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Wall Street Journal reveal details on Devil May Care and James Bond continuation novels

08-May-2008 • Literary

In the 44 years since the death of writer Ian Fleming, his character James Bond has flourished as a movie star. As a literary figure, however, Bond has looked more like Inspector Clouseau - reports The Wall Street Journal.

In the decades following Mr. Fleming's fatal heart attack, his family trust has commissioned 22 new books about the debonair British spy. Sales have dwindled: The last Bond novel, "The Man With the Red Tattoo," published six years ago, sold only about 5,000 copies in Bond's British homeland and a disappointing 13,000 hardcopies in the U.S., according to Nielsen BookScan.

But never say never again: Doubleday on May 28 will release a new Bond novel, one of the most ambitious of the post-Fleming works. "Devil May Care" will be written by a well-known and well-respected literary author, Sebastian Faulks, with a large, initial U.S. print run of 250,000 and a lavish marketing campaign. Penguin, a unit of Pearson PLC, plans a print run of 100,000 in the United Kingdom.

The novel coincides with the 100th anniversary of Mr. Fleming's birth, which should generate free publicity for the book. Even so, it is a gamble for Doubleday and Penguin. Aside from the desultory history of previous nouveau-Bond books, the latest version will hit U.S. book stores about the same time as new novels from an array of best-selling authors, including Patricia Cornwell ("The Front"), Dean Koontz ("Odd Hours") and James Rollins ("Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull").

But Doubleday and Penguin believe they can rekindle interest in the Bond brand by returning the story line to the Cold War. The Bond books of the 1980s and 1990s tried to make their stories contemporary, which critics said was jarring to fans. "The Man With the Red Tattoo" had Bond fighting terrorists who disrupted a Group of Eight meeting in Japan. "Devil May Care" is set in the classic Bond era. Its plot revolves around the heroin trade and a female character called Poppy, people familiar with the book say. The U.K. cover seems to corroborate this: It features a photo of a nude woman in silhouette, her body forming the stem of a blood-splattered poppy flower. Doubleday and Penguin decline to comment on the book's plot and didn't share a copy.

The publishers also are cheered by how new Bond actor Daniel Craig helped the franchise's latest film, "Casino Royale" succeed at the box office in 2006, grossing $594 million world-wide, according to Box Office Mojo LLC, which tracks ticket sales.

"The whole thing was moribund," says Stephen Rubin, president of Bertelsmann AG's Doubleday Broadway Publishing Group. "The Robert Ludlum franchise is completely re-energized because of what Matt Damon did in the Bourne movies. We think this is a greater opportunity." Excerpts of "Devil May Care" are planned for the July edition of Vanity Fair. A new Bond movie with Mr. Craig, "Quantum of Solace," is scheduled to be released later this year.

Some diehard fans are irate. "I find it terribly cheap and insulting to think that someone else has the right to continue writing on this storyline," says Russell Steer, who manages The Old Book Company of McLean, a used bookstore in McLean, Va., and owns complete sets of the Ian Fleming novels in hardcover and paperback. "Keep a work and its creator together. This is all about the money."

Barnes & Noble Inc., the biggest book chain in the U.S., says it is ordering a large quantity of books and expects "Devil May Care" to become a blockbuster. "We're buying this as a definite best seller," says Bob Wietrak, vice president of merchandising at Barnes & Noble, which declines to state the size of the order. "The downturn in the economy has prompted a demand for escapist fare," he adds.

These are difficult times for the book industry. Net adult hardcover sales for the first two months of the year fell 13% industrywide from a year earlier, according to the Association of American Publishers, a trade group. Meanwhile, sales of inexpensive, rack-sized paperbacks increased 8.6%.

Mr. Faulks's handlers declined to make the author available to comment for this article. But in an interview with Publishers Weekly, Mr. Faulks said that when the Fleming estate asked him to write "Devil May Care," he replied, "I'd never written a thriller, I didn't even really read thrillers, and I told them I wouldn't know where to begin."

Mr. Faulks is best known as a writer of historical fiction: His 1993 novel "Birdsong" has sold three million copies world-wide, according to Doubleday. His most recent title, "Engleby," a 2007 novel narrated by a man who may have murdered a classmate, has sold only 4,000 hardcovers in the U.S., however, according to Nielsen BookScan. Mr. Faulks won't be the most famous Bond writer-for-hire ever: The first book after Mr. Fleming's death, "Colonel Sun," was written by Kingsley Amis under a pseudonym.

In a sign of the importance Penguin places on the book, it hired an agency to design the "Devil May Care" cover instead of creating it in house, the typical practice. Partners, a unit of WPP Group PLC that specializes in corporate branding, took two months to come up with a cover that satisfied Penguin, according to Jack Renwick, the agency's creative director. One challenge: portraying sex and violence without being too graphic for teenagers, a target audience. "We're trying to appeal to older Bond readers and bring along a new audience," Ms. Renwick says.

The title will be backed by the largest marketing budget of any Penguin fiction title published in the U.K. this year, according to Joanna Prior, Penguin U.K.'s marketing and publicity director. The hype includes a Bond-themed party at Fifty, a casino in London's Mayfair district, the night before publication.

This year, Britain's postal service issued a line of stamps commemorating Mr. Fleming's birth, which Penguin hopes will help create buzz for the novel. And London's Imperial War Museum is holding an exhibition marking his birth that runs through March. It includes the typed manuscript of "Casino Royale" and athletic trophies he won at Eton College.

Bond books haven't made much money for the Fleming family in recent years. Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., which is controlled by Fleming heirs and owns the books' rights, lost £118,000 ($233,000) on revenue of £370,000 in 2006, according to the most recent accounts available. Matthew Fleming, the author's great-nephew, referred questions to a public-relations agency, which didn't return calls.

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