MI6 looks back to 1965 at the critical reception of Ian Fleming's posthumous James Bond novel "The Man With The Golden Gun"...

Out With A Whimper
17th February 2009

When James Bond creator Ian Fleming died on August 12th 1964, readers of his adventures may have feared it was also the end of the line for 007. But there were still two titles in the tank. Fleming's last full-length novel, "The Man With The Golden Gun", was published posthumously in 1965 by Jonathan Cape in the UK and by The New American Library in the USA.

Topping the well-received "You Only Live Twice" would prove an impossible task for Fleming, who was suffering ill-health at the time he penned his 'unlucky' 13th Bond title "Golden Gun". So drastic was the drop in quality of plot and writing that many believed that one-time Bond continuation author Kingsley Amis ("Colonel Sun") was brought in to touch-up the manuscript prior to publication. Although Amis did recommend certain changes, they were never actioned and he never worked on the novel. A detailed account of his involvement can be read in the Titan Books edition of the "Colonel Sun" comic strip compilation.

"Golden Gun" did elicit some praise, but most of the critics in 1965 had their knives out for 007 after his creator's passing. Most were unimpressed with the novel’s villain, the golden gun-toting Scaramanga, especially when compared to Bond’s previous foes.


Above: 1st edition Jonathan Cape hardback (UK). Artwork by Richard Chopping.

Universally, critics admitted that the novel contained less excitement, sex, and blood than previous novels. “This book is never boring,” stated Simon Raven of The Spectator. “It includes an imaginative cabaret, instructions of how to prepare and eat a raw snake, and some amusing business with an old-fashioned virgin tied to a railway line.”

Above: British Pan paperback 1st edition (1966)


Almost all reviewers acknowledged the novel’s shortcomings. “Construction is patchy and both sides get away with incompetence which would have been unthinkable or immediately fatal a few years earlier in Bond’s career,” said Raven. The New Yorker wrote, “There is little else here to recall those earlier days. There is no cheerful fornication, no breathless chemin de fer, no gourmet meals, no joyous drinking, no extraordinary physical exertions, and only the merest dribble of spilled blood.”

Anthony Boucher of the New York Times Book Review claimed “this posthumous story contains no imaginative criminal plot, no worthy Bond-antagonist, and not even a Bond-girl.” Kingsley Amis, normally a Bond supporter, also blasted the novel, calling it “a sadly empty tale” with a thin main plot with violence and sex at a minimum. Finally, the Christian Century seemed joyous at Fleming’s death and the end of the Bond line: “We’re spoilsports, kill-joys and affirmers of life,” it stated.

Despite the critical reception, 95,134 hardback copies were sold in the USA in 1965 alone. A serious total made more impressive by the book's presence on the bestseller list for 15 weeks of that year, peaking at number 6 in the chart.

Review Snippets From 1965

"The James Bond Adventure always has invited comparison to sex: When it's good, it's great; when it's bad, it's still pretty good. But "The Man With the Golden Gun" is simply awful." -- Chicago Tribune

"Bedside lamps will be burning late tonight in London. All manner of men--and probably a few women, too--will be savoring a pleasure which can never come again. Ian Fleming's last James Bond adventure, "The Man With the Golden Gun," will be the reason." -- The Washington Post

"Fleming comes on with the usual unusual opening, which has nothing much to do with what follows. It just seems irresistible to have a brainwashed Bond attempt to execute M. This is 007's first understandable failure to complete an assignment. But after that, there is the reliable villain with the strange name, Scaramanga, a master assassin who uses only a golden gun, believes in sexual intercourse before every murder, and has "a third nipple two inches below his left breast." There is the girl. Since there have already been twelve books, and since he never beds with the same type twice, 007 has to fall back on his previously unattainable secretary, Mary Goodnight. It may have been just as well that Fleming died when everybody still thought he could do no wrong." -- Time Magazine

"Perhaps Ian Fleming was tired when he wrote it. Perhaps - his publishers didn't tell us -he left it unrevised. The fact remains that this posthumous Bond is a sadly substandard job." -- The Observer

"James Bond should have a better exit. Sadly, The Man with The Golden Gun ends not with a bang but a whimper. The world will be a vastly more lacklustre and complicated place with 007 gone." -- Newsweek

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