One of the most unexpectedly enjoyable and charming books I’ve read about a famous writer recently was last year’s The Man with the Golden Typewriter, a selection of Ian Fleming’s James Bond-related correspondence, edited by his nephew Fergus, who spoke to PW in November. Even as the billion-dollar movie franchise has kept Fleming’s name in circulation, he hasn’t been remembered to posterity as either a particularly good person or writer; the few people I know who’ve actually finished a Bond novel mostly comment on the unreconstructed sexism and racism, and queasy undertow of sadism.
The surprise, then, of this collection is how charming and funny Fleming is in addressing colleagues, fans, friends, and the occasional complaint. To a lawyer in an Australian mining town who sent Fleming a fan letter, telling him it was only the second he had ever written, Fleming rather sweetly replies “when you come to write your first book, even if it’s upon an abstruse point of law, you will come to know what a warm glow it causes to hear from a reader.” He flirtatiously chides one reader of From Russia with Love in April 1957 because she “did not save the book up to read on the sands at Santa Margharita. That is just the sort of place he would wish to be read—particularly by a girl. You must try and be more continent next Spring.”
He also composes a form letter to reassure other readers of Russia, which (spoiler alert) unlike its screen adaptation ended with the hero’s apparent death, as a medical report from “Sir James Molony, Department of Neurology, St. Mary’s Hospital”—“the condition of 007 shows definite improvement. It has been confirmed that 007 was suffering from severe Fugu poisoning (a particularly virulent member of the curare group obtained from the sex glands of Japanese Globe fish.”) He’s notably good-humored about the (frequent) factual corrections he receives from readers, informing one fan of From Russia with Love, “the cardinal error in this book was to furnish the Orient-Express with hydraulic instead of vacuum breaks—a gross mistake which the Black Belt grade among James Bond’s audience have been quick to seize upon.” If, like me and I suspect most readers, you’ve never read a single book by Ian Fleming, I’d recommend making it this one.