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Considering James Bond is such a famous series, I wondered to myself why I had never read the books so I decided to rectify this situation. Live and Let Die is the second book in the series and for some reason, I started with this one (I will go back and read the first one).
Without giving away too much of the plot, James Bond travels to America to takedown the notorious Mr Big who has setup an old coin smuggling cartel using Captain Morgans buried treasure. The girl in question in this James Bond is called Solitaire.
To give a quick rundown of these three main characters is as follows: James Bond is the classic 007, he drinks, smokes and is delightfully charming, tough and a stud with the ladies. Mr Big is a massive man who has created a Voodoo fear of himself amongst his followers as they believe he is the reincarnate of Samedi, the famous voodoo frontman. He is extremely smart, strong and has a stronghold in Harlem. Solitaire is a beautiful girl who is being held by Mr Big against her wishes after he discovers her telepathic abilities.
Bond is classic Bond and I feel is a strong character as always in this novel. Mr Big is a fantastic villain who really instils fear in you. If any character lets the novel down then I feel that it must be Solitaire who just doesn't seem to have the charismatic nature that most Bond girls have.
It is quite a well written novel however I feel that the pacing was off a bit at times and if I'm perfectly honest, I felt that I could have skipped twenty pages at one point and it would not have changed the story and it may have even made it a better, faster paced story as a Bond novel should be. The ending I feel had some terrific pacing at times but I feel was rushed at other times and could have been stretched on for another 20 pages or so to really juxtapose the situations that each character was in with their final outcome.
It must be noted that you will notice the dated nature of this book with its repeated use of 'negro', 'negress' etc. but I believe that we can overlook this as it is not being used in a derogatory tone and it should take nothing away from the book itself.
I would recommend that you read this second instalment in the Bond series. It isn't a very long book at just under 200 pages and took me less than a day to read making it ideal for a short journey or a plane journey. It will definitely keep you hooked as you want to see how Mr Big will outsmart Bond and how Bond will respond to this different challenge.
When reading the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, you would hardly notice that you're reading something written in the 1950s. In Live and Let Die, however, you can hardly fail to notice.
The main villain: Mr Big (yes, yes, not quite the same threatening name now thanks to Sex and the City), and he is a great character - outsmarts Bond enough in the first half to make this an interesting read.
The main Bond girl: Soltaire, beautiful (of course), slightly cruel, and hates men (but takes a living to Bond). Her dubious alliance gives her some depth, but only if you're not comparing her to Casino Royale's Vesper Lynd (but she's special).
The main reason that I can't give it a 5/5:
- Soltaire, in particular, feels mediocre. BUT, the main reason is...
- The language is hard to stomach for a modern day audience, because Mr Big and most of the people working for him are black.
Be prepared for lots of "negro"/"negress" etc etc, and a kind of alien fascination with this race. Some of the dialogue is written with a very thick accent - and feels more like a study of some strange creature and authentic speech. Be prepared for uncomfortable generalisations like how them people, as the book seems to suggest, don't hurt unless you hit them in the balls. And all believe in Voodoo. etc etc.
If you can overlook these dated elements, then this is a strongly plotted novel with intense chapters (and suspenseful ways of ending these chapters). A great story, but also full of cringe-worthy moments - for the wrong reasons.
"Live and Let Die" is the second book in the James Bond collection. Ian Fleming brings the master spy back after his introduction to the Russian organisation SMERSH in "Casino Royale".
This time Bond is up against Buonaparte Ignace Gallia, known as Mr Big from his initials but also from his intimidating appearance. Mr Big seems like a far more powerful opponent than Le Chiffre was in Casino Royale. This is a man who has a massive network of spies and informants. These comprise mainly of the Negro workers in almost every location. The information being provided mainly out of fear as they believe that Mr Big is the living incarnation of the Voodoo Lord, Baron Samedi. This is a novel which easily stands up on its own but takes its setting from the end of Casino Royale. Bond is hellbent on revenge against SMERSH, the organisation which conspired against him in that previous story. Once he finds out Mr Big is connected to SMERSH he is determined to take him down and strike a blow against that organisation.
Mr Big is suspected of smuggling gold coins from ancient pirate hauls. He uses his network to distribute the coins all over America. Bond has to prove that this is happening, get to the bottom of how the distribution works then stop it. So Bond sets off to America and meets up with CIA agent Felix Leiter who returns from the first book. His is a welcome addition but beyond that it is Bond more or less on his own in the States. Again Bond is portrayed as a hard drinking man who is fallible. He is out of his comfort zone. This is not a story of a victory at a gambling table. He is in a strange culture and up against an enemy who has unseen reaches. The voodoo aspects add a lot to this story.
What I also liked is Bond is not made out to be some superman type character. In a lot of his encounters with the enemy he comes away with injuries which hamper him later in the story. In fact we see him hospitalised for the second time in two books. Also for the second time in two books, Bond escapes certain death more by luck than judgement.
A criticism of the Bond movies is often how the criminals think up ingenious plots to kill him rather than just shooting him. This book is no exception but what came across clearly is why Mr Big wanted to use a particularly complex method of death and it made a lot of sense in the context of the book.
This novel was published in 1954 and certain aspects of it do seem a little dated, as you would expect. In the introduction Louise Welsh explains that this was a little time after the end of World War II rationing and that is why Fleming spends a fair amount of time detailing the exact nature of Bond's every meal. In addition a fair amount of time is spent on a railway carriage. You can't help but feel that in a modern thriller things would have been a little faster paced. The final thing is that the description of "negroes" and their actions would probably not occur in a modern thriller, given the current political correctness climate. Having said that it was an enjoyable read throughout.
This novel is 100 pages longer than Casino Royale and definitely benefits from it. It feels like a far more complete story and is a little too long to complete in one sitting. There are varying locations, the majority of the book being set in Harlem in the United States, with the climax being in Jamaica. Each location is described in excellent detail and this is a real feature of Fleming's writing. Whether he is describing a nightclub in Harlam or an underwater dive in Jamaica you feel that he himself has experienced each situation such is the level of detail and realism in every sentence.
The literary James Bond is more enjoyable than his screen counterpart in my opinion. He is a far more rounded and complex character and I would urge you to read the books if you enjoy the films.
I bought this book as part of the James Bond collection when it was available from www.thebookpeople.co.uk for £14.99. I have also seen it in Tesco for the same price. It came in a boxed set and each book has an introduction from a fellow author. In this case it's Louise Welsh.
"Beautiful, fortune-telling Solitaire is the prisoner (and tool) of Mr Big - master of fear, artist in crime and Voodoo Baron of Death. James Bond has no time for superstition - he knows that Big is also a top SMERSH operative and a real threat. More than that, after tracking him through the jazz joints of Harlem, to the Everglades and on to the Caribbean, 007 has realised that he is one of the most dangerous men that he has ever faced. And no one, not even the enigmatic Solitaire, can be sure how their battle of wills is going to end."
Live and Let Die was the second James Bond novel written by Ian Fleming and originally published in 1954. The plot of the book begins with gold coins from seventeenth century pirate Henry Morgan turning up in the United States and being sold to fund the Soviet spy network there. The operation is masterminded by SMERSH operative 'Mr Big', mysterious and feared boss of the black underworld. James Bond is dispatched to New York by M to investigate where he teams up with old friend Felix Leiter - now working as a FBI/CIA liaison officer - and is soon up to his neck in intrigue and danger in locations as diverse as Harlem, St Petersburg and Jamaica...
It's fair to say that Fleming's second Bond book is faster paced and larger in scope than the first Bond novel Casino Royale. We get the first sense of Bond as an international globetrotter and his investigation of Mr Big is interesting because we learn that Big rules by fear with a network of voices reporting anything to him. He's quite a sinister character and we often feel an element of danger for Bond as he seeks to get more information. Big uses voodoo superstitions to control the black population and keeps fortune teller Solitare close by and although the voodoo elements are a bit hokey it does inject an air of the exotic into the book. In typical Fleming fashion we also get a lot of information presented to us about voodoo ('The next step [he read] is the invocation of evil denizens of the Voodoo pantheon...') and indeed the history of Henry Morgan.
As you'd expect from Fleming though the story is exciting and there are plenty of entertaining and tense moments like a duel with a robber in a warehouse and an atmospheric night swim to a Caribbean island by Bond where he is literally swimming with the sharks. The author's tendency to 'recap' is a tad unnecessary at times but he creates a vivid fifties atmosphere and the scenes in Harlem are always interesting. Live and Let Die though is somewhat dated and patronising at times in its depiction of black people and some moments are a tad jarring for the modern reader - especially Fleming's attempts at black 'slang'.
It's interesting to read the sections in the book which were later used for the film series. An attack on Leiter in Live and Let Die was used in the film Licence To Kill and another famous set-piece where Bond and Solitaire are tied up and face the prospect of being keelhauled over coral underwater was borrowed for For You Eyes Only. One thing I quite like about the books - which they understandably tend to avoid in the films - is that they reference real people from the era in which they were written. An example here being the legendary boxer Sugar Ray Robinson who gets a mention during the Harlem sections. 'Let's hope we both know when to stop when the time comes,' says Leiter to Bond .
We learn more about Bond in this second novel which is always fun. He takes Benzedrine tablets for strength and on missions where he is required to act the part of a rich man 'takes refuge in good living to efface the memory of danger and the shadow of death.' His friendship with Leiter is more fleshed out and there are some nice little scene-setting character moments when Bond is alone with his thoughts - 'Far below the streets were rivers of neon lighting, crimson, blue, green. The wind sighed sadly outside in the velvet dusk, lending his room still more warmth and security and luxury. He thought of the bitter weather in London streets, the grudging warmth of the hissing gas-fire in his office at Headquarters, the chalked-up menu on the pub he had passed on his last day in London.'
Food is always an important part of Bond's life and as usual Fleming describes many of his meals ('Soft-shell crabs with Tartar sauce, flat beef Hamburgers, medium-rare, from the charcoal grill..) in intricate detail - which is always enjoyable.
Mr Big makes a grand, colourful villain and like any Bond baddie worth his salt has his own private island. He's described as having grey skin from heart disease and has a 'great football of a head' with no hair - including eyebrows. He's also a villain who projects an air of menace especially in a passage when he asks henchman Tee Hee to break one of Bond's fingers. He's given some enjoyable Bond villain speeches too - 'Mister Bond, I take pleasure now only in artistry, in the polish and finesse which I can bring to my operations. It has become almost a mania with me to impart an absolute rightness, a high elegance, to the execution of my affairs.'
In a nice touch, Big suffers from 'accidie', a word the 'early Christians' had for boredom, 'the deadly lethargy that envelops those who are sated, those who have no desires.'
Solitaire is a typically alluring Bond girl although perhaps not as interesting or complex as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. 'Her face was pale, with the pallor of white families that have lived long in the tropics,' writes Fleming. 'But it contained no trace of the usual exhaustion which the tropics impart to the skin and hair. The eyes were blue, alight and disdainful, but, as they gazed into his with a touch of humour, he realized they contained some message for him personally.'
The perpetually laughing Tee-Hee is a decent henchman and the use of Felix Leiter here is nicely done. The friendship between Leiter and Bond really comes through in this book and we see that the two men have much in common. Bond's reaction to Leiter's trouble is quite poignant in Live and Let Die.
Despite dated elements, Live and Let Die is an entertaining and interesting book with some good set-pieces that builds to a suspenseful finale.
One of the stronger Bond novels.
Beautiful, fortune-telling Solitaire is the prisoner (and tool) of Mr. Big - master of fear, artist in crime and Voodoo Baron of Death. James Bond has no time for superstition - he knows that this criminal heavy hitter is also a top SMERSH operative and a real threat. More than that, after tracking him through the jazz joints of Harlem, to the everglades and on to the Caribbean, 007 has realized that Big is one of the most dangerous men that he has ever faced. And no-one, not even the mysterious Solitaire, can be sure how their battle of wills is going to end.