Next up on my listen-while-you-commute: Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming
Live and Let Die is Ian Fleming’s second novel, which came out pretty quickly after Casino Royal. This story has a very different tone with Bond traveling to America to battle the nefarious black gangster Mr. Big.
The story starts with someone smuggling and selling large quantities of gold coins in Harlem. The coins are from old Caribbean pirate treasure long thought lost. M sends Bond to America where he hooks up CIA agent Felix Leiter to find out who is selling the coins. Their path soon crosses the gigantic Haitian Mr Big who is behind the coins. He works for SMERSH and uses voodoo to maintain his control over his minions. During Bond’s first encounter, he meets Mr Big’s captive fortune-telling girlfriend Solitaire. He escapes, saves Solitaire, and they head to Florida to follow up on a lead to the source of the smuggling route. The story then gets thick with Felix being attacked by sharks and Bond heading to Jamaica to search out the source and get revenge for Felix as well as rescue the now-captive Solitaire. Bond swims through shark infested waters to the island source, is captured, and is nearly killed as Mr Big attempts to drag Solitaire and Bond across the reefs.
It’s a great little story, but certainly different than Fleming’s earlier offerings. Fleming’s impressions of America via Bond’s observations are humorous and derogatory at times. His comments about American cars, food, and Florida’s aging retirement population are particularly entertaining/harsh. It is a good insight into how certain American cultural aspects appear to our foreign friends. There is plenty of racism in Flemming’s writing about Mr. Big’s and his African American gangsters. Fleming’s 50’s-era sentiments certainly show.
Despite the sexism/racism/dated descriptions (that likely wouldn’t have been given a second thought in Fleming’s day) it’s a pretty entertaining story. It contains a caricature-like portrait of America but plenty of action and suspense. Bond’s seduction of Solitaire is also a strong storyline. This book also introduces a recurrent Bond theme of tropical destinations and shark-infested underwater adventures. The final scene of Bond being tied behind Mr. Big’s boat and dragged through shark infested waters was used almost exactly in the movie version.
In the end, it was a pretty decent story. Nothing spectacular, but is much like a fun carnival ride. Lots of sound and action, but not a ton of substance. I give it a B. Recommend.