James Bond has had 22 cinematic adventures, and I have a deep appreciation for them, but there would no films without the books written by Ian Fleming. Fleming's first novel, Casino Royale forever changed the spy genre when it was published in 1953, and introduced the world to agent 007. A series of books followed, making James Bond a legitimate literary phenomenon, especially when President Kennedy put From Russia With Love on a list of his favorite books. I had not read any of the books until many years into my Bond obsession, but can now say I have read most of them. I can say without a doubt that the books are very special, and depict a very flawed main character that is only glimpsed in some of the movies. For a deeper understanding of the man, read the books and feel the charm of Fleming's writing take you into a world of intrigue and glamour. The list that follows reviews my favorite three Bond books.
1. From Russia With Love
Just like the film version, this is the best of the series. President Kennedy was right to put this book on his list of favorites because it has it all- great locations, mysterious girls, thrilling action and sinister villains. The villains in this book are the best Fleming ever created- ruthless SMERSH mastermind Colonel Rosa Klebb and her machine-like killer henchman 'Red' Grant. These two set in motion a great Cold War era plot to get even with 007 for his previous work against the Soviet spy organization. I don't want to spoil the story, but Bond is at his best as he matches wits with his deadly enemies against the fabulous backdrop of Istanbul and the Orient Express. It is also different enough from the film that you will have some nice surprises in store.
2. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
It's no wonder that the two best books made for great Bond films, and this is true for OHMSS. Just like the 1969 film, this story follows 007 as he tries to track down Blofeld at his hideout in the Swiss Alps. This novel has some great scenes, and Fleming does a fabulous job describing the action, especially the epic ski chase that sees Bond narrowly evading SPECTRE. Also of note in this book are Bond's allies. M plays a critical role, as does avuncular crime lord Marc Ange Draco who ends up as Bond's father in law. Yes, Bond gets married in this one, but be prepared for a shocking finale. Fleming does his best work at the end when Bond's marriage meets an untimely end. The cliffhanger makes you eager to pick up the next book, You Only Live Twice, immediately.
3. Live and Let Die
Of the three books on this list, Live and Let Die is the most different from its cinematic counterpart. Unlike the 1973 film starring Roger Moore, the book is much darker and more violent, with key scenes that were later adapted for other Bond films. I like the gritty nature of this Bond adventure, and the mysterious Voodoo shadow that is cast over it. The villain this time is the gigantic Hatian Mr. Big who works as an operative for the Russians. Bond is sent to uncover a smuggling operation, but soon becomes trapped in a dangerous game with Mr. Big and his confederates. Try not to be put off by the somewhat racist depiction of the black characters in the novel, and remember that it was written in 1954. Despite the somewhat antiquated view of black culture, this book is rife with great scenes- the maiming of Felix Leiter, Solitaire's test and the keel hauling torture. Enjoy!