Live and Let Die – Ian Fleming
“There are moments of great luxury in the life of a secret agent. There are assignments on which he is required to act the part of a very rich man; occasions when he takes refuge in good living to efface the memory of danger and the shadow of death…”
Voodoo forces, the Soviet secret service, and shark attacks. What more could a thriller ask for?
Live and Let Die was Ian Fleming’s second novel. It is also the second in the James Bond series. Published in 1954 in hardback form and immediately sold out across England. Its paperback form also sold out, despite being a failure in the U.S.A. and even banned in Ireland for many years.
The novel was turned into a comic series in 1958, but its 1973 movie is the most popular adaptation to date. Starring Roger Moore, the film never gained fame. Unused scenes from the book were later added to For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill.
The story follows James Bond as he jumps from New York to Florida to Jamacia tracking down a notorious criminal suspected of selling 17th-century gold. The villain soon captures Bond and his CIA counterpart Felix Leiter. Questioned by ‘Mr Big’ and his goons, they don’t get away unscathed. They are quickly drawn into a world of jazz, poisonous fish, and mines. From fortune-telling runaways to shootouts in warehouses to man-eating sharks, this might just be 007’s most challenging mission yet.
Live and Let Die is an action packed adventure, but does have a darkside.
- One of the major disappointments with the first novel, Casino Royale, was the lack of well-known and loved characters. This book rectifies that. We’re introduced to the sassy and smart Miss Moneypenny, as well as the bumbling old genius Q. Considered vital in the film adaptions of the James Bond series, their original forms are just as entertaining as expected.
- The action is fast-paced and full of plot twists. From shootouts in old warehouses to diving in the middle of shark-infested waters, the writing leaves you hanging on the edge of your seat. Its realistic grittiness makes it very clear that the good guys don’t always win.
- The characters are more developed than they were in the first book. Bond himself seems more human; he makes mistakes and faces the consequences. The ‘Bond girl’ isn’t as one-dimensional either. Even the villains are intriguing, with valid motives behind their horrible actions. Not knowing what each character is going to do next keeps you interested in the novel throughout.
- This book is the pinnacle of racism. The villain is a black man, as are most of his henchmen, and Bond describes them with many unsavoury words. One chapter title was so discriminatory that the U.S.A. refused the publish the novel without changing it. Some of this racism is a direct result of the times, but thankfully those times have changed. What was ‘acceptable’ in the mid-1900s is no longer acceptable today.
- Along with racism, comes a whole bunch of other -ism’s, most noticeably, misogynism. While most male characters’ appearances remain a mystery, Bond describes the women in this book in painstaking detail. Yes, Bond treats most women well, but his casual description of their ‘assets’ are sickening to read.
- The dialogue can be a little cheesy in places. The bad guys have their stereotypical movie villain melodies and Bond and the girl have their end of the world speech too. It’s repetitive and predictable and quite frankly cringy to read.
Overall, I’d give Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die a three out of five. It’s an entertaining thriller that’s easy to read and doesn’t require much brainpower, but it is still rife with sexism and racism at every corner.
I’d recommend this novel to James Bond fans, as well as those who want a quick action-packed read. Although not as popular as the first book in the series, it is arguably the better of the two.
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