Audiobook (Read by Damien Lewis)
I’m so glad that when I started working through some Bonds on CD from my local library that I randomly started with Casino Royale. It’s good that I know Fleming is capable of so much more than this phoned in effort. Perhaps literally – so much time is devoted to tripadvisor style details on what a typical British tourist might muse on in discussing his US holiday – meals, holidays, events, attractions. Sure it’s possible to powerfully integrate location into a story, but most of this element could have (probably should have) worked better as Fleming sending back a set of magazine travel articles, ‘A day at the Saratoga Races’, ‘All Aboard the QE2’, etc.
The spy/crime aspect was just irritating. Really irritating. So many lazy choices. Here’s Bond – sold to us as our top level, super-intelligent, mega-sophisticated, highly-trained elite spy. The operation is massive – the government throwing tens of thousands of pounds into the pool to attempt to infiltrate this multi-national crime syndicate. They find an opening to sneak Bond in undercover. So what does our uber-operator do? Bump into an old mate (a real danger for undercover operators) whose background could really compromise him – and decide to hang out rather than immediately say, “I’m working, act like you don’t know me and walk away.” Even when he finds that Felix is openly employed as a detective, with the brief of opposing the very criminals Bond is supposed to be wanting to work for. He even works with Lighter to get involved in things like paying off a jockey who’s betrayed the gang – massively risking everything in his major operation in pursuing a minor sting. This is madness – and totally contradicts his and his branch’s purported methods and sophistication. And if this wasn’t enough, he again jeopardises the whole expensive international enterprise … because he’s getting bored. When undercover generally is going to take months or years, after a few *days* Bond is titchy, and unprofessionally crosses the gang because of childish impatience. I suppose at least he’s consistently unprofessional, but, again, this runs totally against the classification and trust given to him by his government, and by his author and readers: he’s not meant to be a comically bumbling fool. The farce of missing all the clues that are screaming at the readers to warn him of the dangers on the QE2 (and this alongside the inexplicable complacency he feels once on the boat, as if that somehow puts him beyond the clutches of a powerful international cartel) – clues that he even lists after the ‘surprising’ (but actually inevitable) attempt on their lives – are obvious enough to an average reader. It’s untenable that someone who’s a professional agent – who should be hyper aware – somehow missed all this.
The supporting characters are appalling handbags, utterly by the numbers. The (or one of the) evil mastermind is just a ludicrous excuse to set up a Western scene – surely this was written after Fleming was expecting to have his books put on the screen? The train stuff is just plain stupid. Our American-Italian cabbie is cliché in characterisation and taking a bullet. And Tiffany Chase … almost satire in how easily she risks/betrays her entire previous life because she’s met Bond for 10 seconds.
Fleming still has occasional moments of engaging style – such as the opening desert description – but the frame he created undermined any of his strengths. He keeps having to tell us that these mobsters are actually to be taken as seriously as the cold war agents, despite Bond’s initial dismissal, yet the only thing they do that gets him to take them seriously is to beat him up. They don’t really do anything to prove the contention. It would have been much more enjoyable to, for example, to have played with this – actually have Bond be all over these guys because of his much greater experience and training, and the quality of the cold-war game putting him above the gangsters.
This felt much more in the style of the farcical Roger Moore period than anything of sinew or sophistication.