Thoughts on Ian Fleming’s Moonraker (1955)

“Peace In Our Time -This Time”

The third novel in Ian Fleming’s original James Bond series, Moonraker, offers a unique story –one that shares very little in common with the silly 1979 Eon film of the same name. Whereas other 007 adventures take us across the world to various exotic locales, Moonraker remains grounded entirely in England. This wonderful tale is a drastic step up from the previous outing Live and Let Die. In it, we return to the thrill of high-stakes card games a la Casino Royale, and from there an investigation leads to the cliffs of Dover, a high-speed chase in London, and finally an experimental rocket launch.

One of my favorite parts of this book occurs at the beginning, as Ian Fleming paints a colorful portrait of daily life inside the Secret Service. James Bond, freshly sunburned from a recent vacation down south somewhere near the equator, is completing target practice before he takes a lift to the eighth floor of MI6 where he is greeted by his motherly secretary Loelia “Li” Ponsonby (she hates to be called “Lil” by Bond). We learn that Bond is one of only three active assassins currently working inside the 00 program –the other two being 008 (“Bill”), who recently escaped from Peenemunde and is now resting in Berlin, and the other is 0011 who disappeared without a trace two months ago in the “dirty half-mile in Singapore.” We also learn that Bond typically has only 2-3 assignments per year, the rest of the time is spent like a civil servant in a desk job at headquarters. Personally, his hobbies include: evenings spent playing cards, making love to married women, and playing golf. He rarely takes holidays and earns approximately 1,500 pounds per year while living in a small, comfortable flat at King’s Road. I thought these details of the true Bond were helpful to round out this somewhat elusive character.

At any rate, Bond is summoned to M’s office on the ninth floor –Ian Fleming describes a large green baize door and inside is a pipe-smoking M and we also meet his flirtatious personal secretary Moneypenny. M makes an interesting reference to the events of Live and Let Die in which he mentions that the UK will likely retrieve the missing gold after all, despite some ongoing deliberations in the Hague. The conversation quickly turns to quiet suspicions that M has one Sir Hugo Drax, a popular millionaire magnate in the British metal industry. Sir Hugo Drax is always in the papers, and even Bond regards Drax as “a national hero.” He is a man of the people who bears scars from the war after being injured in a German “werewolf” guerilla explosion behind enemy lines wherein half his face was blown away causing amnesia for over a year. Since he could not remember his identity, he just assumed the name of Hugo Drax, an orphan from the Liverpool docks. Drax has since risen to become a multi-millionaire as a successful ore magnate of a material known as Columbite, necessary ingredient in jet engines. Drax quickly cornered the Columbite market via his company, Drax Metals, which has become a global conglomerate by buying up uranium mines in South Africa and selling military products to the Americans. Presently, Drax is a member of a high-class London gentleman’s club, Blades, where he plays cards but still cannot fully recall his true identity. He has begun to live a lavish lifestyle and has recently gifted his entire holding of Columbite to Britain as a national gift in order to build a “super atomic rocket with a range that would cover nearly every capital in Europe -the immediate answer to anyone who tried to atom bomb London” (18). Naturally, the queen graciously accepted Drax’s gift and has bestowed a knighthood upon him. Now, Drax’s rocket is nearly ready for a test launch –The Moonraker.

Anyway, M frequently plays cards with Drax but he has begun to grow suspicious after he realizes Drax has been cheating. In hoping to avoid any attention from the press, and since Bond is the best card player in the business, M asks Bond to join him at Blades for the evening to investigate Drax’s cheating. Naturally, after an intense exchange involving Bond ingesting copious amounts of Benzedrine and champagne, he defeats Drax in a high stakes card game. Drax, an arrogant contemptible redhead, scoffs: “Spend it quickly, Commander Bond,” he snidely remarks, and the tense exchange leads Bond to psychoanalyze this strange titan of industry:

“Why should Drax, a millionaire, a public hero, a man with a unique position in the country, why should this remarkable man cheat at cards? What could he achieve by it? What could he prove to himself? Did he think that he was so much a law unto himself, so far above the common herd and their puny canons of behavior that he could spit in the face of public opinion?” (77).

Bond considers spending his new windfall on a Rolls-Bentley convertible, some diamond clips, and a few other things like a new coat of paint for his flat and so on while investing the rest in gold so he can retire –but he is quickly summoned back to M’s office where he learns that two men from the Moonraker plant have been killed at a nearby public house. Both men were German experts at the R.A.F. installation located along the southern coast, a facility totaling about 1,000 acres in Kent along the cliffs between Dover and Deal. Since the entire novel takes place over only a few days, Drax intends to conduct a test launch of the Moonraker on Friday in four days-time.

Following the suspicious murder-suicide, Bond is sent out to investigate the situation on the remote coast of Dover. M reminds him that there are apparently fifty or so Russians working on the project, and it would be a colossal victory for the Soviets to sabotage the Moonraker on the eve of its test run. When he arrives, Bond meets with Drax, and his sadistic henchman named Krebs, as well as a leading rocket scientist Gala Brand (secretly a double agent). Bond is given a tour, and he notices many of Drax’s employees are men with shaved heads and thick, bushy moustaches. Gala and Bond sneak away in the morning but they are nearly killed in a cliff-fall (it appears to be a sabotage attempt).

The story then leads to London where Gala manages to sneak Drax’s notebook from his pocket which outlines an alternative route for the Moonraker, one not previously notated anywhere –according to these new coordinates, the rocket will fire upon London! “On each page, under the date, the neat columns of figures, the atmospheric pressure, the wind velocity, the temperature…” (171). However, before she can report the crisis to MI6, she secretly returns the notebook to Drax’s pocket, but Krebs catches her in the act thereby revealing that Gala is actually a spy. She is then dragged away and tortured in a radio homing station in London.

Meanwhile, Drax Metals has begun selling large holdings of sterling, which sends the pound fluctuating wildly. Bond is then sent again to investigate the disappearance of Gala, but following a wild car chase around London, Bond is captured and tied up with Gala. They are taken back to the location of the Moonraker which appears to Bond as “a giant hypodermic needle ready to be plunged unto the heart of England” (200). As it turns out, Drax is German, his real name is Graf Hugo von der Drache. He was educated in England until the age of twelve, and then went to work in family’s German steel business which produced shells for the war, before joining the Nazi German army during WWII in the 104th Panzer Regiment and then was finally transferred to intelligence. He claims Hitler was betrayed by his generals as the English and Americans were allowed to land in France –he is filled with resentment and anger. Drax was then sent behind enemy lines into the Ardennes in 1944 along with Krebs, a skilled executioner, as they were both part of the secret “werewolf” German assassin troupe. While behind enemy lines, Drax was accidentally injured and, still undercover, was mistaken for a British soldier named Hugo Drax so he simply accepted the identity and returned to England. First, he robbed and killed a Jewish moneylender, and then began to build his Columbite empire around the world. He built an elaborate supply chain which extended far behind the reach of the Iron Curtain with products traveling via submarine to the cliffs of Dover in order to create a volatile nuclear warhead within the Moonraker rocket. All the bald men with moustaches that Bond spotted were merely disguises to hide their true identities.

As with all megalomaniacal villains, Drax is eager to explicate his diabolical plot before leaving Bond and Gala to die alone. He abandons them to be destroyed the following day when the rocket is set to strike London. However, Bond works quickly to use Krebs’s nearby blow torch to free one of Gala’s hands, allowing both of them to escape. They silently sneak through the base so Gala can inform Bond on how to redirect the coordinates of the Moonraker so that it falls into the sea instead of the center of London. Before the rocket launches, Drax addresses the British people in an oddly ominous, yet triumphant speech, but he then escapes into a Soviet submarine to flee to freedom, however it, thanks to Bond, it is unexpectedly struck by the Moonraker when it launches according to the new coordinates. The blast has apparently killed everyone on board –including Drax and Krebs—as well as a couple hundred other people along the southern coast of the British shoreline unfortunately.

Back in London, #10 Downing attempts to twist the story so that Drax is portrayed as a noble patriot who sacrificed for his country in order to preserve some sense of national unity. Meanwhile, Bond reflects on what might have happened to London had the rocket actually hit its originally intended target:

“How nearly it had come, thought Bond, to being stilled. How nearly there might be nothing now but the distant clang of the ambulance bells beneath a lurid black and orange sky, the stench of burning, the screams of people still trapped in the buildings. The softly beating heart of London silenced for a generation” (239).  

In the end, 008 is headed back to MI6 while Bond and Gala are instructed to immediately flee the country until the Drax scandal finally blows over. While Bond looks forward to his time alone with Gala, she has a confession. She solemnly explains to Bond that she is actually engaged to another investigator in the agency. Sadly, they must part ways. Bond says he pursues “no false sentiment. He must play the role which she expected of him. The tough man of the world. The Secret Agent. The man who was only a silhouette” (244). Moonraker concludes on a touchingly poignant note as Bond is once again alone in the world.

Moonraker is often highly regarded among fans as one of Ian Fleming’s best, and ironically it could not be more different from the amusing 1979 Roger Moore film of the same name. In fact, the plot of the book and film have almost nothing in common, aside from the villain’s name (Hugo Drax), the presence of the Moonraker rocket, and a particular moment wherein M makes an offhand acknowledgement that he plays cards with Drax. Otherwise, in the film Drax is not a secret Nazi, but rather he launches a new human civilization in space based on his own theories of eugenics. In my view, Ian Fleming’s novel greatly overshadows the film. Apparently, Fleming conducted significant research in preparation for the novel –particularly on the German “Werewolf” resistance forces and the V2 rockets.

Moonraker is a patriotic novel –an homage to England– which expresses deep skepticism toward the Ayn Randian mega-millionaire magnate class. The “otherness” of Hugo Drax, aside from him being secretly a Nazi, is highlighted in his physical features. He is a large, lurching man with fiery red hair and bad teeth, as well as a horribly scarred face. A war wound garnered in the service of England is honorable, but his injury sustained in the service of Germany is shameful. Drax manages to navigate his way through these cultural biases without failure. His rocket is the symbol of his ultimate revenge on behalf of the German people. Moonraker is a cautionary tale about what happens when the public trust is placed too strongly in the hands of one man.

Fleming, Ian. Casino Royale. Thomas & Mercer in Las Vegas, NV c/o Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. 1955 (republished in 2012). Paperback edition.

Click here to read my review of the film Moonraker (1979).

Thoughts On Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die (1954)

“Those who deserve to die, die the death they deserve.”

The second novel in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series takes us on an unusual adventure to the United States and Jamaica where Mr. Bond tracks a criminal named “Mr. Big,” a fearsome crime lord with ties to an underground voodoo cult and links to the notorious Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH (short for Smyert Spionam or “Death to Spies”). Live and Let Die amusingly concerns Mr. Big’s scheme to smuggle 17th century pirate gold (Henry Morgan’s treasure) from Jamaica to the United States in order to finance his illicit operations. James Bond is sent to investigate.

Who is Mr. Big? He is a 45 year old black Frenchman involved in a strange voodoo death cult, his true name is actually Buonaparte Ignace Gallia and he is a known agent of SMERSH. The SMERSH connection piques Bond’s interest, recalling his brutal scene of torture in Casino Royale. By this point, MI6 has managed to heal most of Bond’s hand which was shockingly branded with a Russian spy insignia in Casino Royale. Now in Live and Let Die, Bond assumes an American cover –he is a New Englander from Boston on holiday and he sports a military haircut (he is also put through a brief “Americanization” course which advises him to change many of his British mannerisms and vocabulary).

CIA agent Felix Leiter returns in this story, as well. Together, he and Bond investigate Mr. Big’s clubs in Harlem where they meet an unusual girl named Solitaire, but they are quickly captured by Mr. Big’s henchmen. Bond and Leiter are tortured and then curiously released (I thought this was a rather convenient plot-hole –why do the villains never kill their known enemies?) Bond’s pinky finger is broken after Mr. Big’s supposedly oracular beau, Solitaire, claims Bond is telling the truth (she is so-named because she apparently gave up on men in her native Haiti). She is described as one of the most beautiful women Bond has ever seen, and we learn that she is being kept as a voodoo prophet by Mr. Big, exploited for her supposed psychic abilities. She flashes playing cards at Bond to indicate her disloyalty to Mr. Big, and this is all it takes for Bond. can she be trusted? The introduction of Solitaire as a seer in the eyes of Mr. Big is the first moment in the novel where we are introduced to its eerie supernatural voodoo cult sub-theme.

Upon his exit, Bond kills several of Mr. Big’s henchmen while escaping. Before skipping town Solitaire connects with Bond and they meet under an alias aboard a train from New York to Florida (Ian Fleming once took this exact train ride in 1943 while en route to Jamaica), however Mr. Big’s henchmen are watching everything. There is an accident in their train car but only after Bond and Solitaire have left. Bond meets up with Felix Leiter in St. Petersburg, Florida to investigate a large warehouse filled with Mr. Big’s tropical fish while Solitaire waits in the hotel, but they are turned away by a suspicious security guard. When they return, Solitaire has been kidnapped and shortly thereafter Felix Leiter decides to return to the warehouse alone where he is promptly captured, tortured, and dropped into a shark tank (he loses an arm and a leg). Bond is now alone on this mission, following the trial of mr. big’s right hand man known as “The Robber” (Bond kills him in a fight that only ends with The Robber falling into a shark cage).

It’s no secret that a key subtext in James Bond is a not-so-subtle critique of Americans, and this holds true in Live and Let Die. The Americans are apparently incapable of handling a criminal who is smuggling pirate gold onto their own soil! Indeed Ian Fleming originally intended to kill off Felix Leiter at this point he but was persuaded against it by his publisher and so Bond’s Texan CIA compatriot remains alive (albeit barely).

Bond flies from Tampa to Jamaica and we are given the backstory of Henry Morgan’s hidden treasure which was always rumored to be on the Isle of Surprise until a young fisherman suddenly disappeared one day and then a New York syndicate (later revealed to be wholly owned by Mr. Big) purchased the island for a thousand pounds. Strange activities like violent shark and barracuda attacks have since surrounded the island, meanwhile there have no less than twenty visits by a yacht called the Secatur (owned by Mr. Big), and also many people on the mainland start to hear the sound of loud beating of voodoo drums.

Bond’s Secret Service liaison in Jamaica, Strangways, connects Bond to his factotum, a local man named Quarrel who is described as the “best swimmer and fisherman in the Caribbean” (I recall this character from the first Bond film, Dr. No). He is a Cayman islander with a deep knowledge of the region and culture.

As the novel concludes, Bond makes a risky scuba diving venture through shark-infested waters in order to plant an explosive on Mr. Big’s yacht (Bond also spots a secret cave where the treasure is likely hidden), but after doing so Bond quickly gets into a silly tussle with an octopus which gets him caught by Mr. Big’s men. Bond and Solitaire are then tied to a line which is dragged off the back of his yacht until the explosion suddenly strikes, killing most of Mr. Big’s henchmen. Those that survive meet a remarkably grisly demise as sharks and barracuda feast on their flesh –we are given a particularly bloody account of Mr. Big’s bloody end. Bond and Solitaire are then rescued by Quarrel and Bond recovers in a hospital.

“Never before in his life had there been so much to play for. The secret of the treasure, the defeat of a great criminal, the smashing of a Communist spy ring, and the destruction of a tentacle of SMERSH, the cruel machine that was his own private target” (177-178).

Live and Let Die is a change of pace from Bond’s classier debut in Casino Royale. From odd beliefs in zombies and voodoo cults, to uncomfortable racial tropes and a slightly warmer, more romantic Bond even though the ghost of Vesper Lynd is entirely absent in the novel (“when the time comes I want to be alone with you, with all the time in the world”), Live and Let Die is a sophomoric effort in my view. Strangely enough, I greatly enjoyed the moments of background exposition, especially the classified information provided by the CIA or MI6, and as in Casino Royale I appreciated the latent paranoia underlying Bond’s coded phone call to MI6 following Felix Leiter’s injury. These moments stand out as Cold war literature at its finest.

I liked the exotic locale of Jamaica in this novel. There are lots of interesting allusions to the age of exploration, from Christopher Columbus to Henry Morgan: “Here, because of the huge coastal swamps, nothing has happened since Columbus used Manatee Bay as a casual anchorage. Jamaican fishermen have taken the place of the Arawak Indians, but otherwise there is the impression that time has stood still” (172). Apparently, Bond knows Jamaica well, he visited the island once on an extended assignment after the war when the communists tried to infiltrate the Jamaican labor unions. I imagine Ian Fleming deeply enjoyed writing these scenes while sitting on the veranda of his tropical Goldeneye estate in Jamaica.

There are several differences between the book and the 1973 movie –the pirate gold is replaced in the movie with an underground heroin ring, and an additional character called Dr. Kananga is featured in the film as a front for Mr. Big. I would submit that both the movie and the book, though considerably different, are both mediocre outings for Mr. Bond and thus not essential reading/viewing for the casual James Bond fan.

Fleming, Ian. Live and Let Die. Thomas & Mercer in Las Vegas, NV c/o Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. 1954 (republished in 2012). Paperback edition.

Click here to read my review of the film Live and Let Die.

Never Say Never Again (1983) Review

Never Say Never Again (1983) Director: Irvin Kershner

Rating: 2 out of 5.

After George Lazenby declined to return to the role of James Bond following his performance in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Sean Connery returned in Diamonds Are Forever but he proudly stated “never again” would he reprise his signature performance as James Bond. And so the role was given to Roger Moore who appeared in a string of James Bond films throughout the 1970s. However, a lengthy legal battle was in the works ever since Ian Fleming’s publication of Thunderball, Warner Bros was set to release a non-official loose adaptation of Thunderball at the same time as EON/Roger Moore’s Octopussy. However, Warner Bros still had another trick up their sleeves when they managed to acquire Sean Connery for the knock-off after a string of cinematic flops in his own career and so the amusing title was selected Never Say Never Again. Both Bond films were naturally in competition with one another at the box office, and in the end both were successful but Octopussy won the day. Never Say Never Again featured a remarkable cast of Sean Connery, Rowan Atkinson, Kim Basinger, and others while it was directed by The Empire Strikes Back director Irvin Kershner.

Sometimes these old 007 films are just so bad they are fun. The plot is a strange reformulation for the plot of Thunderball with Sean Connery now 52 (though still younger than Roger Moore). Connery clearly lost some weight for the film but he plays the role with a certain degree of ironic detachment and there is almost nothing at stake in the film. The theme song by Michelle Legrand for this film is bizarre and just downright terrible. It concerns the disappearance of two nuclear warheads by SPECTRE under the leadership of Blofeld (before he is amusingly and theoretically killed off by EON in the next canonical Bond film, For Your Eyes Only). As in Thunderball the main nemesis of Bond is Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer) even though he is not an interesting villain like the eyepatch-donning Largo from Thunderball. Everything about this strange adaptation is inferior to the original Thunderball. There is an oddball slapstick car chase wherein a woman tosses a snake onto a man’s lap, Bond battles Largo over a mostly boring video game (very much a product of the 1980s) which causes physical pain, and Bond even rides a horse over a cliff at the close. In the end, Bond saves the day by defusing a bomb underwater even though most of the plot makes little sense and takes us to exotic locales for no particular reason. While perhaps not as bad as Diamonds Are Forever, this is still another cringe-inducing installment (thankfully it is not an official James Bond film).

Thoughts on Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (1953)

Ian Fleming’s inaugural James Bond novel (Casino Royale, 1953) beautifully introduces us to the fictional town of Royale-les-Eaux located near the mouth of Somme along the French coast, where a lavish Casino sits. It is a vast opulent, victorian baroque edifice which has been tenderly restored to its former glory from the Belle Epoch. There we meet a portly Soviet operative who goes by the name Le Chiffre (among other aliases like “the Number” “Herr Nummer” “Herr Ziffer” etc). He has a peculiar licentious taste for all things masochistic and depraved –his chief weakness is women and ceaselessly sucks on an inhaler. Presently, he is on the brink of a financial crisis after poorly investing certain monies granted to him by his communist-controlled trade union –funds which he has carelessly dumped into a string of French brothels, all of which went bankrupt immediately following new moralistic legislation passed in France —“fate rebuked him with terrifying swiftness” (9). In total, Le Chiffre lost about 50 million francs in the failed investment, though the fearsome Soviet agency SMERSH has apparently not yet caught onto his misdeed. Had Le Chiffre perceived that SMERSH was on his tail he would surely commit suicide, therefore he has turned to gambling in the hopes of regaining his lost investment to preserve his station. However, Le Chiffre is is connected to a potential sleeper cell of communists called the “fifth column” (or Leningrad Section III controlled by the USSR) which, if activated, could claim large swaths of Northern France in a hot war.

Pausing for a moment, I offer a brief note about SMERSH. What is it? SMERSH is a conjunction of two Russian words meaning roughly “death to spies” (in the Bond movies of course the name was changed to SPECTRE). “It’s task is the elimination of all forms of treachery and back-sliding within the various branches of the Soviet Secret Service and Secret Police at home and abroad. It is the most powerful and feared organization in the USSR and is popularly believed never to have failed in a mission of vengeance” (15). SMERSH is rumored to have murdered Trotsky in Mexico and during Hitler’s attack on Russia in World War II, SMERSH struck again seeking out double agents during the Soviet retreat in 1941. As of the time period in the novel, Western intelligence believes SMERSH has only a few high quality agents to hunt down traitors. We are told MI6 once captured an agent of SMERSH in 1948 but the agent quickly consumed a cyanide pill disguised as a button on his coat and with his suicide went any hope of discovering more information about the agency.

At any rate, this is the setting in which we find ourselves in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (a far cry from the many globe-trotting ventures found in the 2006 film). The novel is far more simple and concise which is a welcome change of pace in my view. The opening chapters introduce us to MI6’s chain-smoking British agent James Bond who is sent on assignment to hopefully bankrupt and demoralize Le Chiffre at the baccarat tables in France. Who is James Bond? He is a hard-drinking, cold-blooded assassin. Bond says he previously killed two people in the line of duty –the first was a Japanese cipher expert cracking codes from Rockefeller Center in New York (Bond and a fellow agent sniped the cipher from a nearby rooftop), and the other kill Bond completed was a Norwegian in Stockholm who was doubling for the Germans (Bond chose to kill him slowly with a knife while inside his flat, and, disturbingly, the man did not die very quickly). For these kills Bond was awarded a “Double O” agent status, a title which means “you’ve had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of some job” (131). For the present mission in France, Bond is joined by agents from France (René Mathis of the Deuxième Bureau), the United States (Felix Leiter of the CIA), and a beautiful young woman sent from MI6 named Vesper Lynd. I was delighted to read the carefully crafted intelligence reports which were no doubt meticulously devised by Ian Fleming in the opening chapters, offering us the sense that we are truly on the ground in this paranoid Cold War tale of espionage and intrigue. Is the story a bit far-fetched? Yes indeed, it is extremely unlikely that British, American, and French secret service operations would all invest so much time, money, and manpower into merely bankrupting a Soviet agent by gambling in a casino. Nevertheless, Casino Royale is not as ridiculous as some of the latter day Bond stories –it forces us to believe this little narrative in quite a captivating way.

As in the film, Bond battles Le Chiffre in baccarat but he tragically loses all the funds granted him by the British government, so Bond is then bailed out by the Americans (in particular through Marshall Aid provided by Felix Leiter even though Mr. Leiter does not actually play at the table in the book as he does in the film). With a new infusion of cash, Bond defeats Le Chiffre in a high stakes, sweat-inducing bet –narrowly dodging an assassination attempt– but his MI6 counterpart Vesper Lynd is soon captured which leads Bond on a wild car chase ultimately ending in his tires being blown out by spikes (in the film he swerves off the road when he sees Vesper bound and gagged in the middle of the road). Suddenly, Bond is now captured by Le Chiffre’s crew and he is hideously tortured by Le Chiffre who viciously brutalizes Bond’s most sensitive organ, he whips Bond’s testicles while he is strapped nude to a seatless chair (in the book the location of Bond’s infamous torture overlooks ocean in a coastal French villa, but in the film Bond is tortured in an underground sewer of sorts). Despite the excruciating pain, Bond does not reveal the location of his money. After about an hour Bond is surprisingly rescued by an unknown masked assailant from SMERSH who claims his orders are to only murder Le Chiffre and his henchmen, so he leaves a barely conscious Bond alive –thus our protagonist is saved somewhat by accident (in the film, he is rescued by the rival criminal named Mr. White). However, before the assailant departs he carves the shape of a Cyrillic “M” into Bond’s outer hand to identify Bond as a spy. Bond spends the rest of the story recovering from his brutal injuries in a French hospital (even bitterly contemplating retiring from MI6 because he now sees it all merely as a game of “Red Indians” as Le Chiffre once said). When he recovers, Bond travels away with Vesper as they fall in love. However in an epilogue of sorts, Vesper is found dead one morning with a suicide note addressed to Bond revealing that she was actually a double agent all along working for the Russians against Bond (in the film, she somewhat deliberately drowns herself while entrapped in an elevator in Venice). She had a lover in Poland but she quickly fell in love with Bond and noticed she was being tracked by SMERSH. She knew she had to end her life. However both the film and book end with Bond merely pausing and coldly contacting M, his boss at MI6, to report that “…the bitch is dead” (178). It is a chilling conclusion and a terrific start to the James Bond saga. There are other distinctions between the book and the film –such as Le Chiffre being a Soviet communist in the book but a global terrorist in the movie, or René Mathis being a friend in the book versus a suspected traitor in the film– but all in all I found the book to be captivating as well as shocking, an essential piece of Cold War literature. Even in the pre-Jason Bourne era, James Bond was not an invincible hero with limitless confidence in himself while staring down absurd villains. His obstacles are more believable and concise in Casino Royale. I was careful to note his ambivalence about his own employment, something we rarely see in the pre-Daniel Craig James Bond films: “Be faithful, spy well, or you die. Inevitably and without question, you will be hunted down and killed” (178).

Fleming, Ian. Casino Royale. Thomas & Mercer in Las Vegas, NV c/o Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. 1953 (republished in 2012). Paperback edition.

Click here to read my review of the film Casino Royale (2006).