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Customer Review

75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enter James Bond, December 28, 2000
This review is from: Casino Royale (Audio CD)
It's hard to believe the book is nearly 50 years old but it is. This novel marks the entrance of James Bond into the world. The real Bond doesn't have much to do with his movie counterparts--he's colder, more ruthless and has no charm or humor. He's also a deeper character. 10 years later at the end of the Bond cycle he would grow and become more humorous and personable, (See "You Only Live Twice") but here meeting him may be like taking a cold shower if you're only familiar with Connery, Moore, and etc.
As the prototype novel of the Bond series "Casino Royale" has less action and more concentrated violence than the future books. Its mood is claustrophobic but it's grasp of defined character is somewhat airy. Bond is not quite fully fleshed out--what we can grasp is that he believes himself a professional but often loses or comes close in both love and business. He speaks like a misoygnist but falls very badly for women; he plays cards like a pro but needs to be bailed out. The other characters are also compelling--Leiter and Mathis are agreeable national stereotypes, while LeChiffre is the first of Fleming's great villains--subtly monstrous and grotesque to the point of being king devils, not people. Fleming never wrote a convincing female character until he spoke in first person for the heroine of "The Spy Who Loved Me," but Vesper Lynd is one dimensional in a non-shameful way.
Fleming's style isn't yet fully formed, but it's still evident. No one has written better scenes of torture (And this undoubtedly one of the most harrowing torture scenes you'll ever read) or card games than Fleming, and as an action writer on the whole he was undoubtedly a master, and deserves to be acknowledged as one. At the moment his literary reputation is quite low. Fleming was hardly the reactionary super-evil crypto-fascist, rabid-racist, hyper-misognyist, ultra-snob that some have claimed him to be (In books full of astoundingly stupid errors and lazy readings), and the coming years will hopefully force many to fully note his many flaws and his considerable strengths. He deserves the same ranking as Chandler or Hammett--minor artists, but artists none-the-less.
The biggest difference from the later novels is the degree of moral exploration Bond undergoes. The novel's supposed climax is engineered to come very early, and Fleming daringly gives an entire chapter for Bond to afterwards think--he actively questions his job and the role he plays in the entire Free World/Soviet struggle. Beyond that he questions the nature of evil. After CR, Bond never attempts this sort moral exploration again, and the future novels as a result aren't as deep. There's a reason for this....
Fleming's master stroke was his realization that a convincing adventure tale in the spy genre could not arise from the conflict between the ideologies of the Soviets and the West. It was too much of a gray area and Fleming did not want to be a political writer--he wanted to create myths and fairy tales for adults, and he turned out to be the best writer of the century in doing so. So Fleming decided that Bond would not fight against Communist spies but rather the organization of terror that made them spy--evil fantasy villains--so he created SMERSH as Bond's opponent. He would use them as villains until the lessening of cold war tension enabled him to create an even less political replacement--SPECTRE.
The first part of the novel thus details Bond fighting against Communist agents, but Fleming builds the climax early. Afterwards he builds another tale dealing with the ramifications of the first. During this he has Bond question his role, and by the end, with its shocker finish, Bond has renounced the role he has questioned and decided to from now on go after the force that makes spies spy. Having created an all-purpose group of fairy-tale villains for Bond to fight in future novels, Fleming has no more need for any further moral exploration by Bond--the knight doesn't bother wondering whether he should slay the dragon.
That I think is why Fleming's friend Raymond Chandler always said that he had never bettered "Casino Royale" and to an extent I agree--the novel marks the point where Bond is in between the realistic world of betrayals and moral ambiguity and the thrilling world of surrealistically evil villains and larger-than-life exloits. Bond never returns to this point again, and we are deprived of the pleasure of seeing him walk that edge.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 3, 2009 9:56:58 AM PDT
Sulla says:
I'd say Craig probably fit this colder Bond more closely than did the other ones.

Posted on Jun 10, 2011 7:21:32 AM PDT
Interesting take. However, Fleming didn't "invent" SMERSH. There actually was such an organization, part of the Russian secret police, which specialized in executing people who were perceived as traitors to the revolution, hence "spies." It made quite a name for itself killing members of the Red Army who deserted from the front lines in WWII.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 12, 2011 7:44:42 PM PDT
AVD says:
That is a bit of misrepresentation of the SMERSH organization. It's main goal was counter intelligence. It was created and particularly successful during WWII when even according to Germans they disabled almost 40,000 of their spies. They are in fact responsible for the success of Operation Bagration. Although their methods were harsh but then again there isn't an intelligence service in the world that didn't dip their hand in blood. SMERSH was a section of NKVD but only for the period of 3 years during WWII. It was later changed into NKGB. Flemming romanticized the whole organization just like he did with the baccarat game which he supposedly played vs German agents in Estoril when in reality he gambled with some Portuguese businessmen.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 20, 2014 4:57:36 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 20, 2014 4:58:44 PM PDT
Touria says:
Probably, though he's not as serious as Sean Connery.

Posted on Dec 13, 2014 10:22:50 PM PST
FMI says:
Chandler was right....good all around.
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