January 03, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

Though the new editions of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, Doctor No, and Goldfinger (Penguin, $13 each) come decked in covers evoking the foxy credit sequences of the 007 films, the James Bond encountered within is hardly the impeccably dashing fellow from the movies. No suave martini sipper, he’s a lush. Instead of the smoothie who sends women swooning, he’s a rather sadistic rogue. The page-bound Bond is engulfed by an isolation and existential disgust that place him close to noir detective heroes: Casino Royale opens on a weary hero idling by a roulette wheel; at 3 a.m., ”the soul-erosion produced by high gambling — a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension — becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.” Call them lean thrillers or adventure tales for dissolute boys; in essence, the books are witchy visions of a loner who happens to be a superspy.

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