After finishing (and enjoying) Agents of Innocence by David Ignatius, I felt like keeping the spy train rolling. I decided to read (what I believed was) the pinnacle of the Spy Thriller world: James Bond. Like anyone and everyone, I have of course seen, and even own, all the James Bond movies. However, this was not what I expected.

For those of you who have seen the film Casino Royale and are now planning on reading the book, there will be an unpleasant shock. The producers have defied the film industry standard, and have produced a film with an incredibly similar plot and feel (except for a few minor and thoroughly irrelevant exceptions as they did have to alter the plot slightly to make sense of the 1950’s plot in a 2006 world) to the original. The unfortunate side effect being that reading the book after watching such a faithful movie recreation, the book comes across as second best. It is as if we are reading the first (rejected) draft of the movie script.

However, for those of you not familiar with the movie I will give a brief description of the plot. The whole plot unfolds in northern France, in a casino named Casino Royale. Bond is playing to bankrupt (by playing poker) a man named Le Chiffre (the baddy), who is a corrupt paymaster for a trade union controlled by SMERSH (a Russian spy agency). Of course there are girls, and guns, and we are introduced to a few series regulars such as Felix Leiter and Rene Mathis. However, this being the first depiction of James Bond in literature, the book serves more as an introduction to James Bond than as a spy thriller in itself. We get to see his foibles as well as his strengths, set against the backdrop of a rather mundane mission.

I cant say that the writing of Casino Royale particularly struck me. I was neither amazed nor disappointed. In reflection possibly what is most notable about how Fleming wrote, is that his writing got out of the way. I almost did not realise that I was reading, as I was swept away by his story. Who knows whether this is due more to the fact that I have seen all the movies and can picture many of the faces and events that took place, or whether it had anything to do with Fleming. Who knows?

I have so many opinions and thoughts about this story that I am not quite sure where to begin. It truly is magnificent, even if the fact that it spawned one of my favourite film series is completely ignored. It carries you through what is rather a mundane mission and plot without you realising, and it serves as a brilliant introduction both into the world of Bond as well as Bond himself. As stated previously, we are introduced to his habits and his foibles. We are shown his manner of dress as well as style. We are taught a new drink, one that will become an icon (until of course its ingredients are no longer made). We learn a little Baccarat, and we get to witness the demise of Le Chiffre. And all of this is almost inconsequential. It is just a lead up to the ending. An ending so powerful I would never have suspected it from what was meant to be a thriller. All in all, I truly love this book.

I was greatly enthused to begin reading the original form of one the stalwarts of my childhood. But almost immediately I was also greatly surprised. It is completely different from the original film series, and I now have much, much more respect for Daniel Craig’s reboot. It is edgy and raw, more sweat and less tuxedo. I like it. This book is definitely suggested for fans of both the spy thriller genre as well as James Bond specifically. But for those of you expecting the cool, suave James Bond, prepare for a shock. And now, onwards and upwards.

Title: Casino Royale

Author: Ian Fleming

Pages: 192 (Paperback)

Publisher: Penguin

ISBN-10: 014200202X

ISBN-13: 978-0142002025

Josh’s Rating: 5/5

Amazon Link: Casino Royale