Most James Bond aficionados not only have several shelves crammed with books devoted to the realm of Her Majesty’s most famous secret servant, they have fair to middling sized libraries on the subject. There are numerous coffee-table photo-fests covering the films; there are plenty of histories and biographies of the phenomena and its principal players, and there are full texts devoted to specific movies such as Thunderball, not to mention scholarly studies, trivia books, and anthologies of essays devoted to critiquing a very wide vista of fact and fiction. In addition, there are the Ian Fleming novels, the continuation novels, parodies, soundtracks, and games. This doesn’t count the exhaustive and often extremely credible websites assembled by international experts. So, if you’re one of those with such a library, are you going to want to add Tom DeMichael’s James Bond FAQ to your collection?
On the other hand, there are many casual 007 fans who might like a single-volume overview of the movies we’ve seen over the past 50 years. There are younger fans who may not own a single Bond book at all. For example, I have a grandson who saw Casino Royale last year and then fell in love with Skyfall. For him, Daniel Craig is Bond and all others are imposters. When I showed him The Spy Who Loved me, he complained “That’s not James Bond!” I had to smile with the ironic thought that many viewers have been saying that for decades. That’s a debate for another place—the point here is, would younger readers and less serious fans benefit from James Bond FAQ?
Some yes, some no.
Admittedly, trying to delve into the canon of 23 EON productions as well as some “unofficial” releases is a daunting task. Choosing what must be covered and what can’t possibly be included in one book limits what a reader can be offered. And, after all these years, what can readers get they can’t find elsewhere beyond the obvious updating of material on Skyfall?
In this case, most of James Bond FAQ focuses on the characters in the films and the actors who played them, so descriptions of these folks are necessarily hit-and-run. For example, in the chapter called “The Spy Who Loved Us: The Girls of James Bond,” DeMichael first gives us a synopsis of what each girl does in her respective film, then we get a few paragraphs covering her acting resume. There’s nothing especially analytical comparing and contrasting the roles or actresses or sharing any insights into their contributions to the evolution of the Bond girl.
But DeMichael does help moviegoers who’ve never read the original Fleming novels understand a bit about how the literary characters were portrayed in Fleming’s stories and how they were changed and interpreted in the films. Of course, that’s only helpful in the movies that drew from Fleming’s books, most notably Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. While perhaps 95% of the book discusses what we see on the screen, we do get some behind the scenes stories about the production of the movies. In particular, DeMichael gives us a good overview of the contributions of the directors including Terence Young, Guy Hamilton, John Glen, Lewis Gilbert, and those who followed them.
For this reader, it was Chapter 5, “The Man with the Golden Guns (and Other Boy Toys): The Gadgets of James Bond,” that I found most interesting. That’s because, after describing each of the gizmos and props used in the films, DeMichael provides details about what became of all these props—who owns them now, how much they are worth, and sometimes where they can be seen by the public. That’s where I read things I didn’t already know.
But the main problem with James Bond FAQ is the implication that it serves as a good reference volume for experts and newbies alike. The FAQ series has included well-done resources for the Beach Boys, Star Trek, and other topics, but other authors have just done a better job with 007. If I were to suggest a one-volume overview of the Bond films, Deborah Lipp’s 2006 The Ultimate James Bond Fan Book (not to be confused with the earlier The Ultimate James Bond Trivia Book by Michael Lewis) springs to mind. Its organization features lists of many aspects of the canon with many debatable points about who’s better than whom, a favorite bit of Bond discussion everywhere. Unlike DeMichael, she not only discusses title songs but the full scores as well. If memory serves, she has more on the lapse between the Dalton and Brosnan films. In fact, DeMichael doesn’t really explain the lawsuits that kept 007 off the screen from 1989 to 1995. I’d have to double-check, but I didn’t see anything talking about the writer’s strike that crippled the script of Quantum of Solace.
For my money, if you want to find names, dates, gadgets, girls, title songs, etc. etc., Lipp makes it easy to find the details most readers will want in a very accessible format. Or you can make life even easier by doing your investigations at some very credible websites like www.commanderbond.net, www.mi6-hq, or www.hmss.com. Not only do such sites keep deep archives of material on nearly every bit of trivia you can ask for, but they also post up-to-the-minute news flashes assembled by teams of real experts in 007 lore.
In short, if you know your Bond, James Bond FAQ is a pleasant enough exercise in the superfluous. However, if you’ve seen a few, but not all of the movies, or if you’ve seen the older Bond films long ago and didn’t keep track of all the changing faces and directions, James Bond FAQ can refresh your memory or get you caught up in the basics of Dr. No to Skyfall. The more you know about the movie 007, the less this book will interest you and vice versa.