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 sends 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.
It is one of the more 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.
Ian Fleming’s first book was inspired by an experience he had in Estoril during the Second World War that he later heavily embellished. We first meet James Bond while at the casino in Royale-les-Eaux where he has been sent to beat a Russian agent at baccarat.
The novel is extremely short, especially by the standards of the twenty-first century, and structurally is almost two separate but intertwined stories.
The first deals with his mission to beat Le Chiffre at the card tables, while the second is a love story as Bond recovers from a vicious beating. But rather than a happy ending this love story ends with a bitter twist. In the last few pages the stories dramatically collide.
The first edition of 4,728 copies was quickly followed by a second and then third printing. Both critically and commercially James Bond was a success from the start. But no one could have predicted just how successful 007 would become.
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.