MI6 looks back at Ian Fleming's debut novel - Casino Royale - with story coverage and details on how you can catch up with the original James Bond adventure...

Casino Royale - Literary Primer
4th February 2005

Casino Royale is the first book in the epic James Bond saga by Ian Fleming, and is certainly one of the best. As well as some wonderfully tense scenes, and a superbly defined and more realistic James Bond, the plot is clever, but also astoundingly simple. First published in 1953, elements of the adventure are to be adapted in the 21st film in the series - due out in 2006.


M has approved a plan to eliminate the SMERSH agent Le Chiffre. Le Chiffre has stolen funds from his Russian superiors, and in order to save his life he is planning to win it back at the Casino in Royale-les-eaux.

Bond’s orders are to oppose Le Chiffre with English funds and bankrupt him, thus taking SMERSH’s money, and leaving them to murder the renegade killer.

Bond arrives in France and is assisted by Rene Mathis of the French intelligence service, and Felix Leiter (who works with the Joint Intelligence Staff at NATO), with whom he builds a lasting friendship. Attractive British agent Vesper Lynd ("3030") is also attached to Bond, whose presence in Royale is known immediately, as two men blow themselves up while trying to bomb 007.

Bond then confronts Le Chiffre at Baccarat, but seems to have been wiped out of his 16 million (old) Francs, before Leiter adds another 32 million at the last minute, with which Bond bankrupts Le Chiffre. Bond and Vesper celebrate, but she is kidnapped by Le Chiffre and his men, whom Bond pursues. However, Bond is captured when the SMERSH man lays a bed of spikes on the road and 007 crashes his Bentley.

Above: British Pan paperback 9th-12th editions (1962 onwards)

Le Chiffre sadistically interrogates Bond with, among other things, a carpet-beater against the genitals, to find out where the 40 million Bond has won is. As Bond is about to die, a SMERSH operative sneaks into the house and kills Le Chiffre. He has no orders to kill Bond, but instead carves SH on the back of Bond’s hand to mark him as a spy.

Bond comes round in hospital, and considers leaving the SIS before Mathis persuades him otherwise. Predictably, he falls in love with Vesper, and the pair go for a romantic week on the French coast. But Vesper suddenly kills herself, explaining in a note that she had been a Russian double-agent. Bond, who had been about to ask her to marry him, reports back to London that ‘the bitch is dead’.

Mini Review
Casino Royale is the first James Bond book, but by the end of it, it already feels like we have known him for years. Bond is a gourmet and drink-lover, whose vices also include smoking and women, with whom he is more than happy to make love. Bond is probably in his late thirties, but in excellent physical condition. He can be a cold-blooded killer, but prefers not to be. In this sense, and others, Bond is more realistic than in some of the later books. He also has a condescending attitude towards women, and he does consider leaving the service. The Bond of Casino Royale is the most believable, but in many ways the cruellest, ending the book with the coldest of remarks.

Casino Royale is also more violent than later books, but this is necessary for the torture scene to be so haunting. The gambling scenes are also marvelously handled. Fleming simply explains the rules of Baccarat, Bond’s calculated preparation, and then lets the tension build throughout the card game. Fleming set up the Bond formula with this debut novel, and laid the ideal foundation for the forthcoming adventures. A common criticism though, is that Le Chiffre is a very forgettable villain. There is little insight into the characters other than Bond, and the first thirty or forty pages are a little slow-moving. Nevertheless, this is one of the most memorable and tense Bond novels, and is highly recommended.

Prepare Yourself For Casino Royale In 2006!

Penguin USA
Paperback - $9.75

Penguin Modern Classics
Paperback - £6.39

Penguin UK
Paperback - £5.59

Coming Soon!
Titan Books are remastering and republishing the classic newspaper comic strips, and on February 25th 2005, the latest edition in the new collection by writer Henry Gammidge and artist John McLusky will be released. Don't miss this stunning graphic adventure closely adapted from Ian Fleming's original novel.

The legend continues! Get ready to enjoy more thrills and spills with the world's greatest secret agent in the latest addition to this classic action series! This is the story that introduced us to James Bond. He's charming, sophisticated and handsome but also chillingly ruthless and very deadly. In his first mission, James must neutralize a Russian operative by ruining him at the Baccarat table and forcing his 'retirement'. Lady luck appears to be taken with Bond as his target hits a losing streak, but Bond's attraction to a beautiful female agent leads him to disaster...

Amazon UK
Amazon USA

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