Casino Royale was Ian Fleming’s first novel featuring British secret agent James Bond. Though I enjoyed the book, it is very much a product of its time. Some of those artifacts were charming, but many more weren’t. Worse, though book is only 181 pages, pacing problems make it feel much longer.
As Bond’s undercover mission at Royale gets underway, the book really surprised me with an early indication that things were not entirely as they seem. Surprisingly for a book releassed in the 1950s, Bond bears witness to a fairly graphically described suicide bombing. The scene was startling and affecting, and these feelings weren’t entirely lessened by the explanation later of what actually occurs (the incident turns out to have been a failed bombing attempt, not an intentional suicide bombing).
Unlike the recent film, the game Bond utilizes in his attempt to bankrupt the evil Le Chiffre is baccarat. I knew nothing of the game before I started the book, but the rules are explained simply and elegantly before the game gets underway. Ironically, baccarat’s simplicity actually makes the card game scenes easier to follow than the poker scenes in the Daniel Craig film.
I was definitely amused by a conclusion Bond reaches in chapter ten after identifying one of Le Chiffre’s henchmen in a crowd. Bond him as a Lennie-like figure. “…but his inhumanity would not come from infantilism but from drugs. Marihuana, decided Bond.”
The book is also not without some truly jarring misogyny. Most notably after Bond girl Vesper Lynd is captured by the dastardly Le Chiffre. Bond finds this to be quite an inconvenience:
“This was just what he had been afraid of. These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave the men’s work to the men. And now for this to happen to him, just when the job had come off so beautifully. For Vesper To fall for an old trick like that and get herself snatched and probably held to ransom like some bloody heroine in a strip cartoon. The silly bitch.” Adding insult to injury, Bond then fantasizes about NOT rescuing her and shrugging off her disappearance to his superiors, before finally mounting his rescue attempt.
Ultimately, the poor pacing and an excrutiating final act kept me from really loving this book the way I wanted to. I didn’t hate the book by any means, and the amount of praise Fleming’s Bond novels have garnered is sufficient that I’m still interested in reading one or two more of them (at least), but I’d hesitate to recommend this one to just anybody.