Casino Royale is Ian Fleming’s first novel and introduced James Bond to the world. It also introduced Bond’s his tastes and vices in a vivid writing style that led to the accusation of “sex, sadism and snobbery”.
Author: Ian Fleming
Publication date: 13th April 1953
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Cover artist: Kenneth Lewis
Set during the Cold War, M send agent 007 on a mission to beat the head of a French trade union at baccarat. The head of the union, Le Chiffre, had lost a significant amount of funds provided by his Russian paymasters through an unauthorised personal investment. His plan was to win it back at the gambling tables of Royale-les-Eaux.
The operation was designed to discredit Le Chiffre, believing he would be killed as a traitor by the Russians and wipe their carefully built up French network.
The book is one of the most polished of the books and the scenes in the casino are vividly painted. Although the plot is on the whole straightforward, almost mundane, it has enough of a spark of originality and daring to pull the reader into the story and finishes with a bitter twist in its tail. The book is peppered with information about Bond’s habits and vices, such as his preference for his drink to be “shaken, not stirred” (not the simple Vodka Martini of the films, but a concoction of his own design) and custom made cigarettes with three gold bands on the filter.
However, Fleming seems to get out of his depth as a writer when Bond is talking to the head of French intelligence about the philosophy of good and evil, which comes across as childishly naïve and seems completely out of place in the novel.
Overall, Casino Royale remains one of the best of the series. It has a freshness and readability that make it hard to put down, vivid descriptions of the card game and should grace the bookshelf of any serious fan of James Bond.
Fleming saw the big screen possibilities for 007 from the beginning and an option on the film and television rights were sold separately. In 1954 came Bond’s screen debut in the CBS television film of Casino Royale, with Bond played as an American agent. The title was later produced as a comedy starring David Niven after the official series of films, produced by Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, had raised public interest in Bond. It has little, if anything, to do with the plot of the novel.
First editions of all the books are highly sought after by collectors and as a result prices are high. However, old copies of the paperbacks are good value and the covers are better that the rather sterile covers of some more recent editions.
What we say
Casino Royale introduces many of the elements we have come to expect from James Bond; brand names, high living, cars, sex, food, drink, violence and exotic locations.
The book is rather oddly constructed though, almost like two interlinked novellas. The first deals with Bond’s mission to bankrupt Le Chiffre at the casino tables of Royale-les-Eaux, the second is a love story as he recovers from being tortured by Le Chiffre. In the last few pages the stories dramatically collide.
The entire story is set in and around the fictional town of Royale-les-Eaux. Described by Fleming as being “just north of Dieppe” and lying “near the mouth of the Somme before the flat coastline soars up from the beaches of southern Picardy to the Brittany cliffs which run on to Le Havre”.
We have a few clues as to where we can find Royale-les-Eaux and it is not until On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that we learn a few more details, although these are slightly contradictory.
Mathis works for France’s Deuxième Bureau and reappears several times throughout the course of Ian Fleming’s books and continuation novels. In Casino Royale he poses as a radio salesman while assisting 007 and it is Mathis who introduces Vesper Lynd.
A blond haired Texan, Felix Leiter is Bond’s CIA contact in Royale. A former marine, Leiter is described as tall and thin and about 35 years old.
Vesper Lynd is assistant to the head of section S and sent to Royale to help Bond in the field. He resents having a woman in the field and initially finds her frosty towards him. But once the mission is over they become lovers.
Le Chiffre is something of an unknown. His name means “The Number”. He runs a French trade union while acting as paymaster for the KGB in France. Overweight, he is a heavy smoker and frequently uses a Benzedrine inhaler and described as “A formidable and dangerous agent of the USSR”.
After investing some of the Russian money in a chain of brothels shortly before France banned them he needs to win back a large chunk of change to ensure they don’t send a hit man after him.
James Bond smoked exactly the same cigarettes as Ian Fleming, hand made by Morland. A blend of Balkan and Turkish tobacco, the cigarettes were filterless with three gold rings that signified the rank of commander.
In Casino Royale Bond’s lighter is simply described as an oxidised Ronson.
Bond drives the first of his Bentleys in Casino Royale, a 4½ litre model with Amherst Villiers supercharger.
Fleming mentions Bond’s .25 Beretta with a skeleton grip.
Bond has a a long-barrelled Colt Army Special .45 concealed in his Bentley.
Bond specifies Gordon’s gin in his Vesper cocktail. Today’s Gordon’s is weaker than in Fleming’s day. You therefore need to use either Gordon’s Export, which is stronger, or substitute Gordon’s with another gin.
Kina Lillet was a wine-based tonic flavoured with quinine and a blend of fruit liqueurs first created towards the end of nineteenth century.
The product name was changed to plain Lillet, later Lillet Blanc, but crucially the product was reformulated in the 1980s. This reduced bitterness by dropping the quinine content.
While its origins can be traced back to 1734, making it one of the oldest Champagne houses, the Taittinger name dates from 1931.
The widow of François Clicquot (veuve means widow in French) is credited with creating the first modern Champagne in 1810.
Food and drink
James Bond’s first ever drink in the books is an Americano, an Italian cocktail made with Campari, Cinzano and soda water. He orders this at the bar of the Hermitage Hotel, where Mathis introduces him to Vesper Lynd.
Then, after nearly narrowly escaping a pair of Bulgarian assassins, Bond unwinds in his room with a whisky on the rocks to accompany his lunch of foie gras and cold rock lobster.
After a session at the roulette tables, Felix Leiter introduces himself to Bond and offers to buy him a drink in the bar of the casino. It is here that Bond invents the cocktail he later names the Vesper.
Best known after appearing in the 2006 film, the Vesper is made from three measures of Gordon’s gin, a measure of vodka and half a measure of Kina Lillet. Bond asks the barman to shake the drink until ice-cold then serve it in a deep Champagne goblet with a large slice of lemon peel.
Before facing Le Chiffre, Bond and Vesper dine together in the restaurant of Hotel Splendide. They share a carafe of vodka and order caviar as a starter. When Bond asks for a bottle of Taittinger ’45 to accompany the same meal, the sommelier instead suggests the 1943 Taittinger Brut Blanc de Blanc.
Vesper follows the caviar with veal kidneys and souffléed potatoes then wild strawberries with cream. Bond has underdone tournedos of beef with sauce Béarnaise then an artichoke heart and half an avocado pear with French dressing for dessert.
As his baccarat game against Le Chiffre comes to a head, Bond finds a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot has magically appeared beside him (Fleming simply refers to it as Clicquot). He fills his glass and downs it “in two long draughts”. After wiping out Le Chiffre, Bond shares another bottle of unspecified Champagne with Felix.
Bond then celebrates the success of his mission with Vesper at the Roi Galant nightclub. They share a bottle of Veuve Cliquot accompanies by Bond’s favourite dish, scrambled eggs and bacon. Once the bottle is finished, Bond orders another bottle of Champagne.
After recovering from his torture by Le Chiffre, Bond and Vesper spend a few days at a small hotel while Bond recovers his strength. The first night they order homemade liver pate, broiled lobsters with melted butter and wild strawberries with thick cream.
To accompany the meal they order two bottles of Champagne. After the meal Bond sips a brandy while Vesper drinks coffee. During their last night together, Bond and Vesper drink Champagne at dinner.
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