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Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Cover image © Penguin Viking
It was always going to be the case that, after reading a 'new' James Bond novel authored by Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming, I would need to go back to the roots of the story. So, when looking at the vast back-catalogue of Fleming's Bond novels I was surprised to see that Casino Royale (1953), one of the most recent Bond films, was actually the starting point for Bond as a character in the series of novels. 

The first novel follows Bond, a British Secret Service spy, on a mission to a Casino in Royale-Les-Eaux, a (fictional) northern French resort. His aim is to bankrupt Le Chiffre, an operative and paymaster for the Soviet counterintelligence agency SMERSH - a name which means 'death to spies'. Operating undercover as a Jamaican playboy, Bond very nearly comes unstuck at the baccarat table, before getting a little financial help from his CIA friends. 

Job done? Not quite. From here events move quickly as Le Chiffre takes his revenge for the harm that Bond has done to his finances and needless to say, there is woman involved in the mix too, Vesper Lynd (supposedly a phonetic play on 'West Berlin). The story twists and turns with the action slowing down and speeding up beautifully before the unexpected ending. 

Strikingly, the James Bond of the novels is not an invincible superhero and he takes a serious beating at the hands of his nemesis in this novel and is without the arsenal of gadgets that the film directors afford him. Yes the womanising, smooth-talking, cool character is evident, but the book has a dark, almost sadistic undertone that keeps the reader flinching as blows reign down on Bond's body. 

This novel sets up Bond's character magnificently for sequels and showcases Fleming's fantastic ability to capture characters, locations and opulance, as well as darkness, pain and suffering.

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