With apologies to Fred Chappell and Walker Percy, whose birthdays are also May 28.
Today marks the 100th birthday of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond and author of the children's class, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. My favorite brief bio comes courtesy of Garrison Keillor's staff writers:
It's the birthday of the man who created James Bond, novelist Ian Fleming, (books by this author) born in London, England (1908). He wanted to be a diplomat, but he failed the Foreign Office examination and decided to go into journalism. He worked for the Reuters News Service in London, Moscow, and Berlin, and then during World War II, he served as the assistant to the British director of naval intelligence.
After the war, he bought a house in Jamaica, where he spent his time fishing and gambling and bird watching. He started to get bored, so he decided to try writing a novel about a secret agent. He named the agent James Bond after the author of a bird-watching book. Fleming said, "James Bond is ... the feverish dreams of the author of what he might have been — bang, bang, bang, kiss, kiss, that sort of stuff. It's what you would expect of an adolescent mind — which I happen to possess."
The first Bond novel, Casino Royale (1953), sold about 7,000 copies, and Fleming followed it with four more that sold less and less well. Critics said he was good at writing about places, but that was about it. Fleming had a newborn son at home, and he was disappointed that these books weren't making more money to help support the family, so for his next Bond story, he wrote the book specifically for the movies. He filled it with more psychopaths and beautiful women than usual. No one in the movie industry was interested at the time, but the novel From Russia, with Love (1957) became a huge international best seller.
Set not long after the action in the last Fleming Bond novel, The Man with the Golden Gun (1965), Faulks’s much anticipated James Bond thriller captures the spirit of the original better than any pastiche to date. America is involved in Vietnam, drug trafficking is on the rise and the cold war is as hot as ever. Bond, who’s been on a “three-month sabbatical” imposed by his superiors, is called back to London for a new assignment involving Dr. Julius Gorner, a heroin trafficker. A classic Fleming villain, Gorner wants to destroy British civilization, and he’s physically marred by “an extremely rare congenital deformity” of his left hand (his so-called “monkey’s paw,” of course, is always gloved). He even has a deadly sidekick, Chagrin. Bond travels to Paris, where he hooks up with beautiful Scarlett Papava, whose sister, Poppy, is Gorner’s drug-addicted slave. After Bond and Gorner meet for a particularly dramatic tennis match, the action accelerates into overdrive, moving to Persia, Russia and, ultimately, back to Paris. Gorner’s scheme is as far-fetched as that of any Bond villain, but Faulks (Birdsong) gives it a ring of plausibility (and he fashions a great twist for one of the characters). The author’s real accomplishment is in recreating the tone and feel of the Fleming novels: the travelogue is terrific, and Bond’s confidence in his mission is part of the character’s enduring appeal. This may not be a James Bond for fans of the movie franchise, but it’s a great new addition to the “Fleming” canon—and should encourage readers to rediscover James Bond.I'm off to buy my own copy right now!!
Bonus: Check out CBS News' Bond-o-Rama.