I've been a fan of the James Bond movies for a long, long time. I finally decided to read some of the books that inspired the movies and where better to start than with the first book in the James Bond series? When Casino Royale came to theaters a few years back, I was a little nervous at first about the new "grittier" bond. I'd always enjoyed the cheesy humor. But I really felt like Daniel Craig did a great job in Casino Royale and I look forward to seeing future movies.
As is expected with any book to movie scenario, there were a few notable differences between the book and the movie. Some of the action scenes were different. A little bit of the flow of the book was different. The interaction between Bond and the other major characters was a little more withdrawn in the book.
Another notable difference was that instead of playing Texas Hold 'Em (as they did in the movie), Bond played High Stakes Baccarat. I'd seen Baccarat played in some earlier Bond movies but I've never played or learned to play. Flemming did a fabulous job of not only teaching the reader the game of Baccarat but in doing so in such a way that felt natural to the narrative of the story.
The action sequences were fast paced and interesting without becoming terribly graphic or gory. Even the scene where Bond is tortured extensively is done in such a way that it makes the reader squirm but through higher level narrative or inferences rather than graphic descriptions. Don't get me wrong, there is definitely some lower level fighting and violence but it's done in a way that shouldn't turn the reader off.
Except for Bond, the characters were a little flat, stereotyped and predictable. There were some interesting character interactions and motivations, but generally speaking the book felt like Bond's story was a one-man-show and even though the characters were there, they were just window dressing for him. Bond was a bit flat at times as well…his character being the stereotypical "hard man" who doesn't really like authority, women, or process. He's cold and methodical and gets the job done.
If you've seen the movies, you'll know Bond's reputation as a ladies man. Interestingly, in this novel, he seemed very much against the idea of mixing business with pleasure. He commented that he didn't like having women around to distract him while on a job. He stayed cool and distant towards Vesper. They had a couple of scenes that should have been brimming with romantic tension but instead had a cold and distant bond beside a semi-confused Vesper. We came away from those scenes with a degree of tension but more with a sense of frustration for the romantic connection that could have been.
Bond's interaction with the local authorities and with the Americans was played a little different in the book than in the movie. Once again, Bond was the center of attention and the external forces were wholly peripheral and seemed to exist only to play on Bond's needs. And when Bond needed them, they suddenly arrived just in time with all of the proper resources and aid. This again felt a bit strained, but still worked in the sense of the novel.
I also acknowledge that this is definitely a genre novel that isn't really trying to be anything more than an exciting spy adventure. I think partly I was hoping for more dynamic intrigue or conspiracy. Considering the size of the book (just under 200 pages), it does quite a lot in a short space. It did briefly introduce the concept of a few "spy killer" organizations that could come into play in future books and make things rather interesting. But generally the story and plot were pretty straightforward and unremarkable.
Overall I enjoyed the book and will likely seek out and read more James Bond. It's not deep writing by any means but it is a fun, quick adventure that's just gritty enough to not be "fluff" but not so gritty as to be off-putting.
3 out of 5 stars
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