Sometimes it’s easy to forget that fiction’s most famous spy started out on the page and not the silver screen. Although Ian Fleming’s books were bestsellers in the 1950s and 1960s, and remain in print, James Bond is probably better known to most through the two dozen major motion pictures starring the likes of Sean Connery, Roger Moore and now Daniel Craig.
While I like spies in fiction, most of the Bond films are a little too campy for my tastes, so naturally I wasn’t very interested in reading Fleming’s novels. But not all of the Bond books are like the movies—in fact, the one I’ve read was nothing like the films.
The fourteenth and final Bond novel by Fleming, Octopussy and The Living Daylights is actually a collection of several shorter works: “Octopussy,” “The Living Daylights” (surprise surprise), and in later versions, “Portrait of a Lady,” and “007 in New York.”
You’re probably thinking of these right now:
Yeah, not so much. Instead of the big show-stopping set pieces, stunts, gadgets, explosives and womanizing we’ve come to expect from the films, these stories show a different side of espionage—and Bond himself. In “Octopussy,” Bond is actually the story’s antagonist (though not the villain)—it’s about a British major retired to Jamaica. And it features a real octopus—but not a beautiful jewel smuggler in sight. However, “Portrait of a Lady” is about the Faberge auction featured in the movie version of Octopussy.
“The Living Daylights” is related to the movie of the same name: the short story describes the events of the film’s “action prologue“ (you know, the cellist-sniper and shooting the rifle out of her hands). However, it presents a Bond that’s a heck of a lot closer to Daniel Craig’s disaffected portrayal than any of his predecessors’.
“007 in New York” . . . was kind of forgettable. A little reminiscent of the end of Quantum of Solace, plot-wise, I guess.
In all, if you’re more into the spy side than the spectacle of Bond, you’d probably like this quick read. (In fact . . . I kind of read the paperback copy my mom sent for my brother-in-law while I was supposed to be wrapping it up for him. Yeah.)
What do you think? Do you like Bond? Ever read the novels? Who are your favorite fictional spies? Come share!