Bond has never met an adversary like Mr. Big, a gangland kingpin who uses voodoo to control his vast criminal empire. And Bond has never met a woman like Solitaire, the beautiful Creole fortune teller Mr. Big keeps under lock and key. When a crooked trail of smuggled gold leads through Mr. Big's New York City hideout to SMERSH headquarters in Moscow, 007 flies to America to investigate. The racket will take him from the streets of Harlem to the Florida Everglades, into and out of Solitaire's arms, and deep beneath the waters off a secret Jamaican island where nothing but danger and bloodthirsty sharks await.
Many spy stories are thrillers, less cerebral than a mystery and concentrating more on action and tension. This story goes in that direction to the extreme. There is a search for pirate treasure and undersea battles with sea creatures, and a lot of blood and gore. And it is a very exciting story that I could not put down, even when some of the reading was very distasteful to me.
I will start with the negatives first. A good part of the plot centers on a large criminal organization run by Mr. Big, a very powerful black man who works for SMERSH. He uses fear and superstition to control the people who work for him in Harlem, in Florida, and on a small island near Jamaica. The descriptions relating to black people in this book are painful to read. I did not feel like Ian Fleming was racist, yet the writing on that subject made me wince. And a large part of the book has those elements, so it is hard to bypass.
But there were many positives. The story was well written and entertaining, if a bit more fantastical than I care for. The change of location to the US was fun. Bond's visit to New York and reunion with CIA agent Felix Leiter was entertaining. I always enjoy books that feature trains; here there is a train trip to St. Petersburg. There were some barbed comments on the retirement communities in Florida. The story then moves to Jamaica.
Here is Solitaire's description of St. Petersburg:
'Everybody's nearly dead in St. Petersburg,' explained Solitaire. 'It's the Great American Graveyard. When the bank clerk or the post-office worker or the railroad conductor reaches sixty he collects his pension or his annuity and goes to St. Petersburg to get a few years' sunshine before he dies. It's called “The Sunshine City”. The weather's so good that the evening paper there, The Independent, is given away free any day the sun hasn't shone by edition time. It only happens three or four times a year and it's a fine advertisement. Everybody goes to bed around nine o'clock in the evening and during the day the old folks play shuffleboard and bridge, herds of them. There's a couple of baseball teams down there, the “Kids” and the “Kubs”, all over seventy-five! Then they play bowls, but most of the time they sit squashed together in droves on things called “Sidewalk Davenports”, rows of benches up and down the sidewalks of the main streets. They just sit in the sun and gossip and doze. It's a terrifying sight, all these old people with their spectacles and hearing-aids and clicking false-teeth.'
'Sounds pretty grim,' said Bond. 'Why the hell did Mr. Big choose this place to operate from?'
'It's perfect for him,' said Solitaire seriously. 'There's practically no crime, except cheating at bridge and Canasta. So there's a very small police force. There's quite a big Coastguard Station but it's mainly concerned with smuggling between Tampa and Cuba , and sponge-fishing out of season at Tarpon Springs...'Shortly after reading the book my husband, son, and I watched the movie. I haven't seen many of the Bond movies starring Roger Moore, so it was new to me. There were a lot of changes. In this case I guess I prefer the movie because there were no racial slurs. The movie was released in 1973, nearly 20 years after the book was published.
The characters are mostly recognizable but changed. Yaphet Kotto plays Dr. Katanga, a Caribbean dictator, who rules an island where heroin poppies are farmed. He controls the psychic, Solitaire, played by Jane Seymour. In this case, Solitaire and James meet in New York, then James flies to New Orleans and they meet again on the island in the Caribbean.
My husband noted and liked the lack of gadgets. Desmond Llewelyn featured as Q in all of the Sean Connery films except the first one, Dr. No. He was unable to appear in Live and Let Die but returned for the next eleven Bond films, through The World Is Not Enough.
See these posts on Live and Let Die:
Patrick's review at Scene of the Crime
Two posts at Moira's Clothes in Books, Part I and Part II.
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer, 2012 (orig. pub. 1954)
Length: 230 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Series: James Bond, #2
Setting: New York, Florida, Jamaica
Genre: Spy thriller
Source: I purchased this book.