The second installment in the James Bond series takes 007 to the United States and Caribbean. For film buffs, the book noticeably misses the New Orleans underground vibe but still maintains the larger-than-life characters, superstition, and the voodoo underground. I really enjoyed the book and the development of Bond and his friendship with Felix Leiter. Race and nationality—particularly stereotypes—play a big role in the characterization of both good guys and bad guys, where almost none but the British escape unscathed. I was particularly fond of noticing elements of this novel that are portrayed in Bond movies of other namesakes.
So, not to kick off with spoilers, but let’s start with looking at some of my favorite passages about the plot.
We suspect that this Jamaican treasure is being used to finance the Soviet espionage system, or an important part of it, in America. .… Mr. Big is probably the most powerful negro criminal in the world. He is the head of the Black Widow Voodoo cult and believed to be the Baron Samedi himself. He is also a Soviet agent … and a known member of SMERSH. (16)
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a great negro criminal before. Chinamen, of course, the men behind the opium trade. There’ve been some big-time Japs, mostly in pearls and drugs. Plenty of negroes mixed up in diamonds and gold in African, but always in a small way. (16)
And the negro races are just beginning to throw up geniuses in all the professions—scientists, doctors, writers. It’s about time they turned out a great criminal. After all, there are 250,000,000 of them in the world. Nearly a third of the white population. They’ve got plenty of brains and ability and guts. And now Moscow’s taught one of them the technique. (17)
"The case isn’t ripe yet. Until it is, our policy with Mr Big is 'live and let live.'" Bond looked quizzically at Captain Dexter. "In my job," he said, "when I come up against a man like this one, I have another motto. It’s 'live and let die.'" (33)
In the history of negro emancipation, Mr Big continued in an easy conversational tone, ‘there have already appeared great athletes, great musicians, great writers, great doctors and scientists. In due course, as in the developing history of other races, there will appear negroes great and famous in every other walk of life.’ He paused. ‘It is unfortunate for you, Mister Bond, and for this girl, that you have encountered the first of the great negro criminals. I used a vulgar word, Mister Bond, because it is the one you, as a form of policeman, would yourself use. But I prefer to regard myself as one who has the ability and the mental and nervous equipment to make his own laws and act according to them rather than accept the laws that suit the lowest common denominator of people. (209-210)
As I mentioned, stereotypes abound in this book, and Fleming’s writing overall. Here are some prime passages to illustrate.
It was no waste of time to start picking up the American idiom again: the advertisements, the new car models and the prices of second-hand ones in the used-car lots; the exotic pungency of the road signs: SOFT SHOULDERS—SHARP CURVES—SQUEEZE AHEAD—SLIPPERY WHEN WET; the standard of driving; the number of women at the wheel, their menfolk dociley beside them; the men’s clothes; the way the women were doing their hair; … all the small, fleeting impressions that were as important to his trade as are broken bark and bend twigs to the trapper in the jungle. (04)
It’s straight Harlem—Deep South with a lot of New York thrown in. (42)
Every big American band you’ve ever heard of is proud that it once played here—Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Noble Sissle, Fletcher, Henderson. It’s the Mecca of jazz and jive. (46)
And bad American coffee’s the worst in the world, worse even than in England. I suppose they can’t do much harm to the orange juice. After all, we are in Florida now. (110)
It’s a terrifying sight, all these old people with their spectacles and hearing-aids and clicking false teeth. (111)
I appreciate the way the books show you more than films, from Bond actively sizing up a situation to the day-to-day tasks that are part of his off-screen character. Bond’s inner thoughts and personal history, which we are starting to see more with the bolder Daniel Craig film Bond, are also more easily told through text.
…and now, if you’ll forgive me, I’ll just write up my notes for the report I’ll have to put in. Have to remember to get a letter of thanks sent to Immigration and Customs and so forth for their co-operation. Routine. (04)
When Bond had drunk enough to drown his thoughts… (135)
His eyes were red with strain and lack of sleep. He went back to the bar, drank down the bourbon and ordered another one. (156)
It was while he was measuring the dangers ahead that the octopus got him. Round both ankles. (191)
The first tears since his childhood came into James Bond’s blue-grey eyes and ran down his drawn cheeks into the blood-stained sea. (224)
Just, as an aside, this type of hero-complex that Bond has is totally his demise.
He would have to go on if only to stop Solitaire at all costs from sailing in the doomed ship. (199)
Cheese and smarm, the witty repartee of film Bond is also, present, but to a lesser degree, in book Bond.
It was just a visiting card. I must return the compliment. (2)
[Bond referring to an explosive package]
Okay but opposite of smarm is this statement by Mr. Big. It's so not dramatic that it's actually quite effective.HE DISAGREED WITH SOMETHING THAT ATE HIM
And underneath in brackets:
(P.S. WE HAVE PLENTY MORE JOKES AS GOOD AS THIS) (139)
[This note was pinned to a man gnawed on by a shark.]
If I see you again, you will die in a manner as ingenious and appropriate as I can devise on that day. (71)
Perhaps my favorite parts of the Fleming’s writing are his descriptions. I only flagged a couple in this book, but as always, they’re vivid.
The audience panted softly, liquid eyes bulging and rolling. (53)
The stars winked down their cryptic Morse and he had to key their cipher. (178)
Finally, here are the parts of Live and Let Die that later influence other Bond films.
… the Soviet organ of vengeance, SMERSH, short for Smyert Spionam—Death to Spies? (11)
This is the phrase used at the beginning of The Living Daylights.
Ourobouros Worm and Bait. They got sharks. Big ones. Do business with foreign zoos and suchlike. (142)
Yes they were there. His hunch about the poison fish had been right. His fingers felt the close rows of coin deep under the mud. (148)
These plot devices could be found in License to Kill.
I intend to bind you together to a line streamed from this paravane and to tow you through the sea until you are eaten by sharks. (211)
It does happen in For Your Eyes Only.
Strangways, the chief Secret Service agent for the Caribbean... (161)
This was Quarrel, the Cayman Islander, and Bond liked him immediately. There was the blood of Cromwellian soldiers and buccaneers in him and his face was strong and angular and his mouth was almost severe. (168)
We meet Strangways and Quarrel in the first Bond film, Dr. No. They do appear in later books as well.