Name: Live and Let Die
Author: Ian Fleming
Genre: Spy, Thriller
Following my review earlier in the month of the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, I have now moved on to it’s sequel, Live and Let Die.
Live and Let Die begins a few months after the events of Casino Royale, with Bond on a new assignment. This time he is on the trail of Mr. Big – a big-time, black American gangster in New York.
It appears as though Mr. Big is actually a double agent for the USSR and he is smuggling gold from a treasure trove in Jamaica to sell on the black market in Harlem, with the funds helping to fund both his criminal activities and the operations of the USSR. To protect himself, Mr. Big is using his odd physical appearance to pass himself off as the Zombie of the Baron Samedi, the Prince of Darkness in the sinister Black Widow voodoo cult and a status allowing him to control almost all of it’s worshippers throughout America.
Bond immediately attracts the attention of Mr. Big who sends a small bomb to Bond’s hotel room as a warning to stay away. In retaliation, Bond and CIA agent Felix Leiter decide to track him down to his hideout in Harlem. They are subsequently captured by Mr. Big’s henchmen and Bond is taken to meet him.
Mr. Big interrogates Bond on the purpose of his visit to New York (to which he lies) and uses his girlfriend, the beautiful fortune-teller Solitaire to confirm whether he is lying or telling the truth. Solitaire confirms Bond’s cover story so Mr. Big decides to let his henchmen beat him up as a lesson and let him go (we also learn Solitaire is trapped in an abusive relationship with Mr. Big). Instead, Bond kills all of the henchmen and escapes. It seems Leiter also has escaped and after killing the henchmen they decide to escape from New York.
At the last minute Bond gets a call from Solitaire who pleads with him to help her escape and she joins him on the train. However, with Mr. Big avenging the loss of his henchmen and his girlfriend, the possible consequences Bond and Solitaire must face in order to destroy his huge machine could be severe, including a deadly battle with barracuda sharks…
The initial reaction to Live and Let Die I had, especially after coming from reading Casino Royale is that the action in this novel has increased sharply, in a way that is much closer to the experience in the movies than the more slow-burning Casino Royale. In some ways the novel feels like a step-up from its predecessor, with pacier action, the more glamorous locations of New York, Florida and Jamaica, the evil villain and I have to give special mention to what I think is one of the best names for a Bond girl character ever in Solitaire.
However, though it does feel like a step-up and as though Fleming was more asserted to writing this novel than Casino Royale, I did struggle to enjoy it in comparison.
My main criticism for this novel is the plotline feels a little bit dated in comparison to Casino Royale. Though there are obvious elements to the story which are no longer apparent like in Casino Royale, in particular that the USSR is no more, the whole concept of an American gangster digging up 16th Century British treasure was to me a little far-fetched and probably more Indiana Jones than James Bond. Also, the Voodoo sub-plot – though it is interesting I also felt was far-fetched and is really a vehicle to explain the henchmen’s complete obedience to Mr. Big.
Also the book is sexist and racist. I did mention before in my review of Casino Royale how Bond is seen to treat Vesper in a sexist way and it is fairly similar here, with Bond calling Solitaire little more than “the girl” on more than one occasion and Solitaire is a comparatively weaker presence than Vesper. However, the racism is more apparent with Fleming calling the black characters “negroes” throughout (though admittedly this was a more socially acceptable word in 1954) and there are several references made to Bond’s attitudes to black people as if they were somehow inferior (probably his consistent surprise at Mr. Big’s inventiveness throughout the novel could be a sign that somehow Bond thinks Mr. Big can’t possibly think of an intelligent plan because of his skin colour – I’ll leave you to make your own mind up on that). This consistent racism and sexism probably dates the novel just as much as the plot.
Though it is clear Fleming did step up the ante on Live and Let Die and it is fairly entertaining, overall it is flawed and not as good as Casino Royale.