Who's the best James Bond? Most people reply Sean Connery or Roger Moore, some say Pierce Brosnan, and a few enlightened ones may say George Lazenby or Timothy Dalton. They are all wrong. The best James Bond is Ian Fleming's.
Fleming was a desk-bound naval intelligence officer in the Second World War, later a Sunday Times journalist, who lived a vicarious life. Bond was an outlet for his unfulfilled wish for action and his worries about his health. Fleming wrote 12 novels and eight short stories about 007, but his Bond is more humourless and introspective than the dashing secret agent of the films.
Dr No (Coronet Pounds 5.99) is perfect holiday reading, with all the elements that make Fleming's work great. It reads like a travelogue spiced with adventure, pain and sex.
Bond is unwell and is sent on a "holiday" job to Jamaica - he must look into the disappearance of two MI6 agents investigating mysterious goings-on at a bird sanctuary. On the isle of Crab Key, Bond finds a pretty girl collecting shells, a mechanical dragon and a heap of trouble with metal hands called Dr No, who takes his privacy very seriously.
After treating Bond to a meal (Fleming's descriptions of food are always mouth-watering), the good doctor sets about testing Bond's mental and physical strength, using cramped spaces, heat, cold, spiders and a famished octopus. The torture scene is harrowing, as is Bond's vengeance - he buries Dr No alive under tonnes of bird dung.
Other authors have tried their hands at Bond books. Kingsley Amis's solo attempt, Colonel Sun (Coronet Pounds 5.99), written under the name Robert Markham, and the early John Gardner novels - he wrote 16, including Icebreaker (Hodder Pounds 4.99) - are the next best and deserve reading.
Current 007 author Raymond Benson - a former writer of computer game scenarios and teacher of film script-writing - is the weakest. His plots are hackneyed and his writing style is deplorable, although other critics have praised his novels Zero Minus Ten (Coronet Pounds 5.99) and The Facts of Death (Hodder and Stoughton Pounds 16.99). The Bond created by Fleming deserves better.
Adam Jezard is chief sub-editor of 'TES Primary' magazine