So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Casino Royale. Ian Fleming

This is the first James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming, so it provides a delightful view of the character before he became an iconic figure. While Bond is particular about getting his drink right and which car he drives, they are not the same drink and car we have come to identify with him from the movies. Also, although his boss is a mysterious character referred to as M, there are no Moneypenny or Q in sight. Without Q's inventions, Bond relies more on his wit than his toys to stay alive.

Originally published in 1953, Casino Royale takes a young Bond who is questioning, rather than convinced, of the righteousness of his tasks, and puts him in what I see as an improbable situation. Le Chiffre, a French Communist labor leader, was embezzling union funds to purchase a string of whore houses only to have them closed when they are outlawed by a new law. He needs to earn back his lost funds and decides to do it through casino gambling. Eager to discredit Le Chiffre before SMERSH hitmen can kill him, Bond's superiors send him to Monte Carlo to beat Le Chiffre at Baccarat. The game between these two is described wonderfully so that even someone who has never gambled can get caught up in the excitement. However, it is hard to believe that the British government would bankroll someone to defeat an enemy agent at a game of chance that wasn't fixed.

Unlike the movies, much of what is in Bond's mind is revealed in this novel. His sexism is fully-developed with thoughts like this: "These blithering women who thought they could do a man's work. Why the hell couldn't they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men's work to men?" Even with an attitude like this, he manages to develop a romantic interest in his partner Vesper Lynd.

This first Bond novel is exciting and well-written. The premise seems far-fetched, but once past that it is an enjoyable introduction to the greatest spy in 20th century literature.


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