CASINO ROYALE by Ian Fleming

This week’s crime fiction we love is submitted by long time fan of the genre Ayo Onatade whose contributions to the crime fiction community include reviewing and interviewing authors at Shots: Crime and Thriller eZine

CASINO ROYALE – Not quite my favourite crime novel but pretty close!

UK First Edition cover 1953

When I am asked about my favourite crime novel, my first response normally would be to say FAREWELL MY LOVELY by Raymond Chandler. No question about it. However, there is another book, which at one time would have surpassed FAREWELL MY LOVELY as my favourite crime novel. As it is, the book will always be in my list of top five favourite crime books. The book in question is CASINO ROYALE by Ian Fleming.

First published in 1953 CASINO ROYALE introduced readers to that suave Secret Service Agent Commander James Bond also (and some would say better) known as 007. The story is to a certain extent quite uncomplicated. Bond is sent to Royale-Les-Eaux in order to take down Le Chiffre who is the treasurer for the French Union and an agent of SMERSH by bankrupting him in a tense game of Baccarat Chemin-de-fer. Bond soon finds himself in over his head. He is assisted by a three main people in his quest. Vesper Lynd from Station S, René Mathis of the Deuxième Bureau and Felix Leiter of the CIA. I will not say anymore, but suffice to say what we have in CASINO ROYALE is a battle of wits, a love affair which goes tragically wrong and a torture scene that even I would not wish on my worst enemy.

The 1955 edition saw the first picture of Bond - James Bond

The 1955 edition saw the first picture of Bond – James Bond

But why do I consider CASINO ROYALE to be one of my favourite crime novels? For a number of reasons. I have always been a fan of Ian Fleming and to be honest, as with Raymond Chandler I did not start reading the Bond books with the first book in the series. I started with DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1956). This of course piqued my interest and I went back to the start of the series and read CASINO ROYALE and fell in love. I fell in love with not only the character of Bond but also the series. Bond in CASINO ROYALE is much different to the Bond that we read about in the later books. In CASINO ROYALE, he is very different; he is naïve, not sure about what he wants with his career. When reading CASINO ROYALE one of the things you realise is how snappy the dialogue is. I am not sure that everyone will agree with this comment now but at the time, CASINO ROYALE was written this was in my opinion the case. His sense of place is vivid even from the start –

“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.” (CASINO ROYALE, Chapter 1: The Secret Agent)

This edition tied in with the first movie starring Sean Connery

This edition tied in with the first movie starring Sean Connery

Even when he is describing Bond and his fondness for gambling he does so with such an appreciation of his surroundings that on reading it yourself you are easily immersed and think that you are there with him –

“Bond had always been a gambler. He loved the dry riffles of the cards and the constant unemphatic drama of the quiet figures round the green tables. He liked the solid, studied comfort of card-rooms and casinos, the well-padded arms of the chairs, the glass of champagne or whisky at the elbow, the quiet unhurried attention of good servants. He was amused by the impartiality of the roulette ball and of the playing cards –.” (Chapter 7: Rouge et Noir)

One only has to think of the baccarat scenes as well to appreciate what is going on. The most specific one that comes to mind for me is the following and it takes place at the baccarat table as his final showdown is taking place at the table with Le Chiffre.

“This is a gun, monsieur. It is absolutely silent. It can blow the base of your spine off without a sound. You will appear to have fainted. I shall be gone. Withdraw your bet before I count ten. If you call for help I shall fire.” (Chapter 12: The Deadly Tube)

One might think that Fleming dwells too much on the minutiae of things but for me that is all part of what makes CASINO ROYALE so good.

For me also, Bond has always been exciting, sexy, at times ruthless but in my opinion terribly cool. Furthermore, he is an uncomplicated man when it comes to his sense of style and food when he is at home. It is only when he is away that his fastidiousness comes to the fore. I mean cast your mind back when we are first introduced to the drink, which he later names “The Vesper” after Vesper Lynd.

“‘A dry martini,’ he said. ‘ One. In a deep champagne goblet’…

‘Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon’.” (Chapter 7: Rouge et Noir)

in the 2000's a new movie demanded a new tie-in cover

in the 2000’s a new movie demanded a new tie-in cover

Moreover, CASINO ROYALE is in my opinion the most atmospheric of all the Bond books. It is certainly the most grim and brutal when one considers the rest of the series. In fact, it is the most vicious and we see Bond at not only his coolest but also when he is at his most ruthless.

Another reason why CASINO ROYALE is one of my favourite crime novels is the fact that at the time it was written, it combined two types of novels. The first is what one could describe as being a traditional and classic British thriller and the other a noir novel that has a more credible and cruel approach in the mould of Chandler and Hammett. In that sense I am not surprised that CASINO ROYALE is one of my favourite books.

If there is a downside to CASINO ROYALE that it is with his characterisation. I freely admit that aside from Bond himself his characterisation of the others in the book could be improved. His characterisation does however get better as the series progresses.

A Swedish edition from the 60's

A Swedish edition from the 60’s

While Bond’s misogynistic attitudes towards women leave a lot to be desired, one cannot but help feel sympathetic towards him. As the book progresses especially at the end and specifically as the series progresses one can understand (but may not agree with) his attitude towards women. It is only in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE that things change and not for very long.

Therefore, what can I finally say about CASINO ROYALE that will truly explain why it is one of my favourite crime novels? How about the fact that it is a well-paced tensely written thriller. It is filled with what one could only describe as an edge of your seat quest combined with sex and intrigue. There is also a sense of indulgence and excitement all the way through the book. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

And oh by the way, did you know that when CASINO ROYALE was released in paperback in the US in 1955, it was done under the title of YOU ASKED FOR IT? I am not sure, why as in my opinion CASINO ROYALE is a much better and appropriate title don’t you think? I certainly do. Moreover, he does introduce himself as “Bond – James Bond”.

So while FAREWELL MY LOVELY will always be my favourite crime novel, CASINO ROYALE comes second and could have quite easily been my favourite.

Book Details:

author: Ian Fleming (learn more at his official website)
original language: English
publication date (UK):  April 1953 (Jonathan Cape)

Contributor Details:

Ayo is a clerk for a judge in the Court of Appeal, a book reviewer and a major fan of athletics and American football living in London, England. She is the Special Crime Reporter at Shots Ezine and also is an associate member of The Crime Writers Association (CWA) of Great Britain. You can read many of Ayo’s reviews and interviews from her page at the eZine, or follow her on twitter for a great stream of crime fiction news and views.