Tonawanda News

November 16, 2011

BOOK NOOK CLASSICS: ‘Casino Royale’ a good place to start with Bond

By Dean Goranites
The Tonawanda News

— Every beer commercial these days wants to tell us what it means to be manly. Regardless of the twisted reasoning behind the marketing tactic, one brand seems way ahead of its competitors with its definition of “man,” now even parodied by local home improvement chain Valu.

The beer brand? Dos Equis. Their ads? A spitting image of James Bond filmed acting heroically, interjected with witty overdubbed one-liners and shots of attractive women. At the end of the ad they show the man drinking the beer, looking good.

Dos Equis has a lot of thanking to do, almost entirely to author Ian Fleming. Certainly, Fleming had no idea that when he penned the character James Bond for the first time in 1953’s “Casino Royale,” that not only would Bond go on to star in 13 more books, but that 50-some years later, his iconic character would grow in popularity to such a degree that advertising agencies would be using the basis behind him as a way to lure 21- to 35-year-olds to drink a specific brand of beer.

By now, it’s almost known as fact: There’s no better definition, no better example of the “perfect man” than 007. Take it from Raymond Chandler, famed author of novel “The Big Sleep,” and writer of the “Double Indemnity” screenplay: “Bond is what every man would like to be, and what every woman would like to have between her sheets.”

 So why not start at square one and get to know the coolness that is Bond from the beginning? That’s what “Casino Royale” is all about, substituting a little bit of the action for a little bit more background on the secret agent, in an attempt to set up future installments in the series.

 Don’t take that as fault, however. There’s a lot of neat stuff to learn. “Royale” fills us in on the specific recipe to Bond’s favorite drink, the complexities of working for a secret agency and the past cases that have solidified Bond as an agent worthy of being “licensed to kill.”

Even with all the fun background knowledge learned about Bond, there’s plenty enough gripping action to keep readers entertained. Explosions, murders, car chases and high stakes gambling are all mixed in for a ride that provides, chapter after chapter.

Admittedly, the last 50 to 60 pages drag on a bit. Well after the main action of the tale has wrapped up, author Fleming insists on giving us robust details into the relationship Bond has with the beautiful lady Vesper. After 100-plus pages of action/adventure, the last thing most readers crave is a drawn out, sad love tale. Give us one last awesome explosion or something, at least.

 Focusing on the bad makes it seem as though it outweighs the good, though, which it really doesn’t. “Casino Royale” delivers all it’s expected to, and even a bit more. The stakes are often high and exciting, the action is addicting and fun and the pages turn faster than expected. If you’re looking for some intellectual literature you can discuss with college grad students, this isn’t your stuff. If you’re looking for a little break that entertains and leaves you happily craving more, it’s going to be hard to find a better match.

 It’s easy to see a book like “Casino Royale” selling on the pulp fiction rack back in the day, being touted for its action and sexiness rather than its intelligence or elegant writing. But the fact that Penguin Books still publishes “Royale,” while its contemporaries fade into memory is a testimony to author Fleming’s skill and talent. No, there’s nothing life-changing here. There’s no literary experimentation. But what is here is a really well-written story, executed by an author who knows what he’s doing and will never let you down with a disappointing ride.

Hop on board the James Bond series. It’s one of the best roller coasters in town.

Dean Goranites publishes weekly video book reviews at www.unleashthis.tumblr.com, and can be reached through twitter at unleashingwords.