author: Ian Fleming
Bond is back!
There is no way to read this book sixty years on and not conclude that it’s a bit racist. Bond is working amongst, and mostly against, “the negroes” of the USA and Jamaica, trying to bring down Mister Big, a Russian spy-cum-crime lord. Big has taken to using voodoo trappings to bolster his control over the whole of the USA’s black population, who are almost all depicted as weak willed and superstitious enough to fall for the old time religion. With the exception of Big, a giant, grey-skinned sadistic genius, the black characters all come across as cartoony caricatures or faceless parts of the herd.
The plot kicks off because Big is sneaking pirate treasure into the States to fund his crime and spying activities. It’s thought it all originates from the lost horde of pirate Captain Morgan, and it would be good if Bond could cut off the supply and dispose of Big whilst he’s about it. In the States, Bond teams up with Felix Leiter again, who proves to be much more progressive than British intelligence or New York’s Police department when he takes Bond for a tour through Harlem and into the heart of Big’s operation. Leiter’s love and knowledge of the jazz greats even gets him out of a beating as he so impresses one of his captors with it. He doesn’t get away so lightly later in the book, though….
The requisite beautiful woman is introduced in the shape of Domino, who immediately falls for Bond and escapes Big’s clutches to run away with him to Florida as he moves on to the next stage of his investigation. She gets recaptured just as quickly, and Bond has to hustle on to Jamaica to catch up with her again.
The book’s resolution is something of an anticlimax, though it is built up to with great care. After all the films, you come to expect a grand finale, with a shootout and explosions, but it’s not delivered. As with all the Bond books, it’s hard not to compare book and film. The movie Live and Let Die was one of Roger Moore’s first, and filtered the story through blaxploitation and added topless double deckers and motor boat chases. It also left out at least two scenes which turned up, with modifications, in later films.
Yes, the book is racist in tone and depiction, but if you can accept that, it’s pretty much the template for the films and all those other larger than life thrillers which came after it.