Review: Casino Royale

Review: Casino Royale

Casino Royale
by Ian Fleming
published by Thomas & Mercer (an imprint of Amazon)
original publication: 1953 (this edition 2012)
size: 1719KB (189 pages)
categories: fiction; spy stories
lending: enabled
simultaneous device licenses: six
part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: yes
text-to-speech: yes
real page numbers: yes
x-ray: yes
Whispersync for Voice: no

“‘I intend to continue attacking the sensitive parts of your body until you answer my question. I am without mercy and there will be no relenting. There is no one to stage a last-minute rescue and there is no possibility of escape for you. This is not a romantic adventure story in which the villain is finally routed and the hero is given a medal and marries the girl. Unfortunately these things don’t happen in real life.”
–”Le Chiffre”

Casino Royale was the book that introduced James Bond to the world, and you can see why it established a series.

The writing is clever and precise. You are drawn into a vibrant world, but not one without some very dark spots.

That’s one of the things I like best about this one. While I’m a fan of the movies, Casino Royale is probably much more philosophical than you think. There is an entire chapter entitled “The Nature of Evil”, and there is a great deal of discussion on the subject.

“‘You see,’ he said, still looking down at his bandages, ‘when one’s young, it seems very easy to distinguish between right and wrong, but as one gets older it becomes more difficult. At school it’s easy to pick out one’s own villains and heroes and one grows up wanting to be a hero and kill the villains.’”
–James Bond

“The Devil has a rotten time and I always like to be on the side of the underdog. We don’t give the poor chap a chance. There’s a Good Book about goodness and how to be good and so forth, but there’s no Evil Book about evil and how to be bad. The Devil has no prophets to write his Ten Commandments and no team of authors to write his biography. His case has gone completely by default. We know nothing about him but a lot of fairy stories from our parents and schoolmasters. He has no book from which we can learn the nature of evil in all its forms, with parables about evil people, proverbs about evil people, folk-lore about evil people. All we have is the living example of the people who are least good, or our own intuition.”
–René Mathis

If the idea of James Bond questioning whether what he does is good or evil, even to the point of considering giving up the game seems shocking, it’s because it is the traumatic events in Casino Royale that shape his future character.

Yes, he is a Double O in this novel, licensed to kill (and he has done so), but it isn’t suggested that he is particularly good at it. This isn’t a superspy you would send after a madman in a volcano lair to take on two hundred henchmen. This is an agent with competent skills, and good luck at gambling.

He’s referred to as a “machine” for his dispassionate, businesslike approach.

Without getting into spoilers, that mindset is challenged by what happens.

It’s also important to say that Casino Royale is as much about the multinational nature of espionage and the plot as is about the character of Bond. The Americans and French are working with England, here, and there is naturally some inter-agency rivalry, but they all contribute to the effort.

I have to warn you that this is a violent book, although cruel might be a better word. There are many books nowadays that are more explicitly violent, but there is a scene here that passes most of them with its simple torture.

For modern sensibilities, I”m sure there are readers that would be troubled by Bond’s misogyny (not missing in the early movies). Bond says:

“Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them.”

However, the book doesn’t say that’s the right way to be. Bond is given some advice:

“Mathis opened the door and stopped on the threshold. ‘Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.’”

Overall, I’d say it isn’t for everyone, and isn’t intended to be. This world is harsh, and there are certainly adult (and disillusioned adults, at that) themes. However, I think you might find it is more human than you anticipate.

Note: this is a book where I found the X-Ray feature, available on some Kindles, particularly valuable. It gives you background on things mentioned in the book, and if you aren’t up on your Cold War details, it can be helpful. :)

You may also find my take on Skyfall, the latest James Bond movie, interesting.

Feel free to tell my readers and me what you think about Casino Royale, but please try to avoid spoilers for people who haven’t yet read it.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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8 Responses to “Review: Casino Royale”

  1. Louis Deegan Says:

    I remember when 007 really took of in 1961 was when a reporter asked J F K, in his first White House news conference, about his favorite reading for relaxation. “James Bond” by Ian Fleming. The books flew off the shelves.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Louis!

      I think it was specifically From Russia with Love, but don’t hold me to that. :) Bond had been a success before JFK’s endorsement, but it certainly helped. :)

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Thanks for this — I read all of the Ian Fleming Bonds in the early sixties — most before the movies came out. I actually can’t remember much of anything of the books — the movies intrude so.

    I can remember when I first became aware of Bond in the very early sixties: as a teenager I was on a flight from Zurich to Bombay sitting next to a Brit who was reading one, and regaling me with the delights to be had therein.

    It’s interesting that this first book was one of the last to be filmed in the first go round of Bond flicks. It was a star-studded (David Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, George Raft to name a few) send up of the Bond genre which to me at the time was only partly amusing, and lately upon re-viewing even less so.

    My favorite “Bond” is of course Sean Connery (I’m such a traditionalist :-) ), and my favorite Connery Bond film is his last: “Never Say Never Again”, a remake of Thunderball..

    I just went ahead and bought “Casino Royale” kindle edition, and will get to it presently :D

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      As to when Casino Royale got made, it was really a rights issue, as is often the case. The way I understand it is that a producer had bought the rights to Casino Royale before Bond really took off. It was made into a TV episode (with James Bond being shown as an American!) and Peter Lorre. I’ve seen it..it’s not terrible. :)

      So, the producer wanted to get it made in the made Eon series, but couldn’t come to a deal with them as they produced Dr. No, Goldfinger, and such. Since a deal wasn’t made, the producer went ahead and made it independent of the main series…and decided that trying to be directly competitive wouldn’t work, so went for a comedy version instead.

      I could be wrong on that, but that’s my recollection. :)

      Goldfinger is still my favorite Bond movie, but I actually liked Live and Let Die (first Roger Moore as Bond movie) a lot. It really went for fun, and Geoffrey Holder was great in it. When we talk about “reimaginings” and “reboots” now, this is a good example. They tossed continuity, but referred strongly back to the earlier movies.

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        Finished reading Casino Royale — it turns out I did remember two scenes from the book (they’re almost nightmare memories for me) just never realized recently — they were from Casino Royale — one scene I kinda thought might’ve been from “To Catch a Thief” (the movie), but it was the Casino Royale book..

        Couple of interesting tidbits: he called the CIA the “Common Intelligence Agency”; he smokes 70 cigarettes a day (puts “Mad Men” to shame) that’s like one every 13 minutes! I had forgotten this is where I learned to play Baccarat (as a teenager living in Europe both Baccarat and Chemin de Fer were foreign to me before reading Casino Royale).

        The book does a very good job of explaining lots of things in ways that don’t detract from the story.

        I gave it 5 stars.

        Bond here seems younger somehow — less assured and insouciant than in the later books — maybe because it is the first.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Edward!

        I actually think Casino Royale was intended as an “origin story”. Bond is aged by the events in the book…turned into the person we see in later books (like Bruce Wayne seeing his parents killed as a child, in a sense).

  3. Round up #138: Xfinity, James Bond bargains « I Love My Kindle Says:

    [...] several original James Bond books (which Amazon now publishes). I would start with the first book, Casino Royale, if you haven’t read them yet. There are quite a few other options, [...]

  4. Round up #147: Amazon has a better reputation than Apple, James Bond deal « I Love My Kindle Says:

    [...] Casino Royale [...]

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