72 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2005
After "Casino Royale" (1953) introduced James Bond to the world, Ian Fleming quickly followed up with his second novel, the vastly superior "Live and Let Die" (1954). Whereas its predecessor is an apprentice work and one of the weakest of the whole series, "Live and Let Die" is fine Fleming, with all the characteristics that mark the best Bond novels: quick pacing, deft characterization, a solid plot, and Fleming's own inimitable style.
The plot is straightforward: someone is smuggling gold coins into the US and the British Secret Service wants to find out who. M sends Bond to America, where he hooks up Felix Leiter to pursue the nefarious Mr. Big, a gigantic Haitian who works for SMERSH and uses voodoo to maintain his control over his minions. Bond, of course, succeeds, but only after much death, suspense, and sexual tension with Solitaire, his delicious female companion.
I would rank "Live and Let Die" in the second-tier of Bond novels, along with "From Russia, With Love" and "Moonraker." It doesn't quite reach the level of such absolute masterpieces as "Doctor No," "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," or "You Only Live Twice," but it's certainly superior to such relatively weak entries as "Goldfinger," "Casino Royale," and the disastrous "The Man with the Golden Gun." All in all, a classic Bond thriller.
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on May 8, 2005
This was the second Bond novel overall, but the first to feature the blueprint for the Bond novels and films to come. Unlike the superb "Casino Royale" which was almost exclusively kept to one location, LALD is a globe trotting epic dragging Bond from NYC to the Caribbean and incorporating nerve shattering adventures in planes, trains and even finishes up as a sea faring thriller. Amongst all of this, somehow Fleming finds time to establish a number of classic 007 motifs - the decadent hotels, iconic villain, sidekick villians, mastermind death plots, development of Felix Leiter's friendship with Bond, the briefing from M. To cap it off, Q branch also rates it's first ever mention, and the beginnings of the novel's gadgetry fixations begin here. LALD is most notable as being the first of it's form and it must have hit readers powerfully with it's freshness on first release. This was 007 as we now know him - brave, resourceful, invincible - master of any skill or body of knowledge. For me, and most Bond readers, familiar with the genre, it's a good read, not a great one, because it skimps on Bond's psychology which ultimately gives a level of excitement and depth that the movies can't equal (although they certainly have different advantages over the books). You need look no further than "Casino Royale" for the thrill of getting inside James Bond's mind and for enjoying his enigmatic and self centred ethics. This read is much more straight forward and dare I say it, predictable good fun. It deserves it's accolades because it was there first.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2003
Ian Fleming readers will know what they are getting, and fans of the movie may not. This is the second Bond outing in novel form, the first being CASINO ROYALE. But like the movies, it's unnecessary to see or read them in order. There are a few references to the first novel, mostly vague "from the Royale incident" statements, but nothing major.
Bond is darker, less suave than the movie version, and it comes out in this dark novel. It's actually has more to do with the movie For your eyes Only than LIVE AND LET DIE. There's an ocean motif in this one, lots of sharks and underwater perils.
Vivid and exciting. good stuff
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 1998
Fleming's second James Bond novel, Live and Let Die is a solid thriller although it certainly has room for improvement. And Fleming would improve and polish Bond's adventure very very well as time went on. Here, his prose is more terse, often feeling less descriptive than it would in later novels, but still very smooth. There is some really solid action and Bond is also given a very believable reason to go after Mr. Big, the villain (what else could he be with that name?) Felix Leiter, Bond's CIA chum, is mauled by sharks. (This part of the story was not in the film Live and Let Die but was rather used in the later film Licence to Kill.) Bond also forms a solid romance with the mysterious Solitaire and in the end...well, give it a read. A lot of fun for sure and very smooth.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle Edition
The 2012 release of "Skyfall," the latest in the Bond film series now fifty years old, brought me back again to the Ian Fleming novels, just as had "Casino Royale," which had signaled the reboot of the movie franchise in 2006. That movie was an unusually faithful adaptation of the first of Ian Fleming's 007 books, of the same title. Fleming's sophomore outing, "Live and Let Die" (LALD) was published almost exactly a year after the debut novel, in April of 1954. In story and character development, LALD is a marginal improvement over its predecessor, which I had found wanting in character depth and, even given the time period in which it was written, in its treatment of women. Even though I thought there was some merit to "Casino Royale," and that this story, too, works fairly well, all in all, I'd recommend it more as an archeological artifact of the Bond legend than as a novel in its own right.
In LALD Fleming remains true to the prospectus for his Bond novels that he presented near the end of "Casino Royale." In my review of that book, I noted that Fleming "does not focus on actual spying, but on the threat that causes it. `The business of espionage could be left to the white-collar boys. They could spy and catch the spies. He would go after the threat behind the spies, the threat that made them spy.' Fleming's Bond is not Le Carre's Smiley: Bond, his apparent intellect notwithstanding, is out to eliminate the threat, not the spying."
And so, in LALD, Bond finds himself in New York City investigating a Harlem-based crime figure and apparent tool of the fictionalized Soviet counterintelligence organ, SMERSH. (That fact is pretty much all you'll read of SMERSH in this novel.) "Mr. Big" is a monstrously huge and cruel man who impassively directs a massive gold-smuggling operation involving pirate treasure. Each smuggling operation is said to net about $150 thousand dollars (p. 148). This underwhelming figure to today's ears calls to the mind of the "Austin Powers" fan Dr. Evil's time-warped demand for "one million dollars!" The story also features shark attacks, a common but also comical trope of the 007 movies (in which the Bad Guy sets up a Rube Goldberg-style death machine and then walks away, giving Bond time to figure his way out of it); not so with Fleming, who, true to the sadistic tendencies of "Casino Royale," employs it as a tool of torture and death. To summarize: no evil plan to take over the world; a plot involving, of all things, pirate treasure; for sums that'll make the early 21st century reader smirk; and deadly shark attacks. There's also plenty of drinking (mostly bourbon), smoking (three packs a day), and thinking (abstractly) about sex.
To an extent not really seen in "Casino Royale," Bond shows some tenderness and some definitively non-Chuck Norrissian weakness. A couple of times he actually prays for a way out; he's a believer in the way that a student who hasn't studied for a test is a believer. At one point, Bond even sheds some tears in relief! Most strikingly, Bond develops apparent affection for a woman being held captive by Mr. Big; she is a seer with a face described as like that "of the daughter of a French Colonial slave-owner," beautiful and revealing an "iron will" (p. 60). Solitaire, as she's called, seduces Bond with her eyes, and uses him (something of a reversal) as a means of escaping Mr. Big. Later in the book, Bond, in an unusual moment of dim-wittedness, allows her to be recaptured by Mr. Big's men, and he shows genuine, non-conflicted feelings of remorse and of missing her. No worries. For feelings like that, Bond knows that's what "Old Grandad" Bourbon is for.
I have some major misgivings about LALD, and these can only be partially excused by the period in which the book was written. Despite the misty-eyed nostalgia some today hold of the 1950s, it was not exactly an enlightened period, especially if you were (1) an African American and (2) a woman. Apart from the several instances of the "N" word, black men in this novel are routinely depicted in unfavorable terms: in a crowded restaurant, they are as "black olives in a jar," with an odor "sweet" and "feral" (p. 51). In another instance, African-Americans are referred to as "clumsy black apes" (p. 63). Moreiover, Fleming embarrassingly attempts to capture African-American urban dialects of the 1950s. The relationship between Mr. Big and Solitaire plays on white men's fears of miscegenation; as Mr. Big tells Bond, "it will be interesting to see our children" (p. 65). It seems to be Mr. Bond's mission to save that white plantation woman from the ravages of the beastly black man. Solitaire fairs somewhat better, but despite the description of her as a steel maiden, she ends up being a tinsel floosy. When she's been beaten but saved, and a doctor calls on her, she is "chiefly concerned about getting some clothes and the right shade of lipstick" (p. 229). Not that it matters, really, but Fleming isn't intending to be horribly racist and sexist it's just that on matters of race and sex he's a benighted English colonial playboy. Two novels in and one concludes he's a cad.
LALD's plot is entertaining enough. Compared to the novels of a contemporary potboiler writer like David Baldacci, you will find that there are few plot twists. In the climactic action sequences, for instance, you keep expecting some last-minute 180s (and maybe 360s) but they don't happen. In a way, it's kind of refreshing. Then again, it's almost sort of dull. You mean, not even a silly Roger Mooreian double-entendre at the, ahem, climax? The 1950s were a drag, huh? Glad I don't remember them.
In brief, unless you're a Bond scholar, take a pass.
(The fan of the Bond movies will remember that LALD was the first to star Roger Moore. Although the story involved a "Mr. Big" and a "Solitaire" (one of the all-time great "Bond Girls," Jane Seymour) and had a voodoo-inspired backstory, the two stories were otherwise not very similar. The Bond producers tended to use the titles of the books, and not a whole lot else, in coming up with movie treatments.)
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2006
After CASINO ROYALE, James Bond returns in the second 007 adventure, LIVE AND LET DIE, and here you'll find the basic formula that defines this series: globetrotting to exotic locations, larger-than-life villians, intoxicatingly beautiful women.
I'd read all of the Bond novels over twenty years ago as a teen and now I'm rereading them as the opening of the film version of CASINO ROYALE approaches this weekend. (The Ultimate James Bond DVD Collection is also being released--volumes one and two of four came out last week--so these are swingin' days for spy fans!).
One of the things I remembered from reading the Bond novels years ago was that I didn't think Ian Fleming really understood Americans. He saw them as either Texas cowboys or Chicago mobsters. So, as I picked up LIVE AND LET DIE, which has an African-American villian and has Bond visiting Harlem, I was prepared to find the same type of rash stereotyping Fleming had applied to everyone else in the USA.
(I nearly gasped when I saw the title to Chapter Five in these new Penguin editions and couldn't remember that from reading it before. I dug out my old copies and saw that the original Signet paperback and the movie tie-in were both changed to "Seventh Avenue").
But I was relieved that LIVE AND LET DIE wasn't rampant with racism. There are more "n-words" contained in any 3-minute rap song than the entire book and Fleming comes across as someone who's trying to understand what Bond sees in the Harlem sequences. If anyone is offended by his attempts to capture the dialogue in Harlem nightspots, I would ask if Fleming's transcriptions were any less challenging than, say, the closed caption people trying to type out what's heard on MTV's TRL show or VH1's "The Flavor of Love."
For an Englishman to write about Black culture in 1954 and not be riddled with outrageous insults is admirable, so I was pleasantly surprised. Everyone is welcome to disagree with me but I was expecting much worse!
Like the first novel, this one breezes along and the action jumps from London to New York to St. Petersburg to Jamaica. The novels are so different from the movies that they don't interfere with each other.
I've already picked up the next 007 thriller!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2006
This is a fine novel for Bond fans, and it kicks the series into high gear after the relatively low-key "Casino Royale." We get a more operatic Bond villain (Mr. Big), an appealing heroine (Solitaire), and a good sidekick (Quarrel); sadly, the plot doesn't quite match up, revolving around pirate treasure.
There is a bit of an element of racism -- how offended you are by this probably will depend on how unable you are to put the novel in a proper histroical context. Personally, I don't think Fleming had any racist intent; if anything, he was merely reflecting a mostly racist world.
Fleming's writing style here is inconsistent, but frequently quite elegant. There is a chapter toward the end involving Bond making his way by sea-bottom to Mr. Big's lair, and this chapter is beautifully written all the way through; it's one of the novel's highlights, and shows the keen eye for detail that marked the best of Fleming's work.
The novel is only vaguely similar to the 1973 movie, but it is interesting to note that major elements and scenes from the novel that went unused in that movie were later used in both "For Your Eyes Only" and "Licence to Kill."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
While the first James Bond novel , 1953's "Casino Royale", introduced the character of 007, it was left to this, the second Bond novel published in 1954, to establish what constituted a James Bond Adventure.
"Casino Royale" kept Bond penned up in a single locale playing cards, not physically hurting anyone. "Live And Let Die" gives us a more peripatetic and lethal hero, journeying from London to Harlem to Florida and finally Jamaica leaving a trail of death behind. He's still a one-woman man, but this time it's a different woman: Solitaire, psychic consort of SMERSH's African-American ally Mr. Big.
The result is a terrific read. If not the hard-edged, rather refined psychodrama that was "Casino Royale", "Live And Let Die" is the first Bond novel that makes you want to read another Bond novel. A lot of people rate it higher than "Casino Royale". I don't, but understand the enthusiasm.
It's one thing to watch Bond kill a lot of people in a ruthless and effective manner. But even his breakfasts get your attention the way Fleming writes them, Bond noshing on paw-paw and guava jelly as he stares out across the "green flanks" of the hilly Jamaican coastlands to Mr. Big's island haven, in preparation for his final assault. Or staring blankly as an adversary gets chomped on by a shark, hearing "one terrible snuffling grunt as if a great pig was getting its mouth full."
This is Fleming the detail maven, the master of setting vivid scenes and then sending you off on what is called by his aficionados "the Fleming sweep". The best in this book carries you with Bond as he snorkles under a moonlit bay, evading octopus and barracuda as Fleming puts you so tight against his narrative you feel yourself wanting for air.
"Live And Let Die" suffers from a storyline that doesn't actually need Bond. Mr. Big's big scheme, involving recovered pirate treasure, hardly appears illegal, let alone warranting a British spy's help in upsetting it. The fact Big belongs to SMERSH, the Soviet assassin force that did Bond wrong in "Casino Royale", is a strained tangent, as is the presence of Solitaire, a pale substitute for "Royale's" haunting Vesper Lynd.
For the record, I don't think Fleming shows himself a racist with his handling of the novel's black characters; in the ways he writes of jazz, Harlem, and Jamaica's predominately black culture, he was refreshingly open-minded about things other middle-aged Brits of the period would have scoffed at or ignored.
What I enjoy most in this novel are things like the Jamaica section (Fleming's home, and it shows) and the welcome return of Felix Leiter, affecting company as the story centers on his friendship with Bond. We even get the debut of Bond's sense of humor, as when Mr. Big tells a strapped-down-and-bloodied Bond he will die at six o'clock, give or take a few minutes.
"Let's give those minutes," replies Bond. "I enjoy my life."
You will, too, reading this introduction to 007 on the go.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2010
So Fleming rescues the series with this second book on James Bond. The first one (Casino Royale) had its moments of excitement but compared to the second one, it was pathetic.
"Live And Let Die" is an awesome adventure. Again SMERSH raises its communist head, this time in USA. But the Russian angle is not much explored. What Mr. B.I.G. does for Russia remains unclear except for hints about his vast obedient army of blue-collar workers.
Mr. BIG is a gigantic black man who uses the inherent fear of Voodoo among the blacks to pretend to be the Zombie of the evil Baron Samedi (Prince of Darkness and ruler of the dead). He is actually a scholarly man with great intelligence, tact, skills and creativity.
There is Florida as the entry point for smuggled gold and Jamaica as the origin.
Thrown in is a gorgeous "corker" of a damsel named Solitaire who seems to know what she wants. And CIA agent Felix Leiter who we enjoyed in the first book returns as a liaison between FBI and MI6. Many other wonderful characters, especially the black gangsters Tee Hee Johnson and The Robber. Friends include the Cayman islander and Bond's trainer/factotum named Quarrel.
The pirate Bloody Morgan or rather Sir Henry Morgan plays an important role - the long dead pirate's treasure being the point of investigation.
This book is a real page-turner. The descriptions of Voodoo and that of the scenery in New York, Florida and Jamaica bring everything to life. The adventure in the corals and the damned voracious barracuda are also exciting.
So I am happy to say, the series got a lot lot better right away with the second novel.
Comparision with the movie:
There are crucial differences with the movie version starring Sir Roger Moore as Bond. In the movie Mr B.I.G. and the Prime Minister of a Caribbean island and the New York gangster has an interesting connection. Baron Samedi is a henchman in the movie. In the novel Mr BIG is a legitimate businessman doubted to be connected to criminal activity and to Baron Samedi.
Also the death of Tee Hee Johnson is very different plus there are no crocodiles in the novel. Instead there are sharks and barracudas and giant squid and poisonous sea creatures. So the daring stunt performed in the movie is completely absent - no crocodile farm - but has exotic fishes used and gold smuggling.
So very unlike the movie. And "sharks and barracudas" who play important symbolic roles in Voodoo - a myth which the locals believe and fear.
Anyways, the book is much different but with similar plot lines and characters. I would say the book is more cruel and more realistic than the movie version.
Very thrilling and I look forward to the other books in the series.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2010
Ian Fleming's novel is far removed from the action-packed, surreal blaxploitation film it would eventually become. While it may be a good read it's a quiet, quaintly-xenophobic thriller with little to no action. It is very fast-paced though, to a point.
It follows the same basic premise. Bond goes to Harlem, finds himself ridiculously out of his depth, meets Mr. Big, falls for Solitaire, travels south and goes to Jamaica for a showdown. But gone is Tee-Hee's metal arm, Baron Samedi, the redneck Sheriff, the speedboat chases, the bus chase, Rosie Carver, the Dr. Kananga disguise, all of the Louisiana scenes and the satisfying ending. While this would have bulked up the novel considerably it would have been a fun read. There are also many plot elements to this novel that never made it to the film but were later recycled into For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill. If your a Bond fan you'll be able to easily spot them.
As I said it IS fast paced until the final act, at which point Fleming is distracted by over-describing everything about his beloved Jamaica. There is virtually three chapters of nothing happening. Instead of charging to an explosive finish the book slows down to a crawl and almost loses it. The mere fact that the ending comes very quickly after this saves it from a lesser rating.
I have to admit that Tom Mankiewicz's screenplay is actually better. But don't dismiss this book, it's a letdown after Casino Royale (movie tie-in) (James Bond 007), but still worth checking out.