When Ian Fleming died in 1964, fans of the world's most famous fictional spy at least had the consolation that James Bond had not gone with him: 007's story continued to be told by writers including Kingsley Amis as well as by Hollywood's film franchise, all determined to keep alive the suave, Martini-sipping secret agent.
Now, Bond's fortunes have veered in an unexpected direction, after the company that administers Fleming's literary estate announced that the American psychological thriller writer Jeffery Deaver, known for his graphic violence, twisted villains and popular quadriplegic detective hero, Lincoln Rhyme, is to pen the next instalment of the 007 series. It will be published in May next year.
Deaver's book will follow on from Sebastian Faulks's novel Devil May Care, written to mark Fleming's centenary in 2008, and set in the 1960s.
Deaver, whose bestselling works include The Bone Collector, adapted into a film in 1999 starring Angelina Jolie and Denzel Washington, is set to bring the spy's story up to the modern day. However, Corinne Turner, the managing director of Ian Fleming Publications, was quick to point out that he would, as ever, be "timeless" and unaffected by old age.
Deaver said his novel, so far entitled Project X, will "occur over a short period of time and will find Bond in three or four exotic locations around the globe."
He has written 26 novels and sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. When he won the Crime Writers' Association's Ian Fleming Steel Dagger in 2004, he spoke of Fleming's immense influence on his writing at the acceptance speech.
"My history with Bond goes back 50 years. I was about eight or nine when I picked up my first Bond novel. I was a bit precocious when it came to reading, but I have my parents to thank for that. They had a rule that I was not allowed to watch certain movies, but I could read anything that I could get my hands on. This was ironic since, in the Fifties and early Sixties, you'd never see sex or violence on the screen.
"So, I was allowed to read every Bond book my father brought home or that I could afford with my allowance. I felt Fleming's influence early. My first narrative fiction, written when I was eleven, was based on Bond. It was about a spy who stole a top-secret airplane from the Russians. The agent was American but had a British connection, having been stationed, like my father, in East Anglia during the Second World War," he said.
Some may be surprised at the choice of a Bond writer who describes his own work as featuring "violence and the aftermath of violence". Yet he is doubtless a master of creating suspense and this will hold him in good stead while tackling Bond.
Deaver said that the key elements of his novels are "strong (though possibly flawed) heroes, sick and twisted bad guys, deadlines every few chapters, a short time frame for the entire story (eight to 48 hours or so), lots of surprising plot twists and turns and plenty of cliffhangers."
Ms Turner said her company had chosen Deaver because they wanted "something different" for the next Bond instalment. He is not the first American author to write about the quintessentially English spy hero. The American, Raymond Benson wrote five Bond novels in the 1990s.