Live and Let Die (1954) by Ian Fleming

The second book in Fleming’s James Bond series was published almost 70 years ago. It is important to remember this fact when you read it. It uses language that was fairly common in literature during the period the book was written and published. Some readers may find this language offensive. I had a quick look on Goodreads to see what kind of hellstorm there was in the “reviews” and it was pretty much what I expected. It reminded me of Twitter. But there were some sensible reviews that managed to focus on the story and characters. That’s what my review will do.

Live and Let Die takes 007 to Harlem, New York, Florida and Jamaica. Bond is on the trail of the infamous “Mr Big”, a criminal with links to American organized crime, SMERSH–part of the Soviet secret service–and Voodoo. Bond suspects that Mr Big is involved in a gold coin smuggling operation rumoured to be taking place off the coast of Jamaica. He heads to the States and meets up with CIA agent Felix Leiter, last seen in Casino Royale.

The scenes set in New York are exciting as Bond and Leiter make their way through some of the bars and jazz clubs of Harlem. They also paint a fascinating picture of New York in this time period with the book now acting as a kind of time capsule. I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Fleming’s descriptions but they make for a compelling story. There is a graphic torture scene involving Bond that surprised me here, and there are other parts of the story where Fleming doesn’t hesitate to describe things in gory detail when required.

Mr Big is a complex and well written character who provides a genuine threat to 007. The author portrays him as a physically powerful, cold, calculating and highly intelligent adversary who exudes menace. He is involved in a very different climax than the 1973 Roger Moore-starring film adaptation. These differences between the book and the film gave me a very enjoyable reading experience as I often didn’t know what was going to happen next. I like Fleming’s writing style and found Live and Let Die to be a genuine improvement over his debut Casino Royale. I recommend the book, even if you’ve already watched the movie.

In an early interview with the author, Fleming described his writing process thus:

“I write for about three hours in the morning … and I do another hour’s work between six and seven in the evening. I never correct anything and I never go back to see what I have written … By following my formula, you write 2,000 words a day.”

-Ian Fleming

As always, thanks so much for reading.

-Wakizashi, *looking forward to starting Moonraker next.*

14 thoughts on “Live and Let Die (1954) by Ian Fleming

  1. I read a couple of Fleming’s books in highschool and I’ve wondered about re-reading them (I wouldn’t remember a thing now, sigh). Did you get a collection of them, or find them as individual novels?

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  2. I’ve only recently begun reading the Bond novels and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying them. Granted I’ve only read the first two so far. 🙂 It’s interesting trying to remember the movies and looking for the similarities and differences. And it’s been interesting talking to my father about them as he read and enjoyed them when he was young, before any of the movies existed. I know exactly what you mean about folks getting offended. I respect folks who don’t enjoy reading certain phrases or about people treating others in various ways, but I also don’t believe in rewriting history and let’s face it, this is all a part of history. So I agree with you that all that needs to be taken into account when reading books from certain time periods, or even just books about certain time periods (if the author cares about accuracy). Next up is Moonraker, I believe?

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    • That’s really interesting to hear your father was a fan of the books. My dad used to have most of the paperbacks when I was a kid. I wish I’d kept hold of them, especially for the 1960s & 1970s covers! Like you Todd, I don’t believe in rewriting history or censoring books that used dated language. The ironic thing is that looking at the user’s avatars, most of the angry reviews were coming from people who weren’t even being referred to by the dated language. In my opinion, such reviews say a lot more about the reviewer than the word(s) in question.

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      • There’ve been so many times over the years I’ve wished I’d kept some book or game or action figure, or that my folks had. 🙂 I have one book that I absolutely cherish because it was my father’s from when he was younger. It’s an old, falling apart, hardcover from maybe 1964 called The Cheechakoes, a true story about a family who moved to Alaska to live off the land. It has a cover price of $4.95. 🙂 I should reread that again soon, it’s been a while. As for folks getting angry, sometimes I think there are those who just aren’t happy unless they’re angry and complaining, you know? And related to what we now consider dated and offensive language, last year I read G.R.R. Martin’s Fevre Dream for the first time. It was published in 1982 and is about vampires on the Mississippi River in the US around 1857. I’ll admit I cringed sometimes from the language, but it did seem to fit that area and time period, or at least what little I know of, or imagine of them. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and would recommend it if you haven’t read it and like slightly harder hitting vampire stories, but I certainly can see many folks not enjoying it because of the language and portrayal of slaves throughout.

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