Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming
Published by: Penguin
Published on: April 2003 (reprint)
Page Count: 240
My Reading Format: Audiobook copy sent to me by Blackstone Audio for review
Audiobook Published by: Blackstone Audio
Narrator: Simon Vance
Audiobook Length: 6.8 hours
Available Formats: Paperback, audiobook, eBook
Shaken, Not Stirred: I am reading to each of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels as part of the Shaken, Not Stirred Audiobook Challenge featuring Simon Vance. We will be discussing the audiobook and watching the film version of Live and Let Die on Saturday, July 23rd beginning at 9:30PM EST on Twitter using the #shakennotstirred hashtag. Please join us!
After recovering from the events of Casino Royale, M sends James Bond on a new assignment to discover where copious amounts of very early British gold coins from what was thought to be from a sunken treasure, were showing up all over New York City. They believed Mr. Big, a man who likes to think of himself as the first great “negro” gangster. This man isn’t just a menace to American society. He is a trained Soviet agent and a member of SMERSH. Mr. Big isn’t a man people easily or willingly tangled with. He’s physically huge and he has his everyone open to believing in voodoo thinking he is a zombie of Baron Samedi, the voodoo god of death and darkness. Bond doesn’t waste any time getting caught up in this intoxicating and dangerous voodoo underworld when he arrives in Harlem. During his first meeting with Mr. Big, he comes into contact with the young and beautiful fortune teller named Solitaire. She is soon to be married to Mr. Big, but not by choice. This makes Mr. Big not only Bond’s political enemy, but a formidable obstacle keeping him from an intriguing woman.
While I enjoyed Casino Royale, I really enjoyed Live and Let Die. The action began almost immediately and didn’t let up as we followed Bond from Harlem to St. Petersburg to Jamaica. I particularly liked seeing Bond at his best – focused on the case at hand. Even when he gets into unexpected situations, Bond deals with danger and stress with panache and snark. I’m really growing to like that about him. He also isn’t content to escape a life or death situation. He gets his point across.
While listening to this book, I had to keep the time period in mind. Ian Fleming apparently didn’t want the reader to forget for one minute that any character – from the most minor to the most significant – was a “negro.” In fact, even after a character’s race was firmly established, he continued to use the qualifier. While I’m embellishing, here is how this felt to me as a reader:
The negro waiter walked up to Bond and took his order. After one last look at the menu, Bond gave the negro man (insert many details about how “negro” his features are) his order… The negro waiter handed Bond his check. Bond expostulates on the relative lack of taste and value of American cuisine. Nevertheless, Bond opens his wallet and hands the money to the negro waiter. The negro waiter returns with the change. When calculating the tip, Bond is pleasantly surprised by the level of service a negro gave him. Bond gives the negro waiter a nice tip.
After a while, it was almost comical how important it must have seemed to the author to continuously clarify a non-Caucasian character’s race. Fleming was clearly interested in black culture in America and the Caribbean. He also judged them to be a rising, yet inferior people who were ruled by the fear of voodoo, not logic. As is, this novel would not get published today. That he felt so free to write this story in this manner goes to show how far we’ve come in the world.
Once again, Simon Vance did a marvelous job narrating Live and Let Die. I was impressed by his American and urban accents. There was a fairly long section about voodoo and his matter-of-fact narration added authenticity to it, making it really that much more creepy. There wasn’t the torture scenes in Live and Let Die like there were in Casino Royale, but that same tension was very much present in times of danger and impending doom.
Live and Let Die was definitely my favorite of the first two novels. Getting to know Bond in Casino Royale had it’s moments, especially when it came to Bond’s attitude toward women. That understanding as well as the increased action in this second outing made for a really enjoyable read. With the exception of Fleming’s views of and writing about African Americans, I highly recommend this story and I’m very much looking forward to the Twitter movie party on 7/23/2011 at 9:30 EST.
I’m posting this review today to participate in Jen at Devourer of Books‘ weekly Sound Bytes meme. If you have an audiobook review to post, why not participate with us?