After embarking on a James Bond marathon over my slothful summer break – all 24 movies in three weeks – you’d think I’d have had enough. In fact, it left me hankering to learn about the literary roots of this most enduring character.
So I dug up from the to-read shelf one of the old classics, Ian Fleming’s Diamonds Are Forever, as well as a more modern take on 007 – Trigger Mortis by bestselling British author Anthony Horowitz.
I’m not sure why I bought Diamonds, given it’s the fourth in Fleming’s original run and I’ve never read the first three. But much like the movies, it doesn’t seem to matter much: these are largely self-contained stories, with only a few chronological throughlines.
Here, Bond’s efforts to destroy a diamond smuggling ring take him deep into the underbelly of organised crime in the United States. Book Bond is of course more grounded than film Bond: the action here happens only occasionally, and while Fleming’s Bond is similarly adept at dodging bullets he’s not the unkillable superhero we sometimes see on screen. He takes some knocks in between playing roulette and seducing the beautiful Tiffany Case.
It bears little resemblance to the film of the same name, but that’s a good thing – given it was undoubtedly Sean Connery’s least successful outing as the suave secret agent. Casually racist, sexist and homophobic, it’s nonetheless a fun read, and informative as to how Bond became such a phenomenon – and how he has changed to suit different audiences and eras.
Horowitz is the latest author to try and keep Fleming’s literary legacy alive, publishing his novel – which draws from some of Fleming’s unpublished ideas and fragments of writing – in 2015.
He delivers a passable facsimile of Fleming’s style, picking up a few weeks after the events of Goldfinger, and sees the return of the inimitable Pussy Galore. The first third of the book – set in the glamourous high-stakes world of Forumla 1 driving – is brisk and entertaining, but the plot begins to sag in the latter sections.
There’s also the inherent problem that in Fleming’s work one feels inclined to forgive Bond’s horrible racism and misogyny – both writer and creation were creatures of their time. Horowitz has chosen to keep the character very much intact but for some reason, those same traits seem more glaring and grating in a book written in the modern era.