Fiction: “Live and Let Die” by Ian Fleming

Before I dug into The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, I was suffering from a bout of Book ADD. At one point, I was reading four books at once. There was Roman Blood by Steven Saylor (a mystery set in ancient Rome). I am still trying to get through Victorian London by Liza Picard, but good lord, that book is ginormous and full of information. I had also read the first chapter in Crafty TV Writing by Alex Epstein, because eventually, someday, I will rewrite that pilot script that’s been languishing on my hard drive for months.

And as if that weren’t enough, I was also rereading Dr. No by Ian Fleming. I had mentioned that title back when I read Casino Royale, and a year later, I was ready to dig into it again. Because there’s this scene that grabbed me, much like that thing grabs Bond, and —

But anyway, I was listing it as a “Currently Reading” book on my Goodreads page, and what Goodreads does that is very helpful to a series reader like myself is it lists the number in the series that the book is. (I apologize for that sentence. But I am so hopped up on cold medicine [goofballs] that I can’t go back and fix it.) So when it said that Dr. No was the seventh book in the James Bond series, and not the second that I thought it was, well. First I said “What the fuck?,” and then I followed it up with a hearty GODDAMN PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION.

Although, in Public School Education’s defense, my high school couldn’t have taught us about the Cold War, seeing as how we barely got to the Industrial Revolution.

ANYWAY. It turns out that Live and Let Die is the second Bond novel, which I did not know. It’s also, apparently, the only Ian Fleming novel I do not own. So I had to wait a couple of weeks for an inter-library loan to come through (how does the somewhat-major metropolitan city of Portland, Maine’s library NOT have a copy of Live and Let Die of their very own?!) and then I read it in about four days.

Now, I know that back when I talked about Casino Royale, I said that I was a huge Bond fan. But if you read that entry carefully, you hopefully noticed that I didn’t talk much about the Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan incarnations of the spy. And that’s because I am a picky Bond fan. Or, quite possibly, a poser. Because these are the Bond movies I’ve watched:

  • Goldfinger
  • Dr. No
  • From Russia With Love
  • Thunderball
  • Never Say Never Again (the awful remake of Thunderball starring a practically ancient, be-toupeed Sean Connery and Kim Basinger)
  • Casino Royale (the spoof with Peter Sellers and David Niven)
  • Casino Royale (the real one with Daniel Craig)
  • Quantum of Solace

So yeah … I know just enough to be dangerous, really.

I steered clear of the Roger Moore Bond movies because they have the reputation of being horribly campy. And yeah, Goldfinger isn’t exactly Ibsen, but at least there isn’t a crappy pun at the end of every scene. So going into this book, all I knew about the plot was that Jane Seymour played Solitaire in the movie. And after reading the book, I hit up the plot synopsis on imdb.com, and it turns out that a bit of the plot survived — but not much.

Bond is called to New York to assist the CIA with investigating a smuggling ring, run by a Mr. Big. (No, I’m not making that up.) In the movie, Big is smuggling heroin. In the book, he’s smuggling lost pirate treasure. Uh, book for the win? Smuggled pirate treasure ALWAYS trumps heroin. Bond meets up with his CIA pal Felix Leiter, and they barge into Big’s operation in Harlem and they get beaten up a bit (Bond gets his pinkie finger broken), but apart from that, they escape kind of unscathed. Bond meets Solitaire, who is Mr. Big’s consort and fiancee. She calls Bond the next morning, asking to escape with him. And even though he thinks it could be a trap, he lets her come with him to St. Petersburg, as his end destination is Jamaica.

When they get to St. Petersburg, Bond and Leiter investigate the Robber, a partner of Mr. Big. Then Solitaire gets kidnapped by Mr. Big, and Leiter gets eaten by a shark. Or, rather, gnawed on by a shark. He’s still alive! But barely, and minus a leg. And I still gasped in horror, because I loved Felix Leiter in Goldfinger! Leiter’s awesome!

So that leaves Bond alone on the way to Jamaica, where he teams up with Strangways and Quarrel, both of whom reappear in Dr. No. And there’s this epic scuba dive to the island headquarters of Mr. Big, and of course Bond gets captured, because you can’t have a Bond movie where he’s able to take care of the situation without getting caught. And he and Solitaire escape a fate worse than death: being dragged behind a schooner as shark bait.

Comparing this novel to Casino Royale, the misogyny wasn’t as prevalent — maybe because Solitaire was barely in it, and unlike Vesper, she didn’t betray Bond. One thing that I noticed — and again, this is a sign of the times in which the novel was written — the villains are all African-American, and Fleming uses the descriptor “Negroes.” A lot. Again, written in a pre-Civil Rights era, but still … the lazy racism was noticeable.

Also, there is a small section in the beginning of the book about Voodoo. Solitaire is a telepath, and Mr. Big controls his minions by using Voodoo tactics. And now I just thought of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Ben Stein trying to discuss Voodoo economics. “Something ‘doo’ economics. Voodoo Economics.” ANYWAY. As someone who has read half of the Anita Blake series and has written half of a story concerning zombies, I appreciated the diversion into the roots of Voodoo and Baron Samedi. The good news is that it doesn’t envelope the entire plot.

I talked during the review for Casino Royale about Bond’s humanity. And I think that, in this novel, he … well, doesn’t lose some, but almost makes a more conscious decision to act as a weapon and not as a man. When he’s facing what could be his fate, tied to Solitaire and about to be dragged behind a boat for sharks and barracudas to feast upon, he contemplates his action:

If they were still alive when the first shark’s fin showed on the surface behind them, Bond had coldly decided to drown Solitaire. Drown her by twisting her body under his and holding her there. Then he would try to drown himself by twisting her dead body back over his to keep him under. [204]

I mean, yes, he’s rationalizing it by believing that drowning is a more merciful death than being eaten by sharks. I get that; but the writing makes it sound so much worse.

All in all, I liked the book — there’s a moment where, on his way to the island hideout, Bond gets attacked by something, and it’s such a total surprise that I sat up on the couch, all tense with anticipation and worry — but I don’t think I’ll read it again. Maybe if I decide I want to be thorough and read all the books again (speaking of — stay tuned in June for a massive re-read of the Harry Potter series), I’ll pick it up again. But I don’t think I’ll buy it — unless it’s less than ten dollars, and only to complete the Fleming collection.

… and now my iTunes library decides to have some fun with me and play the theme song to Goldfinger. Sydney, my ever-present laptop: I frickin’ love you. Don’t ever change.

Grade for Live and Let Die: 2 stars

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