31 December 2010
****, 007, Adventure, Bloody Morgan, Caribbean, CIA, Everglades, FBI, Felix Leiter, Fiction, Gold, Harlem, Ian Fleming, Jamaica, James Bond, Live and Let Die, MI6, Mr. Big, Pirate Treasure, Series, Sharks, Sir Henry Morgan, SMERSH, Smuggling, Solitaire, Spy, Spy Novel, Tropical, Voodoo
Live and Let Die (James Bond Series #2) by Ian Fleming — 9780142003237 — ****
Genre: Spy Novel
Time to Read: 10 days (Over the holiday season)
007 is back in action! In Ian Fleming’s second book in the James Bond Series, the FBI has asked for Bond’s help in uncovering a smuggling operation. Mr. Big, a big-time bad-guy in Harlem with a shipping business and property in Jamaica and ties to voodooism, is suspected of smuggling Sir Henry Morgan’s long-lost loot of gold into the states in an illegal operation. The FBI is hoping to use Bond’s expertise, and his familiarity with Jamaica, to uncover the plot and put an end to Mr. Big’s big-time quest to become known as the first major black crime lord in the United States. Mr. Big’s own people fear him, believing he is the zombie of Baron Samedi, voodoo spirit of death, which allows him to keep them under his thumb. His network of African-Americans in Harlem and all over the USA helps him keep an eye on everything that is going on in his world, including the arrival of James Bond, and his possession of the beautiful and magical Solitaire helps him know when he is being duped. When Solitaire reaches out to Bond for help, he gains his source of information and his motivation to put a stop to Mr. Big once and for all.
Live and Let Die is one of my absolute favorite James Bond movies, and although the book isn’t quite the same, it certainly doesn’t disappoint. In fact, I wish the movie followed it more closely. Mr. Big and Kananga’s opium smuggling is a worthy challenge for Roger Moore as 007 in the movie, but I’m not so sure that it tops, or even compares to, Mr. Big’s pirate gold smuggling. Also, Jane Seymour’s depiction of Solitaire is legendary, but the character in the book is far more likable. She’s smarter, gutsier and more seductive than the movie’s innocent depiction of a very different woman by the same name.
The second book in the James Bond series is certainly more full of excitement than the first. Bond finds himself up against a network of people who all operate under Mr. Big’s direction out of fear of his voodoo ties. He swims with hungry sharks, gets in a shootout in a wear house full of tanks of poisonous tropical fish, and is nearly bested by the big man and his men. There are enough differences between the book and the movie that even a fan of the film will be caught wondering how it will all end, and it’s exciting enough to keep the pages turning without the slower start that its predecessor Casino Royale displays.
One word of caution: This book was published in 1954, and political correctness wasn’t in fashion. As a result, Ian Fleming uses an outdated term to describe the African-American characters throughout the book. It is used descriptively, much like modern writers might refer to a woman as a blonde, and isn’t intended to be demeaning, but some may find it objectionable. Beyond that, the material is safe for an audience looking for a fun adventure with a little bit of “naughty” teasing on behalf of the sensual female love interest. I highly recommend it to fans of any of the Bond movies, and to lovers of action, adventure, and spy themed novels.
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20 December 2010
****, 007, Adventure, Baccarat, Cards, Casino Royale, Felix Leiter, Fiction, Gambling, Ian Fleming, James Bond, Le Chiffre, MI6, Series, SMERSH, Spy Novel, Vesper Lynd
Casino Royale (James Bond Series #1) by Ian Fleming — 9780142002025 — ****
Genre: Spy Novel
Time to Read: 4 Days
Meet James Bond, British secret agent with a double-O license to kill. In his debut novel, James is facing a man know as Le Chiffre. Monsieur Le Chiffre, the treasurer of a Soviet-backed trade union in France, is in a bit of trouble. After losing money that wasn’t his on poorly timed investments in brothels that were then shut down by new laws, he needs to repay SMERSH (An organization that is out to kill non-Russian spies) before they come to collect. His solution: Call a Baccarat game at the casino in Royale-les-Eaux, France and try to win back the money at the table. James has been tasked with going up against Le Chiffre and bankrupting him so he will fall further out of favor with SMERSH and be wiped out by his own organization. With help from René Mathis of France, the CIA’s Felix Leiter and MI6′s own beautiful agent Vesper Lynd, James is ready to face Le Chiffre at the table, but can 007 beat him at his own game?
I have been a fan of the Bond films for years and, despite the fact that the books are almost always a million times better than the movies based on them, this is my first time reading a Bond novel. Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale doesn’t disappoint. The first installment of the James Bond series is full of adventure and intrigue. Bond’s first challenge in the series doesn’t sound all that exciting upon first inspection. He’s playing a card game and hoping to bankrupt a failed entrepreneur into oblivion. Then again, France and America both have people in on the job, and MI6 is willing to risk 20,000 pounds (a fair sum in the late 1940s, early 1950s), so Le Chiffre must be a pretty worthy opponent, even if they’re just playing at an all night card game. In fact, when Le Chiffre’s henchmen get involved, James’s female counterpart gets herself in trouble, and 007 finds himself in the hands of Le Chiffre, himself, things get downright exciting. Despite its length (not quite 200 pages), this little book is packed with enough action that I feel justified in calling it a novel, even though it is probably only considered a novella.
There are only a few small drawbacks to this book. First, Ian Flemming goes into careful detail when writing the reports M reads in the second chapter of the book, to the point where things can get a little confusing with all the code numbers and acronyms that he explains after the fact. Second: There is a fair amount of French interspersed in the dialogue in some scenes that isn’t necessarily translated 100% of the time (if you know basic French, this won’t be a problem, and if you don’t you’ll understand enough from the context that you won’t have to stop and find a translator, but I can imagine some might find it a little flustering). Finally: Le Chiffre causes horrible damage to a very nice car during a chase. I found that scene quite distressing.
I should also mention that, although Ian Fleming’s Bond movies give the impression that the books are full of naked women and raunchy sex scenes, this novel was published in 1953. I’m sure that it was quite racy for its day, but today it would be considered mild at worst. There are some references to sex, but nothing I would imagine that the parents of a middle teen would cringe at. Just simple statements and a little smooching. I would feel comfortable recommending this title to a 15-year-old boy without fear of parental anger after the fact.
I can’t let this review go by without making some comparisons to the 2006 movie by the same title. This is probably the first novel I’ve come across that has been made into a movie that has taken nothing from the story, actually adding things in to increase the length of the film. Unlike most books-turned-movies, I still like the movie after reading it. In fact, reading the book made me want to watch the film again just to confirm the fact that nothing was taken out (I still haven’t found the time to do so, but I’m confident enough to state this as a fact, anyway). A fan of the Bond films will find this one a great introduction to the book series, and I highly recommend that viewers take the leap and join me in becoming readers, as well.
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