With 2008 marking the centenary of Ian Fleming, the newest CommanderBond.net review series, Literary 007 Reviewed, now continues with the author’s second James Bond adventure, 1954’s Live and Let Die.
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 first read Fleming’s Live and Let Die back in May 2003.
Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die
What follows are selected reviews from the Book Club Forum members. For further details on the club or to post your own review of Live and Let Die, simply click here.
Literary 007 Reviewed:
Live and Let Die
Live and Let Die
‘Live and Let Die’ reviewed by… Captain Grimes
This book, to me, feels like the beginning of Bond. Casino Royale is an interesting and entertaining little novel, but it is written on a relatively small scale with relatively conventional characters. Nothing, besides the final chapter and Bond’s final line, leaps off the page and lodges itself in your brain.
Not so with Live and Let Die. Here we find the Bond formula in full swing (or, perhaps, full sweep). Most noticeably, Mr. Big is an engaging and colorful villain, easily superior to both Le Chiffre of the previous book and Drax of the next. The grey, football-shaped head, the precise diction: these are the little details that together create a truly memorable character.
Then there is the globetrotting. Far from being restricted to France as he was in Casino Royale, or to England as he will be in Moonraker, Bond is constantly on the move here, passing swiftly from Harlem to St. Petersburg to Mr. Big’s hideout in Jamaica. James Bond, in the popular imagination, is a jet-setter, an international playboy, and the roots of that conception can be found in Live and Let Die.
Voodoo and black American culture provide context for the story, with both interesting and off-putting results. Interesting in that Fleming masterfully injects a tinge of exoticism into a book that he knew would be read primarily by white Europeans. Off-putting in that the book puts forward exceedingly simplistic accounts of voodoo and black culture, particularly the laughable claim that blacks in the 1950s were “just beginning” to throw up geniuses in various fields.
But one doesn’t read for Fleming for subtle cultural and racial analysis; one reads him for entertainment, and in that respect Live and Let Die certainly delivers.
Some things, of course, work better than others. Solitaire is alluring, but she is desperate to throw herself into Bond’s arms from page one, and so, when she finally does at the end of the book, there isn’t a great deal of satisfaction for the reader, and certainly not as much as when Bond and Vesper came together in Casino Royale.
Felix Leiter, however, is much more interesting here, much more alive. One really gets the sense that, despite their cultural differences, Bond and Felix are two very similar men who recognize in each other a kindred spirit. Fleming creates a very believable friendship, and there is much poignancy in Bond’s reaction to the Robber’s attack on Felix.
The rest of the cast–Strangways, Quarrel, Mr. Big’s goons–acquit themselves ably, and the book ends in a truly suspenseful finale. Of the early books, Live and Let Die is one of the very best.
‘Live and Let Die’ reviewed by… marmaduke
If pushed to state my very favourite Fleming (and thus Bond novel) it would have to be Live and Let Die. Why? Great atmosphere created (it gives you a great feel of what life in the USA during the mid 50’s was like in the places described). While reading Live and Let Die I was there in my mind’s eye, experiencing through Fleming’s words all of the excitement and glamour.
‘Live and Let Die’ reviewed by… Double-0-Seven
This was the first Ian Fleming book I read.
I managed to get a bargain on one of the old Pan editions (I believe it’s the 1964 edition although I can’t remember off the top of my head) and began reading it as soon as I got home. I was very excited to finally read one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. Before this I had only read John Gardner’s GoldenEye novelization, as well as Raymond Benson’s novelizations of Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, and Die Another Day.
As soon as I started reading, I was hooked. I was busy with school at the time, so it took me a few days to get through it all, but I enjoyed every page of it. I loved how Ian Fleming described everything in lots of detail, and how I could easily picture everything in my head. Every scene was just as exciting as the last, and it was my favorite Bond book up until I read Live and Let Die a few weeks ago.
I’ll say it gets four out of five stars.
‘Live and Let Die’ reviewed by… 1q2w3e4r
Great book, one of my favs to be honest. Definantly a solid 4 out of 5. The characters are well filled out, though Mr Big proves to be the cut of for Drax in Moonraker really isn’t a bad point in my opinion.
The friendship development with Leiter is a highlight and the relationship with Solitare is interesting and well done. The scenes in Harlem early in the book are interesting. The highlights for me have got to be the duel with the Robber in the warehouse and Bond’s attempt to access The Big Man’s island and the fight with the barracuda.
It would make a great book to film transfer even now. Pity they chopped it up for a handful of movies.
‘Live and Let Die’ reviewed by… Johnboy007
Without a doubt, my favorite, way too many great parts of this book to deny it’s grandness.
‘Live and Let Die’ reviewed by… bond_girl_double07
I just reread Live and Let Die and it’s honestly one of my favorite books of all time, Bond novel or no. Several of the scenes in this book are incredibly exciting (the end sequence, Bond’s night swim, the escape from Mr. Big’s club, and of course Bond’s discovery of the wounded Felix!) and Fleming does a remarkable job if intermixing his beautiful descriptions of New York and the Caribbean with scenes of incredible action. Everything about this novel is so beautifully spaced, and the pacing and narration are absolutely perfect.
‘Live and Let Die’ reviewed by… Bond111
This is one of Fleming’s best without a doubt. It’s nice to see Bond in America, more specifically Harlem during it’s growth period. The action scenes are as exciting as they come. A very well written and fast read.
‘Live and Let Die’ reviewed by… Double-Oh Agent
Ian Fleming picked up where he left off following his debut novel Casino Royale and the result is Live and Let Die. Though not quite as good as the first book, Live and Let Die, nevertheless, is an entertaining and fun read. The novel is full of action as Bond goes up against a large criminal organization led by the mysterious and dangerous Buonaparte Ignace Gallia aka Mr. Big.
On this adventure Fleming sends Bond to New York and he immediately becomes the target of Gallia’s virtual all-Black organization. When Bond comes face to face with Mr. Big, Fleming once again displays a knack for creating eccentric, unique, and disturbing individuals. From Mr. Big’s grotesque appearance featuring a gray-colored, football-shaped head and the voodoo symbolism all around him to Tee-Hee Johnson’s perpetual laughter, it is clear that Bond is in trouble. That point is further driven home in a well-written scene which sees Bond receiving his second dose of torture in as many books. (Hope the man has good insurance.)
While Bond is injured, at least he has a couple of good allies on his side. Simone Latrelle aka Solitaire is a somewhat naive and frightened girl who can also see the future, who nevertheless decides to jump to Bond’s side. It is her escaping Gallia that drives the plot to the Florida coast and on to Jamaica. The other significant ally is the amiable Felix Leiter who is always a joy to behold and never more so than in this book. He and 007 really “bond” in this novel and so it is even more of a shock when the reader learns of the tragedy that befalls Leiter. Driving that point home is the sick message left by Gallia’s man in Florida, The Robber: “He disagreed with something that ate him.” Bond’s confrontation with The Robber in the marine warehouse is tightly written and one can’t help but approve of Bond’s method of revenge. The Robber has only two scenes in the entire book but both carry a lot of weight making them distinctly memorable and him one of Fleming’s better henchmen.
In Jamaica we meet two more of Bond’s allies–John Strangways and Quarrel. Neither play a huge role in the outcome of the story but they are a likable duo who also give Bond valuable information as he prepares to confront Mr. Big.
Bond’s undersea journey to the Caribbean island is very suspenseful and one can’t help but feel uneasy with 007 literally swimming with sharks and barracuda. Fleming really knew his underwater stuff and that is in evidence here. The aforementioned uneasy feeling is topped only by the climax of the story where Bond and Solitaire are about to be keelhauled over a coral reef toward the awaiting oceanic predators on the other side and Bond coldly decides to drown his fellow prisoner before their intended fate is met. The setup is full of suspence in what turns out to be a race against time between the ticking of a timer and the speed of a yacht. Once again the villain’s demise is appropriate and just, although Fleming’s painting of that picture via the descriptions of the sights and sounds of Gallia’s final seconds are a bit unsettling.
The big problem with the book is Fleming’s attempt at imitating Black people’s speech. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work and gets more in the way of storytelling that it does in just telling the story and it makes the people speaking seem less intelligent. Nevertheless, there are many more good points to recommend the novel. The plot is good and the action brisk and fast. The returning characters grow from the first novel, particularly Bond and Leiter and their budding friendship, and one is anxious to see the next chapter in the 007 saga. And for a writer, that is a mission well accomplished.
Rating: 006 out of 007
‘Live and Let Die’ reviewed by… Single-0-Seven
Terrific novel. Highly readable. I remember picking it up years ago when I was in high school, and still just getting into the Fleming craze that has now consumed in head to toe. Anyway, I couldn’t put the book down when I read it. Some of Fleming’s best descriptive travel sequences permeate the text, and the characters are some of the greatest in the canon. The Leiter and Bond friendship really blossoms in this book, and we understand how Bond is easily driven forward in his quest against Mr. Big after what is done to Leiter. An exciting, fast-paced book which has seen a bit of justice done to it over the course of three separate films.
‘Live and Let Die’ reviewed by… MHazard
I like the novel, but three things in particular have always stuck out for me:
- A lot of the racial dialogue/attitudes make me cringe;
- The scene where Bond has his little finger broken. Fleming making a point lost in most of the movies that being Bond is not always fun.
- “He disagreed with something that ate him”
I recently re-read the novel and was also struck by the imagery of the voodoo drums being pounded and then the bodies of the first men Strangways sent returned eaten by sharks.
I was always disappointed in the movie version, but I can’t imagine how they could possibly make a faithful version now without being picketed. But still a fantastic read.
‘Live and Let Die’ reviewed by… 00Twelve
Live and Let Die is my personal favorite of Fleming’s because the pacing, suspense, relationships, locales, and overall plot are so well balanced. I often lament the lack of courage on EON’s part to make THIS movie. I understand, drugs and “pimp”-looking characters were all the rage in ’73, but oh, the missed opportunities.
Live and Let Die is also where Bond & Felix’ relationship really fuses into the friendship they would carry on through the canon. Seeing the torture they went through together, and Bond’s utter horror at Felix’ encounter at Ourobouros, really invites the idea that Bond really does have a good friend that he doesn’t want to lose. It makes him more human. It’s also what makes me a big Felix fan.
5/5 stars. Do not miss.
Keep your eyes on the CBn main page for further reviews of Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 adventures in the upcoming months.