Casino Royale was the first 007 novel ever written by Fleming, but after reading the book, you get the feeling you`ve known the character for such a long time. Bond is definitely a creature of habit, and Fleming breeds a familiarity between character and reader very quickly.
Casino Royale starts off with “M” having received some intelligence that a French SMERSH operative, named Le Chiffre, is almost bankrupt. That information is particularly important to British intelligence for several reasons: one is that the Communist Le Chiffre and SMERSH are believed to be responsible for the deaths of British agents Donovan, Harthrop-Vane, Elizabeth Dumont, Ventnor, Mace, and Savarin. Two, it`s come to the attention of the Secret Service that Le Chiffre took funds given to him by his superiors at SMERSH, and embezzeled it, in order to invest in brothels that eventually went out of business. Now, Le Chiffre is in trouble. He`s 50 million francs in debt, and SMERSH will realize that he stole the money soon. Knowing what an exacting and ruthless organization he works for, Le Chiffre plans to do some high gambling at the casino in Royale-les-eaux to make up the shortfall.
The proposed counter operation:
“It would be greatly in the interests of this country and of the other nations of the North American Treaty Organization that this powerful Soviet agent should be ridiculed and destroyed, that his communist trade union should be bankrupted and brought into disrepute. (Assasination is pointless. Leningrad would quickly cover up his defalcations and make him into a martyr.) We therefore recommend that the finest gambler available to the Service should be given the necessary funds and endeavour to outgamble this man.”
Bond is, of course, assigned to the case, and his mission is to outgamble Le Chiffre, in hopes that SMERSH will get wise to Le Chiffre`s scams, and take care of one of their own.
In Royale-les-eaux, Bond meets his contact Mathis and a girl who will be his “companion” for the duration of his stay, Miss Vesper Lynd. Of course Bond would need a beautiful woman on his arm at the casinos. It would be unseemly for a man with his looks and charm to be without a companion. Also joining in the action is CIA agent Felix Leiter. The Americans are also interested in helping bring down Le Chiffre, and through Felix, have offered any support they can give.
About a fourth of the book takes place at the gambling tables of Casino Royale-les-eaux, yet Fleming doesn`t bore us. Each page is packed with tension, fear, anxiety, nerves and sweat. Bond must bankrupt Le Chiffre in order to accomplish his mission, yet 007 realizes that gambling is also one part luck, and he`s going to have to know when to rely on luck, and when to play conservatively.
Of course, 007 eventually wins the game. But it doesn`t come easy, nor without a price. Vesper ends up being kidnapped, which infuriates Bond, because up to this point, the mission was accomplished. Nothing else should`ve gone wrong.
“This was just what he had been afraid of. These blithering women who thought they could do a man`s work. Why could`nt they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men`s work to men?”
Chapter 16, “The Crawling Of the Skin”, is a harsh and brutal glimpse into the use of torture by Le Chiffre to get Bond to divulge where he hid the money that he ended up winning from Le Chiffre. Without that 50 million francs, Le Chiffre is as good as dead.
Bond manages to get out of this as well, though the physical price paid is steep and severe. Vesper Lynd stays with James after the mission has been accomplished, to help nurse him back to health, so to speak. James has slowly fallen in love with Vesper, but Vesper is cool to return his love. It seems she`s concealing a terrible secret that could tear their romance apart.
Casino Royale lays the groundwork for what will become future hallmarks of the 007 book series. A gruff, stern, yet caring “M”. Witty flirtation between 007 and Miss Moneypenny, M`s secretary. Exotic locations. Beautiful and willing women. Ruthless villians.
Casino Royale also brings out a side of Bond that we see mostly in the novels. The dark side of Bond. A very dark side that drives 007 to stay emotionally cold and aloof to the opposite sex. A dark side that sends him drinking away his anxieties about being a killer. Incidentally, Casino Royale gives us some history on how Bond became a 00 agent. Page 109, Chapter 20 “The Nature Of Evil” goes into detail on how Bond attained his 00 status.
Casino Royale sets up the rest of Ian`s works quite nicely. Bond is a man for whom killing does not come easy. Regardless of the circumstances. Bond is a man of habit. He likes to eat the same foods, drink the same wines, and lodge at the same hotels. `Royale` is one of the darkest and most violent of the Bond series, but it`s also one of the best ways of getting into the mindset of James Bond 007.