Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming is the second novel in the James Bond series (Casino Royale is the first). James Bond is an English officer in the secret intelligence service, commonly known as MI6. In this novel, Bond is sent to New York City to investigate Mr. Big, an underworld Voodoo leader, who is suspected of selling 17th century gold coins in order to finance Soviet spy operation in the United States. His beautiful and mysterious fortune telling girlfriend runs away with Bond only to find herself in serious danger. Bond’s CIA contact, Felix Leiter, teams up with Bond only to be put into a very precarious situation involving marine wildlife. In the end, Bond is victorious over the evil Mr. Big so that he might die another day.
While I read a James Bond novel entitled Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver, this is the first James Bond story that I have read by Ian Fleming. Because of this, I can’t speak too much on the themes of the novels. I will say that I was expecting quite a bit more and was disappointed. Perhaps it can be said that since this novel was only the second in the series, the character of James Bond was still forming and the themes were only slowly beginning to solidify when it was written. The reason I was disappointed was because the character found in this novel was different from the film version. The smart and racy quips that James Bond is known for are very few and far between in the novel and the smoothness with the ladies is not very apparent either. Supposedly the first novel in the series was a great success so perhaps Fleming felt the pressure to repeat that success to the point where he tried too hard and missed the mark.
The film version of this novel is no doubt filled with stereotypes, especially in regards to the sheriff in New Orleans, but the archaic ideas found in this novel are almost frightening. In 1954, the novel was released in England with chapter 5 entitled N-word Heaven. When I heard this, I was taken off guard and turned off a bit. Apparently I wasn’t the only one as when the novel was published in the United States the name of the chapter was changed to Seventh Avenue. In fact, Live and Let Die was banned in Ireland by the Irish Censorship of Publications Board.
To be fair, one major reason that I was so disappointed with this novel is because the movie version is one of my favorite Bond films. There are so many scenes in the movie that I enjoy, such as the boat chase and the scene where Bond tricks Solitaire into sleeping with him. These scenes were nowhere to be found in the book and it is even fair to say that the movie is only loosely based on the novel. Bits of the novel are found in the film and bits of the novel are actually found in other Bond films. One aspect to the novel that I actually prefer over the movie is that there is only one bad guy whereas in the movie there are a number of bad guys and it is even difficult to keep up with who is who. I might read one other Bond novel just to see if they are just as disappointing or if Fleming was simply off his game for this novel.
Aside from the exciting storyline, the movie version of this film has a number of notable aspects to it. The film marks the first of seven Bond films starring Roger Moore, who happens to be my favorite Bond along with Daniel Craig (I guess I like the guys that take the character in a different direction). Jane Seymour plays Solitaire in her first major motion picture and serves as the beginning of a long, successful career. Also, there’s the theme song, which is written and performed by Paul McCartney and still stands alone as a great song. In a Washington Post article, the theme song Live and Let Die ranked second among Bond theme songs with the theme for Goldfinger coming in first. Such a great song! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then click on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JK2hKzZss5Y.
I can’t say that I would recommend this book, as I didn’t enjoy it very much. This is at no fault to the narrator, Simon Vance, who is one of my favorites, especially when it comes to doing the voice acting for a British character. I am hoping that some of the other Bond novels are much better and more true to the James Bond character that I have come to know and love.