Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Listen: "Live and Let Die" by Ian Fleming

Listen: Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming, 1954 for novel, 2006 for audio release.

I decided to try out a Fleming Bond novel when seeing them online.  I'm not sure if this is the first Fleming novel I have read.  I kinda recall reading Dr. No.

Boy, the racism sure shines through in this novel.  Sometimes it is a paternalistic racism praising musical skill and modern dance crazes that started in Harlem.  Sometimes the racism is a comment like "[black people] get excited and act crazy"  and "you could almost hear the jungle drums."  Felix Leiter and Bond are in a Harlem bar and Leiter refers to the couple in the neighboring booth as "straight from Nigger Heaven".  Harlem has "high yeller" prostitutes and a character is described "[he] had a bit of white in him."  Mr. Big's goons are apes.

Anyway.  Bond is freshly recuperated after a tough mission and assigned a case that sends him to New York City, Florida and the Bahamas.  There have been gold coins from buccaneer days trading in the States.  The coins likely originated from English territory in the Bahamas.  Mr. Big is the man suspected for the illicit coin trade and is also suspected of being a Soviet spy.  Not just a spy but a member of SMERSH.  Bond's recent recuperation was post-SMERSH related.  Bond catches a plane to New York to liaison with the CIA and

Bond lands in NYC and teams up with Felix Leiter.  Bond has read the MI6 dossier on Mr. Big and the history of voodoo.  Big grew up on Haiti and came to the states.  He worked for Legs Diamond (it was neat to hear that reference!) then struck out on his own.  Big started building an empire until he was drafted.  Big's French fluency found him with the OSS and working the docks in Marseilles as a spy.  Big disappeared after he was demobbed and the West figures he took training in Russia.  Big returns to New York and exerts his brains and voodoo knowledge to build a criminal empire making him the most powerful black crook in the U.S.

Bond and Leiter hit the town in Harlem hoping to gain some info.  Bond and Leiter are known by the many spies and informants who work for Big.  The threat of angering Mr. Big makes a lot of people do what he says.  Bond and Leiter are captured.  Bond and Leiter questioned by Mr. Big.  Mr. Big does not kill them because that would cause more trouble.  Bond meets Solitaire, Mr. Big's captive and would-be wife.  Bond escapes and kills three crooks in the process.

Bond has to leave town after the deaths in Harlem.  Bond gets call at his hotel from Solitaire.  Solitaire is escaping Mr. Big.  Bond meets her to take a train to Florida.  Bond and Solitaire are tailed.  Bond and Solitaire flee the train and miss a murder attempt on their train compartment.

Bond and Leiter investigate Big's seaside warehouse.  Leiter goes missing.  Leiter found but half eaten.  Bond goes to warehouse. Bond has gunfight and fistfight and kills warehouse manager.  Bond finds where Leiter was dropped in shark cage under warehouse. Solitaire is kidnapped while Bond is gone.

Bond goes to Bahamas.  Bond surveills Big's small island where gold coins are suspected of being found.  Bond hears that previous commando attempts to infiltrate island brought death to both British divers. Bond trains for a week in the ocean.  Bond reads about sea creatures.  Bond scubas to island and puts limpet mine on Big's ship.  Bond is caught.  Bond imprisoned overnight with Solitaire.  Bond and Solitaire dragged behind ship with idea of dragging them across coral reef so the sharks and barracuda cultivated by Big will eat them.  Limpet mine explodes ship before Bond and Solitaire hit the reef.

1. Plenty of clothes detail.  Cars detail. Other name dropping.
2. Bond is British through and through.  Not quite a xenophobe but very particular about things like cooked eggs and coffee.
3. Difficult to not take some of this as kitsch.  The culture may be outdated but the writing is not.  Fleming writes clearly.
4.  Interesting to read events that were then used in more than one Bond film.


Michael E. Stamm said...

Take a look at the British edition sometime. The American edition is missing most of a chapter--deleted for its additional racism--and, as far as I can tell, has been from the beginning.

Anders E said...

I recall reading a sixties Swedish edition some years ago. As I recall it, it was low on plot, negligible on characterization, but absolutely huge when it came to racism. Did you you know that the American Negro believes in Voodoo? Not? Well, this book will tell you. Ugh.