History: Published in 1953, it is the first of the famous Bond book seriess.
Plot: Monsieur Le Chiffre ("the cypher"), the treasurer of a Soviet-backed trade union in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, is running a baccarat game in the casino at Royale-les-Eaux, France, in order to recover union money he lost in a failed chain of brothels.
Expert baccarat player James Bond (British secret agent 007) is assigned the defeat of Le Chiffre, in the hope that his gambling debts will provoke Soviet espionage agency SMERSH to kill him. Bond is provided an assistant, the beautiful, emotionally unstable Vesper Lynd, who becomes his lover. After hours of intense play Bond beats Le Chiffre. Soon after, Le Chiffre abducts Vesper and uses her to lure Bond into a near-fatal car chase, which results in Bond's capture. Le Chiffre tortures Bond. However, when it becomes clear to Le Chiffre that Bond will not tell him where the money is, Bond passes out. Seconds later a SMERSH agent assassinates Le Chiffre for his betrayal, shooting him through the head with a pistol. Unintentionally, the SMERSH assassin (whose organization becomes the hero's bitter nemesis in later adventures) spares the captive Bond, saying: "I have no orders about you" — yet cuts the Cyrillic letter "Ш" (шпион, shpion, spy) in the back of Bond's left hand, "for future reference".
Bond spends three weeks in hospital recovering from his torture at the hands of Le Chiffre, expressing intent to resign from the secret service, and spends his convalescence with Vesper Lynd. They stay at a small resort in the south of France. After his recuperation he becomes suspicious of her because of the combination of apparent dishonesty and her terror of a man with an eye patch called Gettler. Believing that Gettler is a SMERSH assassin sent to kill her and Bond for her disobedience, Vesper commits suicide by an overdose of sleeping pills, leaving Bond an explanatory note where it is revealed that she is a Soviet double agent who was ordered to ensure Bond did not escape Le Chiffre. Her betrayal inspires him to remain in service; he tersely reports to HQ: "The bitch is dead now."
Review: It is hard to imagine that people really lived as described in the pages of Fleming's masterpieces. These are some hard-drinking, chain-smoking folks. Bond starts his day with a drink, sips his way through lunch, meets his buddies for cocktails, may polish off some champagne with the girl, and smokes like a chimney through it all ("Then he lit his seventieth cigarette of the day…") How he ever manages to play cards, drive, sail, swim, fight, shoot and all the other manly things he does, smashed out of his gourd and coughing as he must have been, is unfathomable. But he does. And although today he would be fined heavily and slapped in rehab quick as you please, his excesses seems to be taken as a given by his co-characters, who after all are all doing pretty much the same thing. You will find similar boozy passages in much of the literature of the time, including Hemingway. Amazing.
One reason Bond is a believable hero is because he often doesn't win the fights he gets into. Oh, of course in the end he always does, but he certainly doesn't come out without a scratch. He is beaten, tortured, car-wrecked, shot, and otherwise maimed over and over again throughout the series. But he always recovers, and is always willing and able to go another round.
Casino Royale has action, suspense, even romance – yes, Bond falls for that "bloody woman" – but most interesting and valuable, it provides a fascinating glimpse into a world long gone.
Opening Line: “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.”
Closing Line: “Yes, dammit, I said “was”. The bitch is dead now.”
Quotes: 'A dry martini,' Bond said. 'In a deep champagne goblet. Three measures of Gordon's, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice cold, then add a thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?'