I've never been a big fan of the James Bond films, particularly the Roger Moore era. The campiness that had become the norm in the film series (don't even get me started on Moonraker), along with the shallowness of the character had turned me off to the series. This opinion, for quite sometime had kept me from reading the books as well. A few years back, I decided to give the original series as written by Ian Fleming a try. As the old cliché goes, the book is better than the movie.
I wanted to read the series in order as originally written, so I picked up a copy of Casino Royale. If I was quite honest, I almost stopped after only reading the first book, which would have been a tragedy. The rest of the series was far better than the first.
For me, Casino Royale was slow, sometimes painfully so. It is obvious that Ian Fleming loved to paly cards, because in this first book, he dedicates a helluva lot of time talking about the game, the cards being dealt, the strategy in each hand, and much of the book takes place around the card table. Fleming provides intricate detail around the plot's main focal point, a game of Baccarat. Surprisingly, after that his detail seemed to fade everywhere else.
One of the things that I did find interesting about Casino Royale is that this is not the James Bond of the films. Bond is not the womanizer that Hollywood has portrayed him as in the films. This isn't to say that he doesn't have the occasional dalliance with an attractive woman, but Bond does not jump from bed to bed in this, or any of the other books in the original series. He is much more focused on the job at hand, with women being more of a distraction than a goal.
I was disappointed in Casino Royale, because I was expecting so much more. James Bond has become the quintessential action hero, and I was expecting to experience that action in the book. Unfortunately, much of the action takes a sideline to the card game. The action was far less "intense" than I was expecting, and seemed to be lacking in actual excitement. If I had to choose one word to describe Casino Royale, I think I would choose boring.
I know that seems a bit harsh, but I definitely found the process of reading Casino Royale to be a struggle. This is a fact that is hard to believe considering how much I ended up enjoying the rest of the original James Bond series. The book seemed like a weak start to what ultimately has become a huge franchise. It is no wonder that the Hollywood waited so long to produce this book as a movie.
Although Casino Royale provides a nice introduction to some of the characters who will ultimately span most of the series, I felt like it was a disappointment. Read it if you feel you must, but I'd skip this one, and start with Live or Let Die.