"Live and Let Die" was Ian Fleming's second James Bond novel. In Casino Royale (Vintage Classics)
he established the character of Bond, ending with the latter resolving to go after Soviet Intelligence's terror machine, SMERSH. In fact, Fleming was partly out of date in using SMERSH in this way because in reality it had been disbanded before the nineteen fifties when he was writing. But it was a useful conceit and playing on fears generated by Cold War which was then at its height.
"Casino Royale" had shown many features that will continue to appear in the Bond novels. But the first book is in some ways different form other Bond books in that the main thriller action largely takes place the first two thirds. In "Live and Let Die," the James Bond format is established which was also largely followed in the films also, even when they departed from the novels: Bond is briefed by M about an enemy agent (in this case an American gangster and SMERSH agent, Mr Big) and sent abroad to break his operation. In the course of the adventure which moves from New York via Florida, to its climax in Jamaica, he encounters an assortment of villains, henchmen plus the inevitable beautiful woman.
This is combined with Fleming's atmospheric descriptions of the places Bond visits which are often very accurate and based on local knowledge, for example his his descriptions of the winds in Jamaica. The characterisarion of Mr Big, as with all the villains, is highly effective: a Negro who uses Voodoo (which Fleming had read about, and maybe misrepresents) to cultivate a fear. There is also the first use Barracuda's which seem to be a favorite animal of Bond villains for disposing of people, and which Fleming was familiar with as an enthusiastic skin diver. Plus as always there is the pace of the writing which Kingsley Amis called the "Fleming sweep" that keeps the reader interested from beginning to the end.
Fleming, to me, is one of the most effective thriller writers ever. His ability to provide this mixture of pace, thrills and atmosphere is as always a winning combination. This is perhaps not my personal all time favorite Bond novel. That would be either From Russia with Love (Vintage)
or Dr No (Penguin Modern Classics)
which were still to come. But "Live and Let Die" still is near the top of the very best Bond novels and, unlike thrillers from some other authors, remains fresh and very readable even on repeated readings.