`Bond saw luck as a woman, to be softly wooed or brutally ravaged, never pandered to or pursued. But he was honest enough to admit that he had never yet been made to suffer by cards or by women. One day, and he accepted the fact, he would be brought to his knees by love or by luck. When that happened he knew that he too would be branded with the deadly question-mark he recognized so often in others, the promise to pay before you have lost; the acceptance of fallibility.'
It's perhaps telling that what would become a global phenomenon - more due to the extraordinary success of the film series that moved increasingly further away from his novels - begins with the acrid, sweaty stink of a casino in the early hours of the morning, its glamour stripped away as James Bond calculates his winnings and losses. The premise of the book may be slightly fantastic (though rooted firmly in a failed scheme Ian Fleming himself proposed to bankrupt a Nazi spy during the war) but the approach is more down to earth, with the emphasis on the details (conveyed through intermittent quotes from secret reports or Bond's imaginative speculation) and atmosphere to make the tale more credible than it sounds. The senses are also evoked, Bond's sense of taste and smell often to the fore whether it's a casual mention of the villain's flatulence or the aroma of roast mutton in the air in a vivid description of the aftermath of a botched bombing. Described as looking like singer Hoagy Carmichael, far from the veritable superman he would become, this Bond is described as absolute Hell to work for, with not much heart and a tendency to get hostile when he senses himself getting too friendly. He doesn't even harbour any resentment for the victims who earned him his 00 rating, acknowledging that they were probably quite decent people who just got caught up in the gale of the world. As he notes, "It's not difficult to get a double-o number if you're prepared to kill people. That's all the meaning it has. It's nothing to be particularly proud of."
Where Bond walked through most of his screen adventures the same infinitely self-confident hero at the end as he was at the beginning, his certainties are challenged more in his print incarnation as he falls in love and questions the nature of his life - though in a way that's far more reminiscent of Raymond Chandler, one of Fleming's favourite authors, than great literature: the novels may be a bit more down-to-earth, but they're still superior examples of pulp fiction (so much so that the original US paperback was retitled You Asked For It). Thankfully it receives an excellent reading from Dan Stevens on AudioGo's unabridged 4-CD audiobook, managing most of the accents well without overplaying Bond's swagger or cynicism. The CD also includes a very unenlightening interview with Dan Stevens, who admits that hasn't read any of the books and focuses on the many differences to the film incarnation.