In James Bond’s second ever adventure, after his first in Casino Royale, author Ian Fleming sent him on a mission to find out how a black gangster dubbed Mr. Big with operations in Harlem, Florida and Jamaica had gotten his hands on actual pirate treasure and how it may or may not be aiding the Soviets. Bond gets sent to New York City where he and Felix Leiter team up to check out Mr. Big’s neighborhood which just so happened to be in Harlem. The not so dynamic duo get captured thanks to a trick table that actually sinks into the floor where Bond gets to meet Big and his supposedly future-seeing girl Solitaire for the first time. Bond gets away, but causes some trouble so he’s scheduled to head south via train the next day when a certain someone from Big’s camp calls him up and asks for his help. There’s some train adventures and then we’re in Florida where some bad stuff happens to Leiter and then Jamaica where Bond trains before doing a SCUBA routine to Mr. Big’s island where the treasure is hidden.
The book picks up a few months after the events of Casino Royale, so I was a little surprised that Bond was so quick to let Solitaire into his life, giving her his train information and getting genuinely upset when she got captured in Florida. Didn’t this dude learn anything from that broad in the previous book who turned out to be a secret agent? Well, as it turned out, his instincts were right this time around, but I really did expect her flip to turn out to be part of Big’s plan (he is a man who had a gun built into a desk to shoot people he’s interrogating afterall).
I thought Mr. Big was a very interesting villain for Bond to go up against. Like Bond, he’s been trained in the art of war and subterfuge (though by the Soviets), but instead of working for someone else, Big has taken his skills and built an empire based on the fear of superstitious folks. Now, I question how much people in Harlem would have really worried about Voodoo, but I really don’t know. It sounds a little flimsy, but I’m not history student. Anyway, hiding gold coins in the tanks of rare fish that were being legally exported from Jamaica to Florida and then distributed through the country is a pretty smart plan. I like how he’s gotten to the point as a criminal mastermind where he has no real worries so he releases enemies just to see what happens because he doesn’t think Bond’s a real threat. It’s not until his empire is falling apart thanks to Bond’s actions that he really starts to worry. That’s when he gets sloppy and Bond’s plan works.
Once again, I was surprised with how intense some of the scenes in the book were. The amount of people getting eaten by sharks and barracudas is pretty crazy. Fleming doesn’t necessarily zoom in on the gory details, but his writing still clearly paints a picture of what’s going on and my mind has no problem taking over the rest and making me cringe sometimes. Worse than that, though is the description of Tee Hee Johnson (who doesn’t sport a claw hand like he does in the movie version) breaking Bond’s finger. He has a rough time of it this time around, that guy.
Speaking of the movie, it was interesting having just watched this movie version, but also being a fan of the Bond films because there’s one big scene in this book that wound up in another movie, so I wound up visualizing a few things as the appeared in the actual movie adaptation (which doesn’t hold very true to the book for whatever it’s worth) and then the fish warehouse shoot out which was used in License To Kill.
Overall, I enjoyed the book, though it felt like it might have gotten a little muddled for me. At the end of Casino Royale, Bond vowed to go after members of SMERSH, the Soviet spy killers, which Mr. Big was supposedly in cahoots, but that wound up not being a very important part of the story. I remember Bond asking Solitaire at one point about Russians, but it didn’t seem to go much further than that. I guess after having your friend half eaten by a shark and the girl you wanted to bonk kidnapped, it became personal on a different level, but it’s also possible I just missed something. Sorry for getting this up a day late, by the way, last night I decided to dedicate my time to finishing the story instead of trying to cram in another movie before midnight. I wound up falling asleep before finishing, but just by a few days. Up next is From Russia With Love.