The first of Ian Fleming's 007 series is nothing really more than the first few shots fired in James Bond's war with a Soviet organisation: SMERSH.
In print, the world's most famous spy is similar but ultimately different from the loveable rogue that has blessed cinema screens for the past forty years. He is a cruel ruthless killer, ambivelant towards women; in that he loathes but desires them, but somewhat troubled with his dangerous profession.
In this the first installment, Bond comes up against a known and powerful SMERSH operative named "Le Chiffre". A Frenchman working for the Soviets with a penchant for spending his superiors cash on sideline businesses that he hopes will bring him fortune. In an attempt to hide his massive losses from his Soviet bosses, he attempts to retrieve their lost money by gambling with what remains at one of France's premier casinos.
Bond, an almost fresh but respected agent is sent to intercept "Le Chiffre" and bring him down, not with a bullet, but in a game of baccaret. Hoping to relieve him of his remaining funds Bond becomes involved in a wonderfully detailed game of cards, the aim being to coax a vengeful wrath from SMERSH onto their misguided French agent and thus ridding NATO of a potential nuisance from France.
The writing is of a very high standard. Bond is described well, as are all the other characters, making him seem more human than his on screen personna. Vesper, Bond's naive assistant, is believable and mysterious in her role, attracting Bond but focused on the job in hand. Fleming's talent for atmosphere and ambience are present here, neatly surrounding the main theme and it's absorbing narrative.
Rufus Sewell is a very casual, effortless voice talent. Each character has it's own trademark accent and tone. Such is the fluidity of his words one often forgets that it is just one person reading. Penguin can be congratulated on choosing this highly talented screen and theatre actor to bring Bond's world to life.
A promising beginning to an outstanding series. Sewell will make you love Fleming's work all the more.