1. Literary 007 Reviewed: Ian Fleming's 'Casino Royale' (Part I)

    By Devin Zydel on 2008-01-01
    Ian Fleming

    Ian Fleming

    With 2008 celebrating the centenary of Ian Fleming, it seemed as good a time as any to launch the newest review series: Literary 007 Reviewed.

    As several CBn Forum members are already aware, every two months a James Bond adventure is chosen for members of the Blades Library Book Club to read. Proceeding in chronological order, the club began with Fleming’s Casino Royale back in March 2003 and we are now progressing through the John Gardner Bond adventures.

    Ian Fleming's 'Casino Royale'

    Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale

    It therefore seems logical to start this new series at the beginning with Casino Royale. What follows are selected reviews from the Book Club Forum members. For further details on the club or to post your own review of Casino Royale, simply click here.

    Literary 007 Reviewed: Casino Royale

    ‘Casino Royale’ reviewed by… Zographos

    “I’ve got the corpses of a Japanese cipher expert in New York and a Norwegian double agent in Stockholm to thank for being a Double O. Probably quite decent people. They just got caught up in the gale of the world…”

    It would not be very long before James Bond himself got caught up in the gale of the world, both figuratively and literally. His first adventure details his mission to destroy a Russian paymaster named Le Chiffre, who has embezzled Soviet funds into whorehouses. All the elements of the Bond mystique are laid out: the martinis, the girls, the guns, the cars, the villains, and most important of all, 007 himself. From the first scene in the casino, he is portrayed as a cold, methodical secret agent who lives for the present. Casino Royale is entirely realistic, a rare feat in the world of 007, and is based on a real World War II operation.

    The mission begins with Bond’s arrival to the seaside gambling town of Royale-les-Eaux, France, where he intends to bankrupt Le Chiffre at the casino, in the hopes that Le Chiffre will be permanently “retired” by his Russian employers. Prior to this duel, Bond makes contact with his three allies: René Mathis, the cheerful Deuxième Bureau agent, Felix Leiter, a CIA man sent to cover the NATO angle, and Vesper Lynd, the beautiful Section S agent, sent by Head of S to ensure that the operation runs smoothly. Though Vesper is the driving force in the last third of the book, she is fairly bland and fails to fulfill to her role. As Bond later realizes, she “gave little of her real personality away”. To aggravate matters, she spends a large portion of the time in tears. Nevertheless, Bond’s struggle with Vesper provides some of the most striking, dramatic writing the series has ever seen.

    After several days of preparation, in which Bond’s cover is mysteriously blown and he is nearly killed in a clever assassination attempt, he is ready to take on Le Chiffre at the casino tables. It is apparent as Bond describes the game of baccarat to Vesper and the reader that Fleming knows precisely what he is talking about. This infinite care for detail becomes a cornerstone of the series, later to be repeated with the Moonraker bridge game and the Goldfinger golf match. The duel begins and Bond and Le Chiffre play silently, menacing each other with body gestures. However, some people refuse to play by the rules, and Le Chiffre has devised a trick or two to give him an edge in the game.

    Not surprisingly, Bond emerges the victor, and he and Vesper go out for drinks. But the celebrations are interrupted when Vesper is kidnapped by Le Chiffre and his men. Bond’s high-speed pursuit leads to a car crash and him being taken to Le Chiffre’s villa for interrogation. In one of the most haunting torture scenes to ever grace a thriller novel, Bond is brutalized with a cane carpet beater. Every little detail of the torture is faithfully described, more than making up for that fact that Le Chiffre is not a particularly interesting or menacing villain to begin with. Bond’s agony ends with a superb twist and Le Chiffre and his men are eliminated.

    Though the villain is dead, only two-thirds of the book have passed. Bond is in the hospital recovering from his injuries. He tells Mathis that he is considering resigning. In an unusual scene of self-doubt, he suggests that the world needs villains like Le Chiffre in order to know what “evil” really is. Mathis, ever the optimist, laughs off Bond’s sophistries and tells him that he will soon change his mind. After several weeks of recovery, Bond regains his health and travels with Vesper to a French seaside inn for a vacation, where he considers marrying her. It is here that the final disaster occurs and Mathis’s prediction comes true.

    It can be simply put that Casino Royale IS James Bond. Never is his character so focused and gripping. Never is Fleming’s prose so astonishing. Though let down by supporting characters, this is the perfect book to discover what James Bond is truly about.

    ‘Casino Royale’ reviewed by… Dr. Noah

    It’s a great book, very readable, though lacking the “larger than life” feel of the other Fleming books.

    It also has a very odd structure. It’s basiclly in three parts, part one is both the build up to, and the baccarat game itself, part two is the kidnapping of Vesper and Bond’s torture, while part three is Bond’s love affair. The structure more or less works (I’d have liked Bond to express his disaffection with his job at the begining of the book, making it a full sub-plot rather than being tacked on towards the end.)

    I’m actually suprised at how much of the book is in the movie, i.e., most of the plot points, characters and car chases make it over to the movie.

    ‘Casino Royale’ reviewed by… Tehuti 004

    The Original

    Well, this is the first Ian Fleming book, and obviously the first book ever in which there was James Bond.

    Now, most of the Bond movies and novels all follow the combination of, girls, gadgets, cars, villains with an obscene plot. But funnily, this novel doesnt have half of these. There are no gadgets, only the sidearm, there is one female without the whole story who does anything, there is a car chase, which is quite long, and there is the villain, Le Chiffre, with a plot to get aload of money.

    Well, just from reading the title of the books, you can tell that is revolves around gambling. Which it does. There is an excellently described showdown with Bond and Le Chiffre in the Casino, and it does, I admit, keeps you on the edge of your seat.

    Now, James Bond = Aston Martin? Well, in this case, no. But James still drives a very British car, a Bentley, now I won’t bore anyone or attempt to spoil the book. So I wont say anymore.

    The “Bond girl” is Vesper. She is described very well when she enters the book. She has a mystic about her, which is revealed at the end. She is very much a big part in the book from the very beggining.

    All in hand, this was the book to set the standard by, and well, it certainly set the standard. A great read, and obviously a classic.

    ‘Casino Royale’ reviewed by… Gri007

    This is an excellent book to start what is a literature phenomenon.

    I have just finished reading Casino Royale the second time round and just forgot at how quick the story takes place and evolves. To me it is a story that makes one keep turning the pages.

    You get to know a little bit about Bond’s past with the Secret Service. It is a very realistic book and the torture seqeunce is fantastic.

    Well done Mr. Fleming for introducing us all to the best spy in the world.

    ‘Casino Royale’ reviewed by… superracer0022

    What a great start for a book series that began a phenomenon.

    Not what I expected from watching the Barry Nelson TV-Movie version (THANK GOD). I’m not saying that the movie was bad it is just there were some things I didn’t like about it.

    After reading the book I was very relieved that it was not very similar to that version (and as I expected it is not similar to the David Niven version either). Bond is shown much more normal in the book, from him getting tortured to him actually loosing at baccarat. Fleming did an amazing job with all of the distict characters, and one thing that I found interesting was that by just reading this book I was able to play a game of baccarat, for it does such a good job of explaining the game to the reader.

    There were several things in the book that reminded me of different movies (the traps in his room to detect intruders -> Dr. No, the torture, however not really similar, reminded me of Die Another Day in showing a more human side of 007). Bond is also shown much more darker in how he is not very proud of being a Double-0 for it means he has killed somebody in cold blood. The end of the book was an extreme suprise to me.

    I was very pleased with this book, and there were times when I would stay up past 12 reading it. It shows a completely different side of the James Bond world, and gives an idea of how he was originally envisioned.

    The book is a definite classic, and exceeds all exspectations of a Bond Movie Fan.

    ‘Casino Royale’ reviewd by The Richmond Spy

    I actually read it for the first time today. My goal was to read several chapters a day and get it done in a a few days, but I was hooked and had to finish it!

    What can I say? It was great. I loved the vivid descriptions of the scenery and situations (especially when Bond had the gun to his back). I could see the setting at the end of the book in my head very clearly. The ending was very surprising, yet painful.

    (I pictured Daniel Craig, Jeffrey Wright, and Eva Green in my head while reading!)

    ‘Casino Royale’ reviewed by… Double-Oh Agent

    “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.” With these words, Ian Fleming began his career as a novelist and was on his way to creating arguably the greatest fictional character of the 20th century.

    While British secret agent James Bond 007 is more famous for appearing in films on the silver screen, he nevertheless got his start and honed his character on the printed page. That start occurred with Fleming’s breakthrough debut novel, Casino Royale.

    In the first chapter Fleming sets the groundwork for what will be a battleground of green felt, playing cards, and casino chips. It is here that the reader gets the first inkling that this book will be different than any he has read before. That is punctuated by the final paragraph of the chapter.

    “His last action was to slip his right hand under the pillow until it rested under the butt of the .38 Colt Police Positive with the sawn barrel. Then he slept, and with the warmth and humor of his eyes extinguished, his features relapsed into a taciturn mask, ironical, brutal, and cold.” And that is describing the hero of the piece.

    From there, Fleming goes back in time to Bond getting his assignment. Many of the recurring characters are there: the wonderful Moneypenny, the stern boss “M”, the loyal aide Bill Tanner. They all add a nice office background for Bond, the man with a license to kill. Later we meet up with two more people who would go on to be great friends of Bond–Rene Mathis, a Frenchman, and Felix Leiter, an American, and after reading their banter back and forth it’s easy to see the bond (no pun intended) forming in their respective relationships.

    The rest of the cast of characters are an eclectic bunch indeed. They include the lovely but troubled Vesper Lynd, the disgusting Le Chiffre, the drug-addicted Basil, the slimy Corsican, and the mysterious Adolph Gettler. All the characters are well written–particularly the main players: Bond, Vesper, Le Chiffre, Leiter, and Mathis.

    As for Bond, he is tough, moody, opinionated, and chauvanistic. He takes his job seriously and has little time for women. At first glance, he doesn’t sound like the type of hero one would root for. But as the book goes on and the reader learns more about him, one can see that there is more to Bond than meets the eye. You begin to like him and care about him and want him to succeed. (Of course it doesn’t hurt that the people he’s going up against are much worse than he is).

    The plot is simple and straight-forward and without the far-reaching world-endangering scenarios of some of the later novels and the films. Le Chiffre’s head is on the proverbial chopping block as his employer, SMERSH, has discovered that he has embezzled funds to supplement his ownership of several French brothels. Now, with time running out, he has one last chance to recoup the lost money and save himself and he plans on doing that at the gaming tables of Casino Royale. That brings in Bond who is sent by Her Majesty’s government to ensure that Le Chiffre does not succeed in his quest and thereby remains out of SMERSH’s good graces.

    The major part of the book deals with the two men’s one-on-one battle at the baccarat table. The scenes are well written and paced. Tension fills the air with every page. Nowhere is that more prevalent than when Bond bancos Le Chiffre and immediately feels the hard barrel of a weapon in the small of his back courtesy of The Corsican. How 007 gets out of his predicatment when all around him are oblivious to his situation is funny and well done.

    Bond eventually manages to come out on top but his luck proves to be fleeting as Vesper is kidnapped and then Bond is captured by a desperate Le Chiffre. That leads to perhaps the best portion of the book whereupon Bond is tortured at the hands of the villain with an ordinary house-cleaning instrument. After reading the sequence one will never be able to look at a carpet beater the same way again.

    At the end of the torture scene, just as Bond is on his last bits of strength, Fleming rescues 007 in an ingenious and ironic way. It’s one that the reader never sees coming and yet he doesn’t feel cheated.

    The final third of the novel deals with Bond’s recuperation and love affair with Vesper. It is touching and curious at the same time as Vesper seems to be two different people during this section. It isn’t until the final pages that we finally learn the whole truth and everything falls into place–Bond’s world crashing down with it. It is at the end of this book that we get the complete Bond, the Bond that will continue on throughout the rest of the series. That point is emphasized with the final line in the book which is just as inspired and perfect as the opening line, but one that I won’t quote here.

    In Casino Royale, Fleming set out to write the spy story to end all spy stories. That may not have happened as he went on to write 13 more novels, but he nevertheless wrote a great one–one that prove to be a solid introduction to the world’s most famous secret agent.

    ‘Casino Royale’ reviewed by… rafterman

    I don’t normally like to reread my novels. I much prefer to rewatch films. I’ve rewatched the Bond films countless times. I know them, but I’ve only read my Flemings once. Having just read Casino Royale for the second time, I’m amazed by how good it really is. Better than I remembered. It’s the first and easily one of the best in the series. Not all of the elements are here yet, though. Casino Royale is a small story. About a secret agent, a big guy and a card game. There’s little of the sweep, no globe hopping, no gadgets for the film fans and just one girl, but what is here is the atmosphere. The character of James Bond is presented to us in minimal, but necessary details. That is the wonder of Fleming, he creates a world, one with the element of the bizarre, one highly detailed. Here we have Bond give instructions on the perfect drink, check his room for intruders by examining hairs stretched across door frames. Here is a Bond who curses the inclusion of a woman in his mission. A man who claims it’s not hard to attain a double oh, as long as you are willing to kill for it. Fleming sets us down into the world of smoke and cards, fast cars, cruel men and women.

    It’s all about the detail. Everything is described in just right amount of words and it feels as if this just flowed out of Ian’s typewriter without a bit of reworking.

    It’s a cruel world and James Bond is a cruel man, bored by the soft life, driven by the need for action. A man who puts his all into everything he does. With this first novel Fleming brought the character to life and it’s just a shame the novel has not been truly brought to the screen. Casino Royale is epitome of James Bond.

    Keep your eyes on the CBn main page for further reviews of Ian Fleming’s James Bond adventures in the upcoming months.