Wednesday, May 3, 2017

John Gardner's James Bond and the Bestseller List

During the 1980s, John Gardner's James Bond continuation novels, while not enjoying the sales of Ian Fleming at his peak, were still regulars on the New York Times' hardcover fiction bestseller list. The second book, For Special Services, was the stand-out in that respect, staying on the list for fifteen weeks, during which it rose as high as the #6 position. However, during the '80s each release lasted at least four weeks, and most broke the top ten.

By contrast, Gardner's books stopped making the list in the 1990s. To be fair, the list does show a general declining trend, the later books lasting for shorter periods, and peaking at lower ranks.1 In the view of many (myself included) this reflected his contributions' weakening as the years progressed, with Gardner either repeating himself or serving up less compelling new ideas, and the handling generally becoming more anemic. However, in fairness, lots and lots and lots of bestselling authors survive all that. Moreover, the abruptness of the drop-off, and the fact that not even the novelty of a new author (Raymond Benson) raised enough interest to put the books back on it for so much as a single week, suggests that it was not just the weakness of the later entries that was responsible.

It was also a matter of the changing times--the sharp drop in the sales of novels about spies and international affairs generally after the Cold War's end.2 Thrillers remained popular, but fans turned to ordinary domestic crime, instead--legal thrillers (Scott Turow and John Grisham), forensic thrillers (Patricia Cornwell), psych-profiling serial killer thrillers (Thomas Harris and James Patterson). Indeed, looking back a quarter of a century later it can seem like an era had come to end.

1. 1983's Icebreaker did less well than For Special, 1984's Role of Honor less well than that--managing just four weeks, in which it failed to break the top ten. Nobody Lives Forever and No Deals, Mr. Bond each did a bit better--making the #9 position, with No Deals lasting seven weeks. Still, after that 1988's Scorpio lasted just six weeks, 1989's Win, Lose or Die just four, and neither got past the #11 spot.
2. I've been going over the New York Times and Publisher's Weekly lists systematically for an upcoming book, and it looks like, save for Tom Clancy, who also did less well after the '80s, just about everyone involved really suffered, commercial giants like le Carre and Ludlum knocked out of the top spots, and newcomers appearing only rarely and briefly--Daniel Silva's sales, a far cry from what earlier newcomers scored, about as good as this seemed to get during that decade.

Xander Cage Actually Returns
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
The Post-Ian Fleming James Bond Novels
John Gardner's Final Three: Never Send Flowers, SeaFire, Cold Fall
John Gardner and the James Bond Series
Review: Role of Honor, by John Gardner.
Review: Win, Lose or Die, by John Gardner.
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
My Posts on James Bond

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