When Raymond Benson’s James Bond Bedside Companion first appeared in 1984, followed by an updated edition in1988, reader response was so appreciative the book was dubbed the “Bond Bible.” The Mystery Writers of America nominated it for an Edgar Award in the Best Biographical/Critical Work category. Then, much to the author’s surprise, Ian Fleming Publications, the rights holders to the Fleming literary estate, was impressed as well. They called on Benson to take on Fleming’s mantle by contracting him to become the third official writer of 007 continuation novels. From 1997 to 2003, Benson wrote six original novels, three film novelizations, and three 007 short stories.
This year, long after Benson’s 1988 non-fiction tome went out of print, Benson has joined the ranks of many other writers who are now making their older titles available in a digital format. For Bond fans, for whom the Bedside Companion is the stuff of legend, there’s no question many will want to add this opus to their collections in this form and avoid paying the high prices of second-hand sellers. But, after all these years, what can readers expect?
In all its incarnations, the meat of the book begins with a rapid-fire summary of the Fleming novels and the production of the Connery, Lazenby, and Moore films. Then, in more expansive sections Benson provides focused critical analysis of the 007 literature and movies from 1953 to 1987. In particular, he deepens his look into the life of Fleming with insightful commentary. For example, he notes that the author’s compartmentalization of his friendships was often misinterpreted as snobbery. Even better, Benson’s subsequent portrait of the literary James Bond is one of the best in print, highlighting the character’s development as Fleming matured and progressed. More debatable, perhaps, are his discussions of the movies from Dr. No to The Living Daylights. And that’s only because every fan has their own take on the successes and misfires we’ve seen on screen.
Still, in his “Foreword,” Benson admits the new digital edition isn’t really a full “update” as little new material was added and no revisions of old passages were made. On one point, Benson is justified. Noting that once he became personally involved with both the literary and film realms of 007, it would be inappropriate for him to comment on projects he was part of. This is particularly true of the 1990s when his own novels came out during the Pierce Brosnan era. So, in his “Foreword,” he only mentions his own books and those by his successors. To be fair, to give all the post-Moore movies and novels their due, Benson would have needed to compile another volume entirely. After all, in its 1988 state, the Bedside Companion was already nearly 600 pages.