Title: Casino Royale
Author: Ian Fleming
Fleming, Ian (1954). Casino Royale. New York, Macmillan
Date Updated: August 4, 2015
Bond…James Bond is the name. And the game is extreme Baccarat. Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel – premier introduction of the post WWII, fantastical cold war intrigues of Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s Master Spy, Agent 007, Bond – is a riveting read.
James Bond was created by the pen of Ian Fleming in Casino Royale 1953), this fictional character was a member of the British Secret Service who undertook clandestine missions for his chief, known only as “M.” The books proved an immediate best-seller, and more than 20 movies since Dr. No in 1961 have made the series the most successful of all time, having been seen by an estimated half of the world’s population.
The extent to which the fiction was based on fact has been the subject of much debate, and several candidates have been suggested for the basis for Bond—including Fleming himself, who served in the Naval Intelligence Division during World War II and worked closely with the Secret Intelligence Service. The parallels between Bond’s organization and the real SIS are many, and the author undoubtedly drew on his own experiences, and those of his contacts, for his plots. His closest friend throughout his life was Ivar Bryce, a wartime British Security Coordination officer who completed secret missions in South America during World War II, and a double agent, Dusko Popov, whom he encountered in the gaming rooms of Estoril, Portugal, in 1941 may have been the inspiration for Casino Royale.
Although intelligence professionals are sometimes quick to disown Bond’s adventures as unrealistic, his gadgetry is studied with interest by technicians anxious to develop new communications and surveillance equipment.
I first read Casino Royale, as well as a few others in the series, while in my early teens – back when I’d only read stories in order to immerse myself in the plot – to find out what happens next, essentially – not caring a jot about writing style, descriptive detail, or character development. Back then, I found it curious that the Bond of the books was so different from the Bond of the movies (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker being the contemporary releases of that time.) I wondered, for instance, why the James Bond in the movies didn’t have black hair and why, in the books, he wasn’t funny at all…Indeed – well, so much for my pre-adolescent review.
Now, many years later, indulging on a whim, I’m reading the series again. And I must say I am thoroughly enjoying it – but not for the same reasons I had when I was young. I’m actually nearly through it in its entirety – and must say that, though they’re all very good, Casino Royale has a palpable raw depth rarely visible in the rest. I can now see and appreciate the fine quality of the writing, the extraordinary sculpturing of an ideal action hero, and the magical lure that has begotten the most well-known, long-standing film series of all time. And, yes, these books are great fun!
“M,” head of the British Secret Service, hands Commander Bond what appears on the surface to be a posh assignment: thwarting an enemy Russian spy, Le Chiffre, in his attempt to win an exorbitant 50 million francs – KGB funds which he had lost through an ill-advised investment in a chain of brothels. Agent 007 lives an intensely hard lifestyle, and he’s known to be the best gambler in the Service. He’s therefore assigned to break Le Chiffre’s bank at the baccarat tables of the Casino Royale, in the French Riviera.
SMERSH, the Russian Secret Service in charge of all diplomatic killings for the Fatherland, is right on to Le Chiffre. Though he’s very desperate, Le Chiffre happens to be a first rate baccarat player. He plans on winning that 50 million francs at any cost, employing a couple of potent assassins enforced to help see it through.
Though James Bond must face Le Chiffre as a force of one at the baccarat table, he has his own team of assistants: Rene’ Mathis of the French branch, American CIA agent Felix Leiter, and the beautiful Vesper Lynd of the S branch of British Intelligence. Vesper is officially the very first Bond girl – and she utterly mesmerizes our master spy: he sees her as an entity of wonder.
Truly, this story does not own any of the qualities that could easily be made into a movie. There’s plenty of tension, plenty of action, and quite a lot of romance to boot. However the tension is mainly in the climatic card game, which, minus the author’s excellent descriptive prose, would appear tedious on the screen; the action is definitely intense, but includes a harrowing torture scene which should not be witnessed by the squeamish; and, well, without the advantage of being able to follow the thoughts of our hero, a film version of this story might easily cause the romance to appear as carelessly thrown in.
Vesper’s an intriguing Bond Girl, though. Her fateful role exacts a twisted surprise ending, which inevitably sets the tone and atmosphere of Bond’s future relationships with women. This is perhaps the only book of the series wherein Bond takes a good, hard look at the moral portents of his own place in his profession – sort of a teasing glimpse into the window of his heart – but only that peek – as it seems thereafter shut fast and hard. Keen, sharp, dark and moody: James Bond remains ever the quintessential Man of Mystery.
Some comments by Jay Berkeley:
Near Sloane Square tube station, down King’s road to the left of the station is 30 Wellington Square. Ian Fleming never specified where James Bond lived, beyond placing his flat in a little square in Chelsea off King’s Road. It was John Pearson—who was commissioned after Fleming’s death to write Bond’s authorized biography ( an interesting literary conceit)—who located Bond at this address. If, in fact, the sleek and soigné Commander Bond had lived here during the 1950s or 1960s, he would scarcely have enjoyed the place recently. Imagine his thoughts on walking out his front door and finding himself among scores of aggressively unattractive young people, their hair hideous in shape and. colour, their ears and noses pierced with safety pins. Knowing enough about truly violent people, and being one himself, Bond might not have been alarmed by these spaced-out punk-rockers (who are mostly rather-well-behaved working-class kids). I wonder, though, whether Bond might not have moved his residence before long.
Like the area around Wellington Square, Bond also changed over the years. In the first of the Bond books, Fleming sought-to make 007 as bland as possible. In successive books he developed Bond’s quirkiness, giving him preferences and opinions that were mostly, I suspect, Fleming’s own (preferring martinis shaken and not stirred, disliking shoes that lace). In the last books, Fleming expressed through the Bond character his own depressive morbidness, revealing an attitude unimaginable to the younger Bond —or to the younger—and healthier Fleming.
The books changed in other ways. The early ones were akin to the tales of Somerset Maugham, Phillips Oppenheim, and other British writers of spy fiction of that era, with some verisimilitude as to the scale of Bond’s organization and its operations. But as the Bond books became trendy and “mass-cultch” they began to resemble the worst of science fiction. The plots (and for that matter the locales and characters) are increasingly grotesque. The first book, Casino Royale, is possibly believable. Live and Let Die is less so. By the time we get to Moonraker, we must suspend disbelief almost totally, and The Man with the Golden Gun finally goes so far beyond the believable as to be almost uninteresting.
The film Bond (whether portrayed by Connery or his successors) is the later Bond. What happened, I think, was that Fleming wrote his first book without having the movies in mind. By the time he sold Dr No to the film producers, he was thinking very much of the film audience, writing a far more gaudy character—leeringly lubricious—and a far more gaudy book. The movies, of course, are deliberate spoofs. Fleming would probably have preferred to have the movies as serious as his earlier books, but he was not the sort to argue with money or success, and the Bond films had the formula for both.
With all the trappings removed, the Bond books are basically about a Briton who wins, at a time when Britons were not winning. When Fleming has Bond defeating Le Chiffre at the gambling casino (thereby defunding him), he is putting into print one of his more telling fantasies. After the war he encouraged acquaintances to believe that he had tried to defund some German agents in Lisbon but had failed, Significantly, he doesn’t let Bond fail. Looking at all the defeats, major and minor, of the British intelligence services—at the hands of Nazis, Soviet agents, Irish nationalists, and anti-British elements throughout the Empire and Commonwealth—one sees Bond’s fictional victories in a new light.
 West, Nigel (2006). Historical Dictionary of International Intelligence. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, p. 35