"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 agent 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 In fact, Fleming was partly out of date in using SMERSH in this way because, it had been disbanded before the nineteen fifties when he was writing. But it was a useful conceit for his story telling and played effectively 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 from 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 properly established in ways that were largely followed in the films also: Bond is briefed by M about an enemy agent (in this case an American gangster, Mr Big) and sent abroad to break the SMERSH operation. In the course of the adventure, which moves from New York via Florida, to its climax in Jamaica, Bond encounters an assortment of villains and henchmen plus the inevitable beautiful woman.
This action 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 descriptions of the winds in Jamaica. The characterisation 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 fear. There is also the first use Barracuda's which seem to be a favourite 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 favourite 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.
on 15 October 2002
"Live and Let Die" is the second and, in my opinion, one of the best of the original Bond novels. "Casino Royale" wonderfully introduced the world to James Bond 007 but "Live and Let Die" is a more satisfying adventure.
James Bond 007 is pitted against Mr.Big, a member of SMERSH who uses the voodoo religion to terrify both his subjects and his enemies.
As with all the original Bond novels, certain elements haven't aged well. In places it does have a somewhat racist tone and everyone knows about how our hero treats the fairer sex. It's hard to forget that these books are around fifty years old. Though having said that, the depiction of James Bond with his frustrations, fears and morale doubts is still compelling reading.
"Live and Let Die" is amazing piece of work. It is not a novel that is rich in symbolism or meaning but is its focus is something more visceral. Live and Let Die is escapism, thrusting the reader from one narrow escape to the next, from one shock to the next. It contains passages of pure excitement and an amazing sense of danger. Not as far fetched as some of his later works, Live and Let Die has a very well balanced tone. "Midnight among the worms" is one of the most memorable and exciting chapters I have ever read.
If you want to get to know the literary or just want to get your heart pounding then read "Live and Let Die".
on 21 March 2011
Ian Fleming's second James Bond novel is sadly nothing like as impressive as the first. In Live and Let Die, Bond is dispatched to the US to investigate the sudden appearance of a horde of Captain Morgan's treasure, and criminal mastermind Mr Big, whose deeds the gold is financing.
While the book is a believable portrayal of 1950s Harlem, Florida and Jamaica, and the plot stays firmly set in reality, the book is let down by the writing style, which has little of the richness of detail and emotion that was present in Casino Royale. Bond has become grittier, and although brief patches of the character shine through, much of the narrative here is action based and fast moving.
It's worth touching on the obvious racial overtones that are present, but my interpretation is not that the book is racist - indeed it shows a number of viewpoints that struck me as being more progressive than I had expected, particularly M's comments early on and the character of Quarrel later, who although acting as something of a servant to Bond is still depicted as respected and an expert in his field. If anything, I found the book treats matters of race with much more delicacy than the Roger Moore film based upon it.
This book is certainly not up to the level of its predecessor, and, perhaps because of the settings, doesn't survive the test of time so well. While still a fairly enjoyable read, I've felt it detracted slightly from my opinion of the series I last read as a teenager.
This is my second Bond book.
The story is a little more complex than Casino Royale, the first of the "Bond Books"
This book is well worth reading and has excellent characterisation, and a very strong descriptive narative, as with all good writing each sentence seems to move the story on, overall this is a good story very well told.
One has to remember the book was published in 1954 and so may seem a little racist in its language to our more sensitive ears, however in all other respects the writing is timeless.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and after the perhaps slightly simplistic story in Casino Royale found this a much more accomplished novel.
I am looking forward to reading the next one...
First published in 1954, this is the second print outing for Ian Fleming's James Bond. Following the superb Casino Royale, it cemented the character of the international man of mystery and set him on the road to legendhood.
Bond is dispatched to America to look into the activities of Mr Big, notorious gangster and possible KGB agent. He and his old friend Felix Leiter are soon plunged into a dangerous adventure as they uncover a scheme to use salvaged pirate treasure to finance KGB operations in America. The consequences for Leiter are brutal, as with all of Flemng's Bond books there is a level of visceral violence and torture that makes the skin crawl.
There is an added dimension to this book, as well as fighting the usual Russian agents, Bond must also deal with the spiritual world. Big is a voodoo priest, and uses the cult to run his underground empire effectively. Bond has to counter Mr Big's magic as well as his bombs and bullets.
As usual Fleming writes with verve, passion, and an eye for the grotesque. His overblown detailed descriptions still read well and thrill. There is a feeling of tension running throughout the book, a feeling of constant danger, exploding every now and then in big action set pieces. It's a real thriller.
It's not a book without it's problems. Mr. Big's organisation is composed of people drawn from ethnic minorities in America, and to the modern reader Flemings attitudes and descriptions can seem a little, er, old fashioned. It's not exactly politically correct (though for the day in which it was written these were the prevailing attitudes, so perhaps Fleming can be excused) and can be uncomfortable for the more sensitive modern reader. 4 stars for the book.
Rory Kinnear's unabridged audio reading is excellent. He manages the range of accents and voices with ease, providing many distinct voices and never slipping into insensitive stereotyping as would be so easy to do. He has a great pace, and a feel for the rythm of the book. 5 stars for the reading.
The book is on 6 discs, and clocks in at around 7 hours runtime. The discs are in a spindle case. There is a short, disposable, interview with Kinnear at the end of the sixth disc. All in all it's a great product, 5 stars.
on 25 October 2012
Bonds second outing under the pen of Ian Fleming finds him in both the USA and Jamaica.
Pitted against the notorious Mr Big (who has found a stash of pirate treasure and smuggling it into the USA to aid SMERSH). Through Voodoo and the threat of the zombie Baron Semedie he controls enough black muscle to track Bonds every move.
After the disapointment of Casino Royale, it was pleasing to see a much tougher, slicker Bond emerge. A Bond that won't fail to get your pulse racing as he plans his next onslaught against the plentyful bad guys.
If you have seen the film, then you will be suprised to find that very little of the screenplay will be found in the novel. We still get to meet the gorgeous Solitaire though, and another Bond steadfast we encounter is his friend Felix Leiter, but whether we will meet him again remains to be seen. If we do then he definately won't be running around......
An enjoyable read and one that has left me wanting more.
on 19 March 2013
I'm only just getting into Bond, with only the Daniel Craig films as background. After reading Casino Royale I naturally moved onto this. I thought that the Bond in Casino Royale was a bit of a...well...an arse! But this book takes the character's bad traits to a whole new level.
It's...interesting. A good read, don't get me wrong, but it deals with quite a lot of race issues that were present in the 1950s and uses the predictable approach. There are many uses of words now deemed as "racial slurs" and since it deals with a black villain who manipulates peoples belief in Voodoo, the caricatures of black culture are many.
If you can see past the poor handling of race issues, a symptom of the book aging terribly, then it's a good read and I'd recommend it.
on 21 September 2015
The 2nd James Bond novel in the renowned spy series, Live and Let Die is set in New York’s Harlem and the shark-infested seas of the West Indies. Bond must investigate a voodoo cult organised by soviet SMERSH operative Mr. Big; a man whose soviet training, freakish size, and manipulation skills make him the first “villain”; and a worthy adversary for what can be seen as Bond’s first real mission. To confront SMERSH has been a long-awaited opportunity for him.
Bond has whisked away clairvoyant card-reader Solitaire, an attractive and talented woman who Mr. Big sees as his personal property. Solitaire is a damsel in distress, and her knowledge of Mr. Big’s crime machine puts them both in danger and forces Bond to accept that there is more to Mr Big’s control. The most exciting and compelling scenes were when Bond and Solitaire were on the train, with fearful anticipation for Mr. Big’s assassins to get at them.
The detail behind Mr. Big’s operations makes for intriguing background reading, with fear, superstition, secret communication, and black magic curses. Though he is resolute and is no stranger to pain, there were a few moments where Bond was fooled and frustrated. I liked this, for it kept consistent with prequel Casino Royale, where he had yet to be properly tested. I liked that there were more action scenes against enemies, which were often imaginative and sometimes ended in dark humour.
Criticism is that even though we’re introduced to an impressive villain, Live and Let Die develops through Bond’s inability to predict Mr. Big’s next moves. From there, I was fast-tracked to the opening of Bond’s final solo mission (which was actually his original mission before he decided to scope Mr. Big’s operations). The final solo mission was lengthy, with some parts over-descriptive, and a lot of back-and-forth preparation between Bond and his contacts in Jamaica. The descriptive writing style did well to cover scenes of underwater peril, yet it made the lead up to the conclusion tiresome. I would have liked to see more of a struggle between Bond and Mr. Big, and to perhaps link Solitaire’s talents into the action. In the end, Bond’s preparation and calculation, rather than sharp instincts or observation or heroics, saved the day.
Live and Let Die is a fast-paced intriguing novel that sees Bond challenging enemies directly. The setting and the scale of the voodoo cult was terrifying and adrenalin-filled. The locations were rich with detail, and the reader sees the first of the ingenious Bond villian. Though terminology and items are out-of-date, it’s difficult not to feel nostalgic for Bond’s personal tastes and global adventures.
on 22 March 2014
The second instalment of the Bond novels translated into Roger Moore's first screen outing with the spirit of the book altered by a degree of quick witted levity and the accentuating of the voodoo element into a more frightening component. It is therefore fascinating to read the original story and to discover why the film had to move with the times and jettison Fleming's racist stereotypes as well as many the rather lame character Solitaire far more interesting. The passage of the 20 years between the book and the film saw marked social changes which Fleming acknowledged were apparent in this novel which would have made a literal version of the story on screen into uncomfortable watching such was the author's patronising attitude to race. This novel is almost like a spy adventure written by Enid Blyton.
For all their faults, the Bond books remain readable and even though the passage of 60 years has tamed them considerably I do enjoy them. The fascinating thing about the books is how they differ from the films with the better cinema offerings being much weaker on the page. This is a good example. The story moves along at a cracking pace and whilst Bond remains in New York with the assistance of Felix Leiter it is impossible not to get dragged along by the story. I love the fact that Leiter is a jazz fanatic and was intrigued by the authenticity of the names rattled off when they visit the legendary Savoy ballroom. Only the obvious name of Chick Webb is missing. For me, this passage in the book served to illustrate that whilst set in the 1950's, Bond and his cohorts belong to an earlier and less sophisticated era. Just like with "Moonraker", the sensation of the book almost feels more like the 1930's than the mid 1950's.
The plot is ratcheted up some degrees when the story then transfers to Florida with the conclusion eventually taking place in Jamaica. At this point, Fleming's failings as a writer re-surface. The villains are pantomime figures just as within the films. Unfortunately Fleming lumbers them with incredibly hackneyed dialogue and as the adventure reaches it's climax, you almost feel like you can hear boos and hisses in the background. The back shat with The Robber almost feels like a parody of Batman or something dreamt up by a kid with a crayon.
I find Fleming to be a strange writer. Bond's character seems to mutate in the later adventures as he becomes more recognisable as the spy in the films. There is a suspicion that Fleming became increasingly influenced by the scripts of the films in the later books but, I would also suggest, his continued boredom with the character seemed to prompt his writing to become more experimental so that books like "The spy who loved me" or the collection of short stories in "For your eyes only" certainly benefit from their abridged nature. In contrast with this earlier book, I would have to admit they are far superior.
For all that is good about this novel, it is badly let down by the final quarter of the novel just as is the case with "Dr. No." and, in my opinion, the newcomer to Fleming's work is probably advised to start with the less celebrated titles where there is a sharpness and crispness in the journalistic style of writing that you won't find in the more flabby books like this one, "Dr No" and the ridiculous but fun "Moonraker." "From Russia with love" remains the novel I would recommend to start with as this is one of the books that is superior to this film. Anyone coming to this novel first will probably be slightly disappointed by the vulnerability of the character on the page and the linear nature of the tale contrasts poorly with more experimental writing like "The spy who loved in." A period piece very much of it's time but not one of Fleming's best as fun as it is to read.
Live and Let Die (1954) is the second Bond novel, and you can't help but admire the pace and verve of the story, even though it inevitably feels dated in places. What saves it from being just another thriller is the sheer brilliance of Fleming's writing - something that I come to appreciate the more I re-read the original 007 titles.
The US atmosphere of post-war New York fizzes from the pages, and you can just imagine how exciting this all would have been to a UK audience coming out of wartime rationing in the fifties. Fleming takes us to another world, of dark crime, a cosmopolitan lifestyle, and revels in the enjoyment of things just because he can. In addition to some cracking narrative, his flair for descriptions of people, places and possessions is as fresh now as it was when it first appeared.
The text is fat-free, and although the puff runs out towards the end (and this becomes more noticeable with later Bond titles when Fleming had really had enough of writing them) - these are superior thrillers in every way.
You cannot understand the real appeal of the Bond films without seeing how Fleming's secret agent developed over the course of the series of books. The films capture something of the surface glamour and violence, but the books delve deeper, and are essential reading. No wonder that new authors commissioned to carry the series on (though you have to wonder why they bother when the originals are so good) - are frequently quoted as saying they read all the original novels in order before starting their own take on Bond.
Fleming may well be imitated, but nearly sixty years' on has no peer.
Thoroughly recommended - and the Kindle version reads well and is free from glitches - a bonus. One slight gripe - the paperback versions of these Vintage editions contain forwards by notable writers of the day - but the e-versions don't. An odd omission, but nothing that spoils the enjoyment of Fleming's brilliant storytelling.