Is James Bond Good or Bad? Casino Royale by Ian Fleming – A Review
James Bond’s First Mission as 007
Given the impressive release of Skyfall (2012), the 23rd Eon produced James Bond film; Daniel Craig’s 3rd outing as the British spy, and the 50th anniversary of the franchise, I decided to start reading the books to get a feel for who the real Fleming-inspired James Bond really is.
A common misconception is that Dr No is Bond’s first mission due to the first screen adaptation with Sean Connery. However, Fleming’s first book in the spy series in Casino Royale is referenced throughout the story as Bond’s first mission as a British Secret Service agent.
After working as Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence during the Second World War, Fleming set out to write the spy stories to beat all spy stories. Living in his Jamaican home, which he built and named ‘Goldeneye’, Fleming wrote Casino Royale in two months.
Upon its publication in 1954, the book had sold out its print runs in the first, second and third months of its release. Whilst sales in the US were very slow, the UK couldn’t get enough of its new Cold War era hero.
In his first mission as a double-O, Bond is tasked with bankrupting Le Chiffre at the casino in Royale-Les-Eaux, who is bankrolling the Russian counter-intelligence organisation SMERSH (literal meaning in Russian as Death to Spies). M., the head of British Intelligence, sends Vesper Lynd to assist Bond in his mission, as well as Rene Mathis from French Intelligence and Felix Leiter from the C.I.A.
The story is well known to contemporary Bond fans, thanks to Daniel Craig’s first film, so I was keen to see if there were many different aspects to the book than the film, as there often are.
In short, there isn’t. The film stayed pretty close to the core of the story. The main deviations were in there openings, as Fleming chose to start with Bond playing in the casino rather than perform a vast array of stunts, jumps and chases. Dr No started very similarly to Casino Royale where the first image of Sean Connery as Bond was playing the winning card in a game of Baccarat whilst smoking a cigar.
After just three chapters, it was clear that Fleming nailed the art of keeping the readers interest for the duration. Every chapter finished with a major event which moved the story forward dramatically, maintaining a fast pace to the narrative.
A marked difference in Bond’s character is his attitude towards women. When he first hears of Vesper’s assistance he immediately frowns and says that women have no place on a mission of such importance and that she should be in the kitchen where a woman belongs!
The finest part of the book is when Vesper is kidnapped and Bond chases after her. He gets caught himself in the process – this is his first mission after all – he gets tortured and blacks out.
From here Fleming gets very philosophical and creates a moral quandary in Bond’s head – is he a good man doing an immoral job or a bad man doing whats right for his country?
This very theme is what drives Daniel Craig’s Bond in Skyfall, and leaves the audience feeling torn as to whether he is the conventional hero we’ve come to expect.
What do you think? Is James Bond a good or bad guy?