You Only Live Twice before The Man with the Golden Gun because again they follow on from each other, they are sequels. You’ve got the Blofeld or the SPECTRE trilogy: Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and You Only Live Twice, so they again are all sequential.”

After that, dip into the two short story collections. “I don’t think you have to read them to understand the canon [and] what’s going on,” says Ward. “So in that sense: at your leisure, really.”

There are other ways of reading the Bond saga, though. In the mid-Noughties Bond scholars John Griswold and Henry Chancellor separately tried to work out which order the novels and short stories were meant to have happened in over the course of Bond’s life, as if he were a recently declassified hero of the Cold War whose exploits can only now be related without fear of Moscow taking notes.

They were rigorous, too. Griswold is slightly pursed-lipped about the inaccuracies he perceives in his Annotations And Chronologies For Ian Fleming's Bond Stories; authorised Bond biographer John Pearson’s choice of 1920 as Bond’s official birth year, for instance, is “not as good a choice as it could have been”.

Both broadly agreed on an order for the first eight novels and five short stories from For Your Eyes Only, which collected adventures published in newspapers and magazines in 1959 and 1960.

-       Casino Royale
-       Live and Let Die
-       Moonraker
-       Diamonds are Forever
-       From Russia With Love
-       Dr No
-       Goldfinger
-       ‘Risico’ from For Your Eyes Only
-       ‘Quantum of Solace’ from For Your Eyes Only
-       ‘The Hildebrand Rarity’ from For Your Eyes Only
-       ‘From a View to a Kill’ from For Your Eyes Only
-       ‘For Your Eyes Only’ from For Your Eyes Only
-       Thunderball

From there, things got more tricky. In 2006 Griswold identified this as the chronological order after Thunderball, shuffling in stories from the posthumous collection of shorts Octopussy and The Living Daylights:

-       ‘Octopussy’ from Octopussy and The Living Daylights
-       ‘The Living Daylights’ from Octopussy and The Living Daylights
-       ‘The Property of a Lady’ from Octopussy and The Living Daylights
-       Chapters one to five of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
-       ‘007 in New York’ from Octopussy and The Living Daylights
-       Chapters 10 to 14 of The Spy Who Loved Me
-       Chapters 6 to 20 of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
-       You Only Live Twice
-       The Man with the Golden Gun

Chancellor, however, had come up with an alternative timeline the year before:

-       ‘The Living Daylights’ from Octopussy and The Living Daylights
-       ‘Octopussy’ from Octopussy and The Living Daylights
-       Chapters 10 to 14 of The Spy Who Loved Me
-       Chapters one to five of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
-       ‘007 in New York’ from Octopussy and The Living Daylights
-       Chapters 6 to 20 of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
-       ‘The Property of a Lady’ from Octopussy and The Living Daylights
-       You Only Live Twice
-       The Man with the Golden Gun

Whatever order you go with, there’s no doubt that Casino Royale must come first.

“There’s a lot of very stark violence in the original Fleming stories,” says Ward, but even by that standard, Colonel Sun is “one of the most brutal of them all”. It all hits a peak with a torture scene which was nodded at in the 2015 film SPECTRE. Colonel Sun tells Bond of a time “when an American prisoner in Korea was deprived of his eyes”.

“And the most astonishing thing happened. He wasn't there anymore. He'd gone, though he was still alive. There was nobody inside his skull. Most odd, I promise you.”

Later writers took different routes. John Gardner was tasked with updating Bond for the Eighties.

“To be clear, that didn’t mean suddenly putting him in Miami Vice-style tailoring,” Ward says. It meant Bond wasn’t “a fantastical cypher”; instead 007 was in the real world, rubbing shoulders with Reagan and Thatcher and tracking down nukes on the eve of the first Gulf War.

Sebastian Faulks’ Devil May Care – written ‘in character’ as Ian Fleming – was a huge hit, moving Bond away from Russia and into the Middle East in 1967. Despite its Cold War setting, the peril came from two strikingly contemporary sources: terrorism and drugs.

Ward recommends Anthony Horowitz’s Trigger Mortis too: “It felt very Fleming, I liked the period – that was a lot of fun.” It returned Bond to his Fifties pomp and incorporated unused material from Fleming himself into an adventure set against the Space Race. At the same time, there’s a subtle shift of perspective which reframes the less enlightened aspects of Bond’s character. Charlie Higson’s SilverFin went back further, to the very beginning. His Bond became the archetypal YA protagonist: a 13-year-old orphan starting a new school, uncertain of himself and his place in the world.

It’s a prime example of the literary Bond successfully adapting to the times he and his readers live in – and the writers and publishers who give him his assignments. But at heart, he’s the same man Ian Fleming wrote into being in 1953.

“We’ve known what Bond is for almost 70 years now,” says Ward. “It’s a long time, and I don’t think we really think, ‘OK, what’s he got to be in 2022?’ We know what he is.”

What did you think of this article? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

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