Thursday, 4 March 2021

Book Review : Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

"The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning."

On the 13th of April 1953 the world changed forever. One of the most important characters in fiction arrived in the world's bookshops, that secret agent? Bond. James Bond.
Doubtless you all know what the plot of Casino Royale is but if by some miracle you don't know here's a synopsis that amazon wrote earlier 
Le Chiffre is a businessman with expensive tastes, and SMERSH's chief operative in France. But as his dissolute lifestyle threatens to ruin him, his only hope is to risk his paymasters' money at the card table.

James Bond, the finest gambler in the service, has a deadly new mission: to outplay Le Chiffre and shatter his Soviet cell.

Amidst the opulence of Casino Royale, the two men face each other for a game with the highest stakes of all.

Ian Fleming had long harboured an a desire to write a spy thriller, his experiences during World War 2 and his amazing imagination gave him ample material to work with. The card game which forms the main event of the book is based on something that happened to Fleming during the war. 
Fleming wrote Casino Royale with two aims in mind, firstly to take his mind off his forthcoming marriage and secondly to create what he called " the spy thriller to end all spy thrillers". 
It goes without saying that he managed it. In its near 70 years of existence Bond has not only spawned the greatest film franchise of all time but also comic books, continuation novels and radio dramas and just about anything you can fit a 007 logo onto. 
Did Fleming know Bond would thrive for so long when he sat down and wrote that icoic first line? I think he did, for a first time author he exuded confidence and that's what makes readers even after nearly 70 years want to come along for the ride. 
 Apart from some slightly dodgy language by today's standard's (don't write in saying I didn't warn you) there isn't much wrong with Casino  Royale, at 250 or so pages it's not very long but it also feels like it's exactly the right length.  You can easily blow through it in a day or two like I did.

Casino Royale is an absolute riot, I still have little idea of how any card game that isn't 21 works but Fleming explains everything so well even an idiot can't help but plough through the casino sequences. 

Like the film though the most memorable, and if you're a bloke, nightmare inducing part of the book is the torture sequence. I'm actually breaking into a cold sweat thinking about it. If anything the film toned it down but it still ends the same way, Bond's life being saved by the organisation that would go on to be his long term enemy. SMERSH. 
Not so memorable however is the love story between Bond and  double agent  Vesper Lynd, its OK but its nothing like as absorbing or heartbreaking as what Bond later goes through in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. That's one aspect where the film gets one over on the book. Maybe it's something to do with that amazing Venice stunt, by comparison Vesper swallowing a bottle of pills and leaving Bond a note is a bit anticlimactic. 

In the same way that Harry Potter defines my generation Bond defines the 50's and 60's, after Casino Royale the bookshops were awash with authors trying to capture the magic of Ian Fleming. A few managed it  Of course  but nearly all of them are lost to history and yet Bond is still with us. If you've yet to read the bond books I can't recommend it highly enough, why not do something useful in lockdown and scratch the itch? 
Casino Royale really does transcend my ratings system. I don't have a ranking higher than "Cracker" so that'll have to do.
Verdict : Cracker 

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