Live and Let Die (novel)

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Live and Let Die
Original cover
First edition cover, published by Jonathan Cape
Author Ian Fleming
Cover artist Devised by Ian Fleming, completed by Kenneth Lewis
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series James Bond
Genre Spy fiction
Publisher Jonathan Cape
Publication date
5 April 1954
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 234
Preceded by Casino Royale
Followed by Moonraker

Live and Let Die is the second novel in Ian Fleming's James Bond series, first published in the UK by Jonathan Cape on 5 April 1954, where the initial print run of 7,500 copies quickly sold out. As with Fleming's first novel, Casino Royale, Live and Let Die was broadly well received by the critics. The novel was written at Fleming's 'Goldeneye' estate in Jamaica before Casino Royale was published and much of the background came from Fleming's own experiences of travel in the US and his knowledge of Jamaica itself.

The story centres on Bond's pursuit of an American criminal, Mr Big, who has links to the American criminal network, the world of voodoo and SMERSH, an arm of the Russian secret service, all of which are a threat to the West. Bond becomes involved in the US through Mr. Big's smuggling of 17th century gold coins from British territories in the Caribbean. Themes that run through the novel include the ongoing East-West struggle of the Cold War, race relations and friendship.

Following an adaptation in 1958–59 by John McLusky in the Daily Express in comic strip format, the novel was adapted in 1973 as the eighth 'official' film in the Eon Productions Bond series and the first to star Roger Moore as James Bond. Major plot elements from the novel were also incorporated into two other Bond films: For Your Eyes Only, released in 1981 and Licence to Kill, released in 1989.


British Secret Service agent James Bond is sent by his superior, M, to New York City to investigate "Mr. Big", real name Buonaparte Ignace Gallia, an agent of SMERSH and an underworld voodoo leader who is suspected of selling 17th century gold coins to finance Soviet spy operations in America. These gold coins have been turning up in Harlem and Florida and are suspected of being part of a treasure that was buried in Jamaica by the pirate Sir Henry Morgan.

In New York, Bond meets up with his counterpart in the CIA, Felix Leiter. The two decide to visit some of Mr. Big's nightclubs in Harlem, but are subsequently captured. Bond is personally interrogated by Mr. Big, who uses his fortune telling-girlfriend, Solitaire (so named because she excludes men from her life), to determine if Bond is telling the truth. Solitaire lies to Mr. Big, supporting Bond's cover story. Mr. Big decides to release Bond and Leiter, and has one of his men break one of Bond's fingers. Bond escapes, killing several of Mr. Big's men in the process, whilst Leiter is released with minimal physical harm by a gang member, sympathetic because of a shared appreciation of jazz.

Solitaire later contacts Bond and they travel to St. Petersburg, Florida. While Bond and Leiter are scouting one of Mr. Big's warehouses used for storing exotic fish, Solitaire is kidnapped by Mr. Big's minions. Felix later returns to the warehouse by himself, but is either captured and fed to a shark or tricked into standing on a trap door over the shark tank: he survives, but loses an arm and a leg. Bond finds him in their safe house with a note pinned to his chest "He disagreed with something that ate him". After getting Felix to the hospital, Bond investigates the warehouse himself and discovers that Mr. Big is smuggling gold by placing it in the bottom of fish tanks holding poisonous tropical fish. Bond is attacked in the warehouse by Mr. Big's gunman, the "Robber", and the resultant gunfight destroys many of the tanks in the warehouse: Bond tricks the Robber and causes him to fall into the shark tank.

Bond then continues his mission in Jamaica where he meets Quarrel and John Strangways, the head of the MI6 station in Jamaica. Quarrel gives Bond training in scuba diving in the local waters. Bond swims through shark and barracuda infested waters to Mr. Big's island and manages to plant a limpet mine on the hull of his yacht before being captured once again by Mr. Big. The following morning, Mr. Big ties Solitaire and Bond to a line behind his yacht and plans to drag them over the shallow coral reef and into deeper water so that the sharks and barracuda that he attracts in to the area with regular feedings will eat them.

Bond and Solitaire are saved when the limpet mine explodes seconds before they are dragged over the reef: though temporarily stunned by the explosion and injured on the coral, Bond and Solitaire are protected from the explosion by the reef and Bond watches as Mr. Big, who survived the explosion, is killed by the sharks and barracuda. Quarrel then rescues Bond and Solitaire.

Characters and themes[edit]

Fleming did not use class enemies for his villains instead relying on physical distortion or ethnic identity ... Furthermore, in Britain foreign villains used foreign servants and employees ... This racism reflected not only a pronounced theme of interwar adventure writing, such as the novels of [John] Buchan, but also widespread literary culture.

Jeremy Black, The Politics of James Bond[1]

Fleming builds the main character in Live and Let Die to make Bond come across as a more human character[2] than he was in Casino Royale, coming across as "a much warmer, more likeable man from the opening chapter".[2] Similarly, over the course of the book, Felix Leiter develops and also comes across as a more complete and human character and their friendship is evident in the story.[3]

Live and Let Die, like other Bond novels, reflects the changing roles of Britain and America during the 1950s and the perceived threat from the Soviet Union to both nations. Unlike Casino Royale, whose Cold War politics revolve around British-Soviet tensions, in Live and Let Die Bond arrives in Harlem to protect America from the Soviets working through the Black Power movement:[4] America was the Soviet objective and Bond comments "that New York 'must be the fattest atomic-bomb target on the whole face of the world'".[5] Bond's briefing also provides an opportunity for Fleming to offer his views through his characters and "M and Bond ... offer their views on the ethnicity of crime, views that reflected ignorance, the inherited racialist prejudices of London clubland";[6] academic Jeremy Black has pointed out that "the frequency of his references and his willingness to offer racial stereotypes [was] typical of many writers of his age".[7] Writer Louise Welsh observed that "Live and Let Die taps into the paranoia that some sectors of white society were feeling" as the civil rights movements challenged prejudice and inequality.[8]

Friendship is another key element of Live and Let Die, where the importance of male friends and allies shows through in the form of Leiter and Quarrel.[2] The more complete character profiles of the novel also aid the storyline with regards to the shark attack on Leiter and Bond's strengthened motives for chasing Mr Big.[2]


In January 1953, still four months before Casino Royale was published, Fleming and his wife Ann flew to New York before taking the Silver Meteor train to St. Petersburg in Florida and then on to Jamaica.[9] Once in Jamaica, at his Goldeneye estate, Fleming started work on the second Bond novel; this was intended to be of a more serious tone, a meditation on the nature of evil and the novel's original title, The Undertaker's Wind, reflects this.[10] Fleming conducted research for Live and Let Die and completed the novel before Casino Royale was published:[9] shortly after Live and Let Die was completed, Casino Royale was published, selling out its first two print runs within a month.[11] Sales were successful enough that his publishers, Jonathan Cape, offered him a contract for three further Bond novels.[12]

Much of the novel drew from Fleming's personal experiences: the opening of the novel, with Bond's arrival at New York's Idlewild Airport was inspired by Fleming's own arrivals in 1941 and 1953[6] and the warehouse at which Felix Leiter is attacked by a shark was based on a warehouse Fleming had visited in 1953, as well as much of the journey Fleming and his wife had undertaken.[13] Fleming's friends also had their names used throughout the story, with friend Ivar Bryce giving his name to the alias used by Bond, whilst friend Tommy Leiter found his surname being used for Felix Leiter;[14] Ivar Bryce's middle name of Felix was used for Leiter's Christian name.[15] Fleming's experiences on his first scuba dive with Jacques Cousteau in 1953 provided much of the description of Bond's swim to Mr. Big's boat,[16] whilst the concept of the limpet-mining "may well be based on the extraordinary wartime activities of the 10th Light Flotilla, an elite unit of Italian navy frogmen".[17] Fleming also used, and extensively quoted, information about voodoo from his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor's book The Traveller's Tree.[16]

Release and reception[edit]

It is an unashamed thriller and its only merit is that it makes no demands on the minds of the reader.

Ian Fleming, to Winston Churchill, in a letter accompanying a copy of Live and Let Die[16]

Live and Let Die was published in hardback by Jonathan Cape on 5 April 1954[18] and, as with Casino Royale, Fleming designed the cover, which again featured the title lettering prominently.[16] It had an initial print run of 7,500 copies, which sold out and a re-print was undertaken.[19] Live and Let Die was published in the US in January 1955 by Macmillan; there was only one major change in the book, with the title of Chapter five being changed from "Nigger Heaven" to "Seventh Avenue".[20] Continuation Bond author Raymond Benson analysed Fleming's writing style and identified what he described as the "Fleming Sweep": a stylistic point that sweeps the reader from one chapter to another using 'hooks' at the end of chapters to heighten tension and pull the reader into the next:[21] Benson felt that the "Fleming Sweep never achieves a more engaging rhythm and flow" than in Live and Let Die.[22]

On 8 May 1954, Live and Let Die was banned in Ireland by C. J. O'Reilly, a member of the Irish Censorship of Publications Board.[23] Fleming's biographer, Andrew Lycett, noted that "the banning of Live and Let Die in Ireland in May helped the general publicity".[18]


Philip Day of The Sunday Times noted "How wincingly well Mr Fleming writes",[18] whilst his colleague in his sister paper, The Times, thought that "This is an ingenious affair, full of recondite knowledge and horrific spills and thrills – of slightly sadistic excitements also – though without the simple and bold design of its predecessor"[24] Elizabeth L Sturch, writing in The Times Literary Supplement, observed that Fleming was "without doubt the most interesting recent recruit among thriller-writers"[25] and that Live and Let Die "fully maintains the promise of ...Casino Royale.[25] Tempering her praise of the book, Sturch thought that "Mr. Fleming works often on the edge of flippancy, rather in the spirit of a highbrow".[25] Overall, however, she felt that the novel "contains passages which for sheer excitement have not been surpassed by any modern writer of this kind".[25] The Daily Telegraph felt that "the book is continually exciting, whether it takes us into the heart of Harlem or describes an underwater swim in shark-infested waters; and it is more entertaining because Mr. Fleming does not take it all too seriously himself",[26] whilst George Malcolm Thompson, writing in The Evening Standard, believed Live and Let Die to be "tense; ice-cold, sophisticated; Peter Cheyney for the carriage trade".[16]

Anthony Boucher in The New York Times – described by a Fleming biographer, John Pearson, as "throughout an avid anti-Bond and an anti-Fleming man"[27] – thought that the "high-spots are all effectively described ... but the narrative is loose and jerky".[28] Boucher concluded that Live and Let Die was "a lurid meller contrived by mixing equal parts of Oppenheim and Spillane".[28] In June 1955 Raymond Chandler was visiting the poet Stephen Spender in London when he was introduced to Fleming; Fleming subsequently sent Chandler a copy of Live and Let Die and in response Chandler wrote that Fleming was "probably the most forceful and driving writer of what I suppose still must be called thrillers in England".[29]


Comic strip adaptation (1958–9)

Live and Let Die was adapted as a daily comic strip which was published in the British Daily Express newspaper and syndicated around the world.[30] The adaptation ran from 15 December 1958 to 28 March 1959.[31] The adaptation was written by Henry Gammidge and illustrated by John McLusky, whose drawings of Bond had a resemblance to Sean Connery, the actor who portrayed Bond three years later.[32]

Live and Let Die (1973)

Live and Let Die, a film based loosely on the novel, was released in 1973. The film was directed by Guy Hamilton, produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman and starred Roger Moore in his first outing as the secret agent. In the film, a drug lord known as Mr. Big plans to distribute two tonnes of heroin free so as to put rival drug barons out of business. Bond is soon trapped in a world of gangsters and voodoo as he fights to put a stop to Mr. Big's scheme.[33]

Scenes used (1981 and 1989)

Some scenes from this novel were depicted in later Bond films, including the keelhauling sequence, which was used in the film adaptation of For Your Eyes Only,[34] whilst Felix Leiter was not fed to a shark until Licence to Kill, which also faithfully adapts Live and Let Die's shoot-out in the warehouse.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Black 2005, p. 19.
  2. ^ a b c d Benson 1988, p. 96.
  3. ^ Benson 1988, p. 96-7.
  4. ^ Black, Jeremy (24 January 2006). "What we can learn from James Bond". George Mason University. Retrieved 13 July 2007. 
  5. ^ Black, Jeremy (Winter 2002–2003). "'Oh, James'". National Interest (70): 106. ISSN 0884-9382. 
  6. ^ a b Black 2005, p. 11.
  7. ^ Black 2005, p. 12.
  8. ^ Fleming 2006, p. v.
  9. ^ a b Benson 1988, p. 6.
  10. ^ Simpson 2002, p. 36.
  11. ^ Lycett 1996, p. 244.
  12. ^ Black 2005, p. 10.
  13. ^ Black 2005, p. 14.
  14. ^ Macintyre 2008, p. 93.
  15. ^ Lycett 1996, p. 222.
  16. ^ a b c d e Chancellor 2005, p. 43.
  17. ^ Macintyre 2008, p. 104.
  18. ^ a b c Lycett 1996, p. 255.
  19. ^ Benson 1988, p. 8.
  20. ^ Benson 1988, p. 11.
  21. ^ Benson 1988, p. 85.
  22. ^ Benson 1988, p. 95.
  23. ^ Kelly, James (2004). "The Operation of the Censorship of Publications Board: The Notebooks of C. J. O'Reilly, 1951–55 (Subscription needed)". Analecta Hibernica 38: 320. ISSN 0791-6167. JSTOR 20519909. 
  24. ^ "Professional People". The Times. 7 April 1954. p. 10. 
  25. ^ a b c d Sturch, Elizabeth (30 April 1954). "Progress and Decay". The Times Literary Supplement. p. 277. 
  26. ^ "Live and Let Die". The Times (Multiple Display Advertisements). 21 August 1954. p. 9. 
  27. ^ Pearson 1967, p. 99.
  28. ^ a b Boucher, Anthony (10 April 1955). "Criminals at Large". The New York Times. 
  29. ^ Lycett 1996, p. 270.
  30. ^ Pfeiffer & Worrall 1998, p. 70.
  31. ^ Fleming, Gammidge & McLusky 1988, p. 6.
  32. ^ "The James Bond Films – 2006 onwards". Retrieved 14 June 2007. 
  33. ^ Inside "Live and Let Die" Documentary (Live and Let Die Special Edition DVD)
  34. ^ Barnes & Hearn 2001, p. 135.
  35. ^ Barnes & Hearn 2001, p. 176.


Further reading[edit]

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