At the forefront of Ian Fleming’s spy novels is, of course, the world-famous character of James Bond, but the grit and realism of Mr. Bond in the novel Live and Let Die is matched by an amazing array of world building, unexpected plot twists, a fearsome villain, and a gorgeous female named Solitaire.
There is plenty of the hard-hitting Bond here, including a fantastic train scene where Solitaire somewhat falls for her rescuer and then teases him, knowing that the suave British agent 007 must painfully resist because of a near-broken wrist and hand.
The man of action and few words is depicted as being at odds with everyone and everything, except his mission.
But the true art of Fleming is in his tight prose, his cunning flurry of “edge of your seat” moments, and the detailed description of vastly contrasting and often exotic environments.
Fleming masterfully introduces a frightful look at urban New York (Harlem), where we see the tall, gaunt, and unsettling Baron Samedi-like figure of Mr. Big. Mr. Big's danger is reflected in his ties to the terrorist organization SMERSH, the Russian mafia, and even his own American mob, which is utterly terrified of his voodoo queen, Solitaire, and the illusion of his being a reincarnation of Haitian death.
Spoiler: A treasure hunt, of sorts, leads 007 and his friend in the CIA, Felix Leiter, to the Florida Everglades where the American is nearly killed by Mr. Big’s men who employ sharks and monstrous fish that bite at Leiter from the top of a commercial fish tank.
The tale travels to Jamaica to the possible resting place of a pirate’s treasure that Mr. Big has been employed to sneak out of the island.
Bond must traverse a bay where sharks and aggressive fish have been eating people alive, and in this scuba dive, Fleming relays both the character’s dark fears along with a gorgeous look at the real dangers of tropical diving, where poisonous animals are common and an octopus is shown, realistically, to be strong enough to nearly drown 007.
Fleming must have had deep knowledge of the spy processes of MI6, the CIA, and the mafia, but also the underwater sword of Jamaica, and he brings all of this to light in such a way that Live and Let Die is unparalleled.
By R.J. Huneke