Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Live and Let Die: Ian Fleming

Summary from the back of my edition...
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.

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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.



26 comments:

  1. Not much of a Bond fan but I would like to read a biography of Ian Fleming at some stage as he led a fascinating life I believe. There's also a book of his letters, The Man With the Golden Typewriter, that looks rather interesting.

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    1. Those books do sound interesting, Cath. I am often interested in biographies but then let them sit on the shelves in favor of fiction.

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    2. Andrew Lycett's 1995 biography of Fleming is excellent.

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    3. Thanks for that recommendation of a good biography.

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  2. I haven't read this one in decades - I remember liking the freshness of the writing and really enjoying the vivid descriptions of places but can well imagine that other aspects have, to be kind, aged badly. As I recall the movie has almost nothing to do with the book - indeed, LICENCE TO KILL with Timothy Dalton and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY with Roger Moore are much closer to the book that this is! Very minor trivia (yup, I'm a bond movie nut), Llewelyn last played Q (or Major Boothroyd) in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (released in 1999, shortly before his death in a car accident)- in DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002) we had John Cleese reprise his role as R.

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    1. You are correct, Sergio, on Llewelyn's last appearance. My eye just went one too far in the list I was using. And I spelled his name wrong. I will fix that soon.

      Q is one of my favorite characters of all time, so I am going to enjoy watching some of the Roger Moore movies that I have not seen.

      The story in the movie was generally the same (in outline) but used different locations and motivations, and added a lot of Bond girls.

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  3. This one does have some vivid place descriptions, Tracy, and I agree that the plot would really appeal to people who like those fast-paced, perhaps-not-totally-credible sorts of thriller. But you're right about those insinuations about blacks; they make me wince, too...

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    1. If this was the first Bond book I ever read, it would not pull me into the series, Margot. But he does write very well and I still enjoyed the book a lot.

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  4. I felt the same way about derogatory remarks in one of Hemmingway's books, but they were acceptable terminology at the time.
    Ann

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    1. In most vintage books with derogatory remarks of this type, Ann, I just note them and move on, and basically that is what I did here, except that it was so pervasive it did affect my enjoyment. But still, it was a book I was glad I read and I think is worth reading.

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  5. I felt exactly as you did about this book, and still keep meaning to watch the film, even if it diverges a lot...

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    1. The film was a lot of fun, Moira, even though Roger Moore is my least favorite of the actors who played Bond.

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  6. Yep, I own quite a few of Ian Flemings books. I am expecting them to be rather fantastical and romanticized. I grew up watching Roger Moore. Not sure what that says about me if anything (g). Thanks for the review, Tracy.

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    1. Keishon, after reading Casino Royale (in 2007, after watching the movie), I expected the later novels to be similar. That story was more serious and gritty. Although I know I read some of these novels when I was younger, I don't remember much about them.

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  7. I thought LIVE AND LET DIE was an enormous improvement on CASINO ROYALE. There are fine moments in CASINO ROYALE but LIVE AND LET DIE is much tighter and much better paced.

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    1. I did like the pacing, dfordoom, and I appreciate that in a book. Probably why I enjoyed it so much. I honestly don't remember my reaction to Casino Royale, which I read more to see if it was much like the movie. I could not believe the torture scene would have been in the book but it was.

      I am halfway into Moonraker and it seems to be somewhere between the Casino Royale and Live and Let Die, so far.

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  8. That view of Florida as a land of elderly and retired people ending their lives in a slo-mo, pastime-filled life of recreation and sunbathing is one that the state will forever find hard to shake off. But it's so far from the truth for anyone who has lived in the state. I lived in Sarasota, a short drive south of St. Petersburg, for a single year in 1985 and I saw so much poverty and crime and sadness smothered by all the publicity of the extremely wealthy patrons of the arts who kept "the cultural capital of Florida" afloat. No one ever notices or talks about all the young people starving and stealing, all the prostitution, or all the homeless beach bums in Florida. The disparity between the two worlds in one city and how the poor (I was among them making only $35/week at a theater) were utterly ignored disgusted me. Never again would I want to live in that state.

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    1. John, I am glad you commented on that. I wondered how true that was (then and now). I have spent some time in Florida, visiting relatives or vacationing, when I was younger (1965 - 1975ish). I never saw Florida as full of retirees, although I have no desire to live there either. I saw a couple of posts that did agree with the comments in the book. Maybe it depends on the part of Florida you are in.

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  9. Tracy, I have probably read just one book by Ian Fleming and thanks to the Bond films, I read no more. I liked Roger Moore as 007. I think he was the funniest of the Bond actors.

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    1. Prashant, I think most of the Bond films are not even close to the books, but I am sure it varies. I may have been unfair to Roger Moore. I have not seen that many of the Bond movies starring him, or if I did it was long ago. I do prefer the more serious Bond actors though.

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  10. I'm not a big Bond fan either, thought I saw the last two out of three films with Daniel Craig and back in the day, I liked the Roger Moore incarnation. No, wait, I also liked DR. NO and GOLDFINGER. So maybe I am a Bond fan after all. :) At any rate, enjoyed reading your review. I've never read any of the Bond books, that much I do know. And I think I know I won't probably be reading them any time soon.

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    1. Thanks, Yvette. From what I have read about the books, they vary a lot. I am now almost finished with Moonraker, and liking it a lot. Not the normal type of spy fiction I read, but fun and interesting.

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  11. I discovered some years ago that several pages of text in the Harlem sequence were excised from the American edition, presumably on the grounds of racism. The Bond books pose something of a conundrum; CASINO ROYALE poses some questions of morality that essentially disappear from later books, which doubtless helped their popularity but kept Fleming from being considered on the same level as, say, Graham Greene or John Le Carre, whose works are centered around such questions.

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    1. That is interesting, Mike. I would like to learn more about the excised pages.

      It sounds like I need to go back and reread Casino Royale someday. I have read only one book by Greene and want to read more.

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  12. I read all the Fleming Bonds. Dropped off after he died and Gardner started writing them. Maybe by then I'd outgrown the books, altho I kept watching the films. Fleming was a good weaver of tales and a decent craftsman. I started reading them after I learned JFK as president enjoyed them. Maybe that partly explains the Bay of Pigs fiasco--too much fantasy, too little practical sense.

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    1. I love your thoughts on this, Mathew. Especially about the Bay of Pigs invasion.

      I thought I had read all the Bond books, but now I think maybe not. Regardless, I remember specifically only one I read when younger, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

      I have never read any of the continuations of the Bond series, but reading the books now has motivated me to give them all a try, and see how they handle the character. Someday, after I have finished the books by Fleming.

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