Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Casino Royale book cover
Rating 8.3/10
An exhilirating and extremely entertaining spy classic that introduced James Bond - arguably the world's most popular fictional character.

"Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles." He laughed. "But don't let me down and become human yourself. We would lose such a wonderful machine."

James Bond, Secret Agent for M16, 007 with a license to kill. This was the 1st entry in Ian Fleming's James Bond series and introduces the world's most famous fictional spy in great fashion.

Bond is in France gambling his nights away at the Royale Casino. It all sounds enjoyable however this is part of a very dangerous and highly expensive mission that could cost the UK Treasury £20-million. An agent of the infamous Russian intelligence outfit SMERSH (Death to Spies) Le Chiffre is in a bit of dilemma. He invested £50-million of his employers' money without their approval into brothels and prostitution hoping to make a quick profit even though the initial funds weren't his. It should have been a sound investment, well, until prostitution was outlawed 3-months later. Le Chiffre, as an expert gambler is looking to recoup his losses by acting as the player/dealer in a super high-roller Baccarat tournament. Bond, as the secret services finest gambler is given the objective to play in this game under the guise of a Jamaican playboy millionaire, and bust the SMERSH agent. The outcome of which would be tragic and fatal for Le Chiffre. SMERSH is not an agency you want to be on the wrong side of.

In the novels, James Bond is very different from what he has morphed in to in the recent movies. Here, we see an attractive but scarred secret agent. Smoker of 70 cigarettes a day, huge drinker, misogynist, cold, and brutally efficient whenever given a task for his country. I'm not saying I agree with his sexist nature but when reading classics I take a step out of our socialisation norms, values and reality and try and place myself in the era of when it was written. Many of characters and trademarks of the series are introduced here for the first time such as dealing with the Chief of Security, M, his receptionist, Moneypenny, the famous "Bond, James Bond" line. At this point, 007's tipple of choice is not a Vodka Martini (Shaken not Stirred),  but the Vesper. As a professional, he only allows himself one drink before he does his duty, but he makes it as large as possible as seen below.

Google: Here's how to make the Vesper according to Ian Fleming and James Bond: Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.

As the first thriller in the series, it features a plethora of elements that have become "part and parcel" of Fleming's Bond adventures. Car chases, kidnappings, torture, betrayal, showdowns, and lovely ladies. The Baccarat showdown is far more intense and realistic than the Poker match in this novels Holywood cousin. I knew nothing about Baccarat but Fleming explains the rules to the reader as Bond is reiterating how the game is played to one of his colleagues. The supporting cast is highly likable including Mathis of the Deuxieme Bureau, Vesper Lynd from M16 (Russian Division) and my favourite recurring character from the books, CIA agent Felix Leiter. The torture scene presented here however infamous is quite famous now as it is presented almost identically in Daniel Craig's first Bond film. The main narrative is completed in about 180 pages. The remaining 48 pages are about Bond reflecting on potential retirement and maybe finding love with someone he has crossed during this harrowing mission. Just as Bond's icy shell starts to melt and he lets someone in the worst thing possible happens and the ending is unpredictable and pretty heart-wrenching. 

I had a great time re-reading Casino Royale. It just missed out on a 5-star rating because I don't think it is quite as good as On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Goldfinger, Dr. No or From Russia With Love. An exhilirating and extremely entertaining spy classic that introduced James Bond - arguably the world's most popular fictional character.

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