Some twenty years ago, my sister gifted me with six of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond adventures. First printings from the Macmillan Company, these wonderful little hardcovers were in great condition but sans books jackets.
I hadn’t read any of the Fleming Bonds since my early teens, when I was in the midst of discovering their cinematic incarnations, but hadn’t read them since (and I sadly miss all the paperback copies I had found).
With No Time To Die on the horizon, I was eager to revisit not only the 007 films, but also the book series. So it was with a certain amount of joy that I dug into Fleming’s first James Bond outing, Casino Royale.
I was actually rather surprised to discover how close the story is to the 2006 film which introduced Daniel Craig as Bond. The main story points are there, all transcribed in Fleming’s punchy, detail-laden style.
Bond arrives at Casino Royale, commissioned by M., his boss at MI6, where he works as a double 0, licence to kill. He is there to stop a man that goes by the name Le Chiffre. It seems Le Chiffre works for a dangerous organisation, SMERSH, under Soviet control, but has used some of the company’s funds for some of his own business interests.
Unfortunately the bottom fell out of those businesses and now he owes close to fifty million pounds. Bond is there to take him on in a high-stakes games of baccarat (which I now understand a lot more having read Fleming’s description in the novel), and beat him, leaving Le Chiffre bereft of cash, and a target to be eliminated by his own side, while also leaving them a little poorer.
Assigned to help him from the French office is Mathis, an American CIA agent in the form of Felix Leiter, and an agent from Station S., Vesper Lynd.
It’s with Lynd that we see how sexist Bond really is, and was no doubt reflective of the mindset at the time. He actually prefers that women stay at home and out of the way, but has no problem enjoying them when a mission is over.
There is also a hint of post-World War II racism that pops up now and again.
That doesn’t, however, detract from the story, and the excitement that permeates it as 007 takes on Le Chiffre, and then everything that comes after it. In fact, there are a number of familiar scenes and moments, including Vesper’s abduction, Bond’s singularly painful torture, and despite the changes in the game (from baccarat to poker) – there are similarities there too.
There are a lot of familiar beats, but Fleming wrote them first, and crafting that final act, which in this case is more interior in Bond’s mind as he realises how much he has grown to care for Vesper,which of course, makes the last few pages that more impactful. And also focuses his character for what comes next , because…
James Bond will return.