by Ian Fleming
The very first James Bond 007 novel ever written by Ian Fleming, 1953's Casino Royale was recently remade, with Daniel Craig as Bond, as a reasonably faithful, updated, action-packed AND emotionally powerful motion picture. (Two previous versions, both available together on DVD from the library, were a live black & white television broadcast and a 1967 overstuffed comedy spoof in color, boasting an all-star cast, five directors and twice as many screenwriters. The newest version knocks these two straight out of the ball park.) Going back to the book, however, you can't help but note how innovative Fleming's original plot, which wasn't supposed to lead to an ongoing series and its various media spin offs, had been. As writer Kim Newman & others have noted, Fleming's "Casino Royale" seems to repudiate the classic British thrillers of such writers as John Buchan, Sapper and Leslie Charteris: Bond gets caught by one enemy and is rescued by another, who then escapes after vowing to kill him, is brutally tortured with a carpet beater and discovers, too late, something unsavory about the heroine. He's never on top of the situation and seems to be at everybody else's mercy, unlike his literary forebears Richard Hannay, Bulldog Drummond and Simon Templar (AKA "The Saint"). Bond is more a reactor than an actor in this story, never in control and always propelled along, like the readers, from one situation to another. That situation would change in subsequent books and the resultant films. A relentlessly downbeat tone overshadows the book, in spite of some genuinely tense & exciting moments (the cane gun; the aforementioned torture scene; a wild car chase). New readers shouldn't be put off by the book's then-recent topical Cold War references (villain Le Chiffe works for the Russians in this one) to enjoy this first-rate thriller.
by Ian Fleming