There's plenty on the page to keep us occupied until the new James Bond film finally drops

The mystique never dies: James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Picture: Getty Images

The mystique never dies: James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Picture: Getty Images

No Time To Die, the 25th film in the James Bond series, would be in its fourth week at the cinemas this week in a universe where COVID-19 hadn't derailed the film (and practically every other) industry.

Having grown up working for a small family cinema, James Bond films have been a big and much-anticipated part of my life.

The year I began working there, Timothy Dalton was Bond in The Living Daylights. I knew how many minutes into the start of the feature I needed to sneak into the cinema to watch the scene where Dalton and Maryam D'Abo ride a cello case down a ski field to escape the bad guys, and I must have done this a few hundred times.

A decade later, I was still managing the cinema when Pierce Brosnan was Bond, and I similarly knew when to sneak downstairs to take a hit of what remains my favourite Bond theme song, Sheryl Crowe's Tomorrow Never Dies.

A new Bond film is a chance to revisit the old catalogue and evaluate its place in the oeuvre, a chance to weigh up the theme song against Crowe, Garbage and Bassey.

But with Bond interruptus, I've gone back to the novels to sate my need for martinis, girls and guns.

In particular, I'm rereading the catalogue of James Bond novels published after Ian Fleming.

There are a whopping 40 books in the series, including Ian Fleming's original 14 novels and short story collections, a handful of "continuation" authors, film novelisations, a Young Bond series, a series following the exploits of Miss Moneypenny, and a range of graphic novels.

But with Bond interruptus, I've gone back to the novels to sate my need for martinis, girls and guns.

Having read them all, this is my advice for the reader looking to immerse themselves in all things Bond. [I use the term "reader" advisedly, as I personally can't fit a full-time job, family, dogs and writing in with reading actual books - my references here will be mostly for online or audiobooks. Apologies to the purists.]

A Google search using the term 'Ian Fleming reads' should land you all of the Fleming books read by various performers, as well as niece Lucy Fleming reading uncle Ian's How to Write a Thriller, which should be considered essential reading for any writer.

When Fleming died in 1964 after handing in first draft of The Man With The Golden Gun, his publisher brought in author and noted Bond fan Kinglsey Amis to edit the work before publication, and later to pick the character up with his own Bond novel Colonel Sun (1968).

Amis's Greek island Bond adventure remained true to Fleming's character, but his adherence to Fleming's sexist, homophobic and racist language can be difficult for the modern reader.

For me, the best place to start a deep-dive into Bond are the two most recent works, Trigger Mortis (2015) and Forever and a Day (2018) from author Anthony Horowitz.

A true Bond fan, Horowitz had already made his name from his Bond-inspired teen spy 'Alex Rider' series and he sets his works amidst the timelines of Fleming's novels.

In Trigger Mortis, Bond has just returned from America and his Goldfinger adventure with Pussy Galore in tow, and the author addresses the emptiness of Bond's womanising and its fallout.

"Already the relationship was beginning to lose its appeal, like a favourite suit that had been worn one too many times," Horowitz writes. "Bond knew he was being unfair but he never felt completely comfortable sharing his life with a woman."

Horowitz imagines an origin story for Bond's iconic cocktail in Forever and a Day, set before Fleming's Casino Royale. Bond borrows the drink recipe from love interest Sixtine, who asks a bartender for her martini to be "shaken not stirred" because her loathed ex-husband liked them the other way around. When he can be extracted from his many other television and novel commitments, Horowitz has promised another Bond novel, and I will be amongst its first readers.

Until then, there are 22 novels from previous authors John Gardner (16 novels from 1981 to 1996) and Raymond Benson (nine novels from 1996 to 2002). They range from the terrific - Benson's Doubleshot (2000) echoes Fleming's real-life work for the British government protecting Gibraltar in WWII - to the ludicrous - Bond rescues Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher in Gardner's Win Lose or Die (1989).

Jeffrey Deaver's Carte Blanche (2011) imagines a later-day James Bond, born in the late 1970s and a veteran of the Afghanistan conflict, not the Second World War. His new-age Bond is a reformed smoker and, more shocking to purists, upset fans with a plot that hinted at Bond's parents having been Soviet double-agents (spoiler, sorry).

In Solo (2013), William Boyd returned to Fleming's timeline and imagined Bond an ageing and 'massive and troubled boozer,' immersed in the Nigerian Civil War that was also the real-life setting for Boyd's African childhood. Sebastian Faulks is the only other Bond author to stick to Fleming's original timeline, setting his Devil May Care (2008) immediately after The Man with the Golden Gun.

All of the Bond novels, Fleming and otherwise, are available on audible.com.au, while the ACT Library Service has a number of titles available online at library.act.gov.au.

This story Waiting for the next James Bond first appeared on The Canberra Times.