Happy New Year! I thought I would begin the New Year with a tradition I started last year by posting around New Year’s Day my favorite books from the prior year.
But unlike last year, for 2017 I did not set a specific goal of reading a certain number of books during the year. This was because I knew, even though in 2016, the 45 books I read was the most number of books I had ever read, I would likely beat that number in 2017 due to an unfair advantage—having more time to read. Effective 31 October 2017, I retired from my job of 35 years but even before the end of September, I had read as many books in the first nine months as I read in all of 2016. Turned out, as things wound down at work, I had extra time on my hands and so put it to good use by reading. Since the end of September, I have finished reading an additional thirteen books. So for 2017, I read a total of 58 books, 25 fiction and 33 non-fiction.
And just like I did in 2016, I started off the New Year literally on New Year’s Day reading—Bond, James Bond. But this time, rather than picking up with the few remaining titles I did not read in 2016, I actually read the biography of Bond’s creator entitled The Life of Ian Fleming, by John Pearson. This was a slightly tattered, hard-back book published in 1966 that my wife found at an estate sale.
It was really intriguing to read how the real life of Fleming and the fictional life of Bond closely paralleled each other. Fleming truly did draw from his own life experiences in many of the stories included in his Bond books. What was even more fascinating was that Fleming actually lived through and survived some of the same dangers that Bond endured in his adventures. And of the women in his life, some met with similar fates to those in his books.
It was during World War II that Fleming was exposed to much of the espionage work that played important in his Bond books. Just like his created fictional character, Fleming was a commander in the Royal Navy where during the war; he planned and in some cases actively took part in covert missions. Having read 10 of the 14 Fleming Bond books, it never occurred to me that some of the events portrayed in the books were actually based on true to life experiences of the author’s.
But what was most surprising to learn was how Fleming got his start writing the Bond books. While there is a quote of Fleming during the war that he planned to write the “spy story to end all spy stories,” it was many years later before he actually sat down to do that, cranking it out in just seven weeks at his Jamaican winter home, Goldeneye, as merely a distraction while his future wife painted outdoors. And for the next three years, he did the same writing the next three books over his two-month winter break in Jamaica. Despite this dedicated, rigorous schedule, the books did not bring him the financial rewards that he had hoped to gain. It was at this point that he felt he had written out all the stories he had and planned to kill off Bond in his fifth book. But a unique turn of events saved both Fleming and Bond when an unexpected trip to Istanbul allowed the on-location research for what would become another of his successful Bond books, From Russia with Love.
As I read the historical account of each book and got a glimpse into the back-story behind each one, it gave me a more in-depth appreciation for the books I had already read. But it also prompted me to accelerate my reading pace so I could jump back to where I left off reading the Bond books last year. As I closed this book on the sad note of how his life ended too soon, it was with a new appreciation of how intertwined the lives of the author and James Bond were that I began again to read Bond experiencing the vitality and vigor of Fleming through Bond’s actions.
And no sooner had I finished his biography that I read my last four Bond books in just 10 days—For Your Eyes Only, The Spy Who Loved Me, The Man with the Golden Gun, and Octopussy. And in each I looked for and found the incorporation of real life tales in 007’s escapades. But for an avid Bond fan of the 1950s and 1960s who looked forward to their annual “Bond Fix” with the release of another book each year, these four (Fleming’s 8th, 10th, 13th, and 14th), in my opinion, were not his best.
Would I recommend reading all 14 of the Ian Fleming Bond books? Absolutely! Just bear in mind that after reading the first seven, you will likely be a bit disappointed in half of the last seven, two of which are actually compilations of short stories. And as I said last year, read them in order by publish date. After reading The Man with the Golden Gun this year, there were enough references back to You Only Live Twice to make me want to go back and read that one again.
If you took my recommendation last year and read this book by David Baldacci, then you are in for another treat. I cannot think of a book I have read by Baldacci that I have not liked or been disappointed in and I have been a fan of his for many years. He has several character series that I have thoroughly enjoyed, The Camel Club and Will Robie, being the most recent. But in 2016, I was introduced to Baldacci’s latest character, Amos Decker, a cop/detective who has an extremely rare condition that allows him to remember everything—hyperthymesia—an incredible advantage for someone in law enforcement to have not just a photographic memory, but also total recall.
So when I saw that David Baldacci had published a second book based on this character, The Last Mile, I knew it would be a must read for my 2017 reading.
As I found with the first Amos Decker book, as soon as I finished one chapter, I didn’t want to stop to see what happened next. This book is centered on a death row inmate, Melvin Mars, and the interesting past that led him to this status. Through the introduction of this new character, we learn even more historical facts about Amos’s past and the unique connection between Amos and the death row inmate.
As the story unfolds, you begin to feel that you are on a roller coaster as the plot takes unexpected twists and turns. And as with actual roller coasters, you don’t want to get off as some of the biggest and most exciting parts of the ride are at the very end where as all of the details are revealed, you learn that some of the events that led to Melvin’s conviction date back to other historical and factual crimes perpetrated almost 50 years earlier.
If you haven’t read the first Amos Decker book, read it before you read this newest one. And if you are like me after finishing both, your only hope is that Baldacci is already hard at work cranking the next book in this series (which he has now done).
To be continued…