Ian Fleming died 51 years ago this week, but his legacy lives on in his most famous character: Bond. James Bond.
In honor of Fleming, we asked our NYPL library staff to investigate that legacy and go “beyond Bond”—to pick out other books starring secret agents.
Spies Like Us
John Banville’s The Untouchable is the fictional memoir of Sir Victor Maskell, a Cambridge-educated art historian who was a spy for the Soviet Union. Loosely based on the real-life Anthony Blunt, Banville portrays his protagonist in a negative light, and the reader has no choice but to follow an unsympathetic character. Not to worry though: Maskell is also compellingly intelligent and witty, making him—though repellent—endlessly entertaining and fascinating. —Wayne Roylance, Selection Team
I love any of the Bourne films starring Matt Damon, or the books by Robert Ludlum of similar title. For great summer listening, try any Bond soundtrack by John Barry; a favorite of mine is the music of John Barry and others in the great 50th-anniversary CD, Best of Bond, James Bond. While you’re investigating the spy genre, try television’s answer to James Bond, It Takes a Thief starring Robert Wagner. —Maura Muller, Volunteer Office
I enjoyed the movie version of The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. Both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. search for the Red October, a Soviet nuclear submarine heading toward the United States, while a CIA analyst believes its captain is attempting to defect. The movie stars Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery. —Christina Lebec, Bronx Library Center
Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, about a female mathematics student turned Cold War spy, is a wonderful counterpoint to the spies in Ian Fleming’s Bond novels. Pixar’s The Incredibles incorporates the pop-culture Bond references that we all know and love, like the volcano lair of the evil nemesis, in addition to superhero pop-culture references. —Jenny Baum, Jefferson Market
I’ll go with the more contemporary David Shirazi series by Joel C. Rosenberg: The Tehran Initiative, The Last Imam, and Damascus Countdown. David Shirazi is a CIA operative in Iran. He is on a special mission: find where the nuclear warheads are stored and deactivate them before they are used to annihilate Israel and attack the USA. —Jean Harripersaud, Bronx Library Center
I would recommend the Secret Histories novels by Simon R. Green. His character, Simon Drood, is a supernatural play on James Bond. Shaman Bond is an alias and he is an agent for his family members, who have been protecting the earth from supernatural threats for years. —Brian Baer, Mulberry Street
My favorite spy novel is Graham Greene’s spoof Our Man in Havana. Largely considered a comedy (or maybe a “dramedy”), the novel offers some striking commentary on the all-too-common absurd machinations of global governments and the ridiculousness of “intelligence” while giving the reader some genuine laugh-out-loud moments and scenes. It was also made into a recommendable film! —Katrina Ortega, Hamilton Grange
Hugh Laurie’s (yes, the actor, but also author) The Gun Seller is an amusing and mischievous spoof of the spy genre that effectively uses humor to present and temper topics that are very real and upsetting. This pre-9/11 book is eerily prescient on topics of terrorism, military marketing, and the business of weapons. —Carmen Nigro, Milstein Division
Trevanian’s The Eiger Sanction (1972) was intended by its author as a spoof of the Bond genre. It relates the exploits of one Jonathan Hemlock, art professor, mountain climber, and assassin, whose latest mission involves scaling one of the world’s most dangerous peaks with a team that includes his intended—but unknown—target. Clint Eastwood’s 1975 film of the same title, with the director in the starring role, retains some of the mordant humor of the source, while adding hair-raisingly authentic mountain climbing scenes performed “for real” on the actual locations by Eastwood himself and the other actor-climbers in the cast. It’s been rated one of the best climbing films of all time by mountain climbers themselves. —Kathie Coblentz, Rare Materials
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies is a fun, clever, French spoof of James Bond and the spy film genre. Starring Jean Dujardin (who had his American breakthrough with the Academy Award-winning The Artist) it pays tribute to a bygone era, while deconstructing the sexist and cultural stereotypes of the 1950s and 60s. —Thomas Knowlton, MyLibraryNYC
I’d suggest Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Fatale. Our so-called hero of this fast-paced French noir novella is the enigmatic Aimée Joubert, a ruthless character with no allegiance to anybody but herself—indeed, she’s as cutthroat as the cast of mob bosses and social elites she takes down in the small town of Bléville. The only difference? Our Aimée tosses social convention out the window as a rogue agent with a mission to destroy social fabric of the village, to do away with all the jerks and hypocrites in society. —Andrew Fairweather, Seward Park
Bond-lovers seeking spies, intrigue, and conspiracy will definitely enjoy the works of Thomas Pynchon. His zany writing leans toward the high-brow--perfect for the reader looking for a touch of class with their mystery. I recommend his latest, Bleeding Edge. It’s a noir-ish tale filled with crooked finances, corporate espionage, and post-9/11 politics. Read this (or any spy book, really) while listening to The Budos Band, a nine-piece Brooklyn band that features some bombastic and sexy horns and a far-out late-‘60s-era Miles Davis feel. —Nancy Aravecz, Mid-Manhattan
Children & YA
Detective Gordon: The First Case by Ulf Nilsson. Gordon, like Bond, comes from across the pond. Actually, he was born in a pond. He prefers tea to martinis and is usually found with a girl mouse by his side instead of a babe bombshell. Nevertheless, Detective Gordon is sure to eventually solve the case! But let’s be honest: His true skill is bringing a comfort to all of us by letting us know you can still be a hero if you go to bed early and stress-eat cakes when the going gets tough. —Anna Taylor, Children’s Services
As far as “secret agents” go, I can heartily recommend the YA steampunk series Finishing School, starting with Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger. These girls are so secret that even the headmistress of the school doesn’t know it’s really a school for spies and espionage, she thinks it’s a finishing school! —Dawn Collins, Wakefield
No Bond readalike list would be complete without Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, starting with Stormbreaker. Alex is your average 14-year-old boy in London, until his guardian uncle is killed in a car accident. After the funeral, Alex learns that his uncle was no banker but a secret agent with the British spy agency MI6… and now MI6 wants Alex to finish the mission his uncle started. Over the course of nine action-filled books, Alex’s adventures are fast-paced and full of dangerous missions, great gadgets, exotic locations, evil egomaniacal villains, shady spies and assassins, and pretty girls. This just may be one of favorite YA series ever (and for more teen spy books, try my booklist: “What to Read Next: Spies & Assassins”). —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street
Beginning in August 1915, a female Belgian spy led “the German counter-espionage services into a devilish dance, flitting around the occupied country brazenly outfitted in a German officer’s uniform, traveling to and from London, handling British intelligence invaluable information and rendering entire German regiments worthless.” Sophie De Schaepdrijver’s fascinating biography Gabrielle Petit: The Death and Life of a Female Spy in the First World War is a study of sacrifice, defiance, and heroism. —Miriam Tuliao, Selection Team
For those who enjoy historical espionage, Francis Lymond, the hero of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, has been called “a sixteenth-century combination of d’Artagnan, James Bond, and Oscar Wilde.”*. Dunnett’s dense, wide-ranging series takes the dashingly complex Lymond from Scotland and England to France, Malta, Constantinople, Moscow, and other beautifully described destinations. No one has brought Lymond to the screen yet, but I can imagine a younger Daniel Craig suiting the part very well. (The Lymond Chronicles were also recommended on two NYPL reading lists: Nancy’s “Can’t Get Enough of Wolf Hall” and Anne’s “Waiting for Outlander.”) —Elizabeth Waters, Mid-Manhattan
*Colin Minton in The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature: Modern Transformations: New Identities (from 1918).
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your picks, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our brand-new Staff Picks browse tool for 100 new recommendations every month!