THIS REVIEW IS NOT SPOILER-FREE. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
Fresh off his first adventure and having already completely forgotten about his last Bond Girl (R.I.P. Vesper — may your protuberances never be forgotten), James Bond now finds himself in America (a place he basically seems to hate) to help his best man-friend Felix and the CIA track down a man known only as Mr. Big. The mysterious Mr. Big is rumored to be a “voodoo king,” Baron Samedi himself, and it is with this aura that he is able to keep total control over his massive criminal empire, stretching from Harlem all the way down to the Caribbean islands, into Bond’s beloved Jamaica. He’s been smuggling old pirate gold into America, but no one can figure out how–and no one can figure out how to stop the flow of money.
Mr. Big also keeps company with a beautiful woman known as Solitaire, who has spent her life reading fortunes, shunning the advances of men, and doing whatever she had to in order to survive. Mr. Big fully believes in her ability to “read” people, and often uses her as a human lie detector as he interrogates his enemies. But from the moment Solitaire and Bond lock eyes, it becomes clear that they must immediately shag.
So Bond gallivants off to Florida, and then to Jamaica, in search of answers about Mr. Big and his coin-smuggling scheme, and he is only a little bit annoyed when Solitaire begs to come with him. By the end of it all, James Bond will have faced guns, sharks, and more black men than he thought existed in America or abroad. And when someone mentions that their policy with Mr. Big is “live and let live,” Bond will make sure to remind everyone of his favorite adage: “In my job, when I come up against a man like this one, I have another motto. It’s ‘live and let die'” (33).
(I had to.)
First line: “There are moments of great luxury in the life of a secret agent.”
Bad Guy: Mr. Big, a.k.a. “The Big Boy,” “The Big Man,” etc.; “a Negro gangster” (16); “He’s not pure Negro. Born in Haiti. Good dose of French blood.” (17); a black man with a large “grey-black” face, a chronic heart condition, and absolute control over his henchmen due to their fear that he’ll literally send zombies after them if they don’t obey him. He also has a “great football of a head” and a nose that is “wide without being particularly Negroid” (55). “He had no known vices except women, whom he consumed in quantities.” (18)
Okay, Mr. Big is also, like, super hella classy, and Bond actually admits to kind of being awe-struck by him, which is not something he says lightly (especially not in this book, and especially not about a man of color). I was rooting for Mr. Big, to be completely honest — mostly because he basically said it wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing to just shoot Bond and be done with it. Mr. Big is a true artiste, a visionary. I respect that.
Bond Girl: Solitaire, “one of the most beautiful women Bond had ever seen” (60). She’s described as having black hair through the book, though the back cover copy on my edition calls her “a blonde jewel.” Who knows.
Also, she has “[t]he face of the daughter of a French colonial slave-owner” (61). (????????)
Does she get fridged? Almost, but she ends up with two weeks vacation with 007, instead.
Congrats on not dying, Solitaire! You’re our first Bond Girl alumnus. (Too bad you’re out on the curb by the time Moonraker rolls around.)
Locale: New York City (mostly Harlem), Florida (mostly Oldpeoplesville), and Jamaica (someone take me on vacation — NOT YOU, JAMES)
The car: A “grey Bentley convertible, the 1933 4 1/2-litre with the Amherst-Villiers supercharger” (10). The engine also “kicked directly he hit pressed the self-starter” (10) and has a two-inch exhaust pipe (11). It’s always size with you, James, isn’t it?
Ancient MI6 proverb: “Those who deserve to die die the death they deserve.” –James “007” Bond (67)
Most outlandish moments:
- “Women’s intuition” is only acceptable when the woman in question assures Bond she has supernatural powers. Otherwise, ladies should be shagged and not heard.
- Bond continues to smoke ridiculous amounts of cigarettes
- The atrocious, highly offensive, phonetically-spelled dialogue throughout whenever a person of color speaks
- The name SMERSH will never not be funny (“the very whisper of death” )
- James Bond literally DESPISES America. Take a chill pill, dude, sheesh. We’re not that awful. Sorry you lost the Revolution.
- Bond reads road signs, manages to sexualize them (“SOFT SHOULDERS — SHARP CURVES — SQUEEZE AHEAD — SLIPPERY WHEN WET” )
- Felix Leiter lists off this ridiculous “American” meal he ordered, and Bond’s reply is: “‘It sounds fine,’ said Bond with a mental reservation about the melted butterscotch.” (9) Don’t we all have mental reservations about the butterscotch?
- Bond ignores the fact that his girlfriend from his last mission was a literal double agent and killed herself because of it.
- “…we suspect that this Jamaican treasure is being used to finance the Soviet espionage system, or an important part of it, in America.” (16) – WTF???
- Bond has to go undercover as a dude from Boston – L O L
- “‘Personally,’ Leiter continued, ‘I like Negroes.'” (37) – COULDA FOOLED ME, PAL
- “It was a sexy, pug-like face” (50)
- The “unkempt barren plains and swamps between New York and Newark” remind Bond of the “pre-war Trans-Siberian Railway” (86)
- “You kiss more wonderfully than any girl I have ever known.” (98) – Excuse you, her name was Vesper Lynd #vesperstan4life #rideordie
- Bond has a pocketbook HAHAHAHA
- “Everybody’s nearly dead in St. Petersburg…It’s the Great American Graveyard.” (105) – Yeah, fuck Florida, am I right?
- Super Spy Nearly Taken Down by Slapstick Hilarity Involving Dozens of Tanks of Rare Fish
- Super Spy Flies to Jamaica to Save Girlfriend and the World, Must First Eat Breakfast
- Bond describes an island: “It was nearly round, and it looked like a tall grey cake topped with green icing on a blue china plate.” (161)
- “…he massaged Bond for half an hour with palm oil…” (166) – Unfortunately, NOT Felix Leiter doing the massaging.
- “It was while he was measuring the dangers ahead that the octopus got him.” (180) – !!!!!!!!!
- Bond refers to stalactites as “white nipples” (191)
- Mr. Big is consistently A Boss (“I am by nature and predilection a wolf and I live by a wolf’s laws. Naturally the sheep describe such a person as a ‘criminal.”” )
- …even when he announces that he’ll kill Bond and Solitaire by tying them together, dragging them over a coral reef, and then letting the sharks and pirangas have at them (200) – that’s actually pretty cold
- Bond insists he’s crying for the first time since childhood (213), but I’m like 99% sure he cried in Casino Royale
- Boss’ Typo Makes for Hilarious Telegram (“passionate” leave instead of “compassionate” leave, GET IT??  – poor M)
- “And you’ll have to look after me very well because I shan’t be able to make love with only one arm.” (218) – James, you are u s e l e s s
Favorite moments: James Bond is HELLA gay for Felix Leiter. (Fight me.) Felix teaches Bond how to speak American and Bond, in turn, frets endlessly about Felix. And when Felix gets mauled by sharks (!!!!), Bond is so distraught. Then Felix wakes up and has to immediately send word to Bond, and Bond is all:
Bond’s heart was full. He looked out the window. “Tell him to get well quickly,” he said abruptly. “Tell him I miss him.”
Honestly, have you ever read about two dudes who so obviously want to move out of the friend zone more, but can’t because of the extreme oppression and painful heteronormativity of the 1950s Western world? It’s kind of tragic. (Expect my Bond/Leiter fanfic shortly.)
My other favorite thing was basically having “Live and Let Die” stuck in my head throughout the entirety of the reading of this book.
Oh, yeah, also Bond and Solitaire literally almost getting eaten by actual frickin’ sharks. (No laser beams on their frickin’ heads, unfortunately.)
Super spy skills learned: I now know everything there is to know about European gold coins of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and about how a pirate named Bloody Morgan used to steal and hide his booty (heh). In the end, it turns out Mr. Big is using poisonous fish to hide his gold coins, so I also learned enough about rare fish and sharks and assorted other forms of marine life to work at an aquarium, basically.
Also, if you imagine the pain first, you can control it. (This seems like awful advice, since Bond has literally one finger dislocated and almost passes out.)
Also, I learned so much about voodoo guys! (loljk)
Most surprising revelation: Bond’s respect for Mr. Big came as a pretty big shock. Sure, Bond calls him a megalomaniac, but he basically grudgingly admits to liking Mr. Big’s style.
That was really it. This one was a bit more action-packed than its predecessor, but it wasn’t exactly shocking.
Sexism scale: 5 out of 5 disapproving Moneypennys
- Solitaire calls Bond and demands he help her escape Mr. Big’s clutches, and persuades him by saying,”If you don’t take me, I shall kill myself.” (80)
- Bond won’t let Solitaire hold/kiss his hand in gratitude for saving her (85), but is then pissed when she won’t immediately fuck him
- Solitaire constantly worries about her appearance, no matter what the circumstances
- “For better or worse [Bond] had decided to accept Solitaire, or rather, in his cold way, to make the most of her.” (88)
- Solitaire had made it pretty clear — especially with her literal name — that she wants nothing to do with men, but Bond is sure she doesn’t really mean that. He wants to “play with [Solitaire] and slowly discover her” (88) – G R O S S
- “Bond cursed the broken hand that prevented him from exploring her body, taking her.” (97) – Glad a simple “no” won’t do — you have to literally be unable to use part of your body to keep from forcing yourself on a woman.
- Solitaire jokingly asks Bond to move to Florida with her when they’re old and he has to immediately make it sexual by talking about “going to bed early~” (106)
- Bond and “the girl” are madly in love after having known each other for, like, 36 hours, because they’re going to be literally fed to sharks and no one can resist Bond’s D (198)
- “Bond had coldly decided to drown Solitaire” (204) – This, perversely, is the most chivalrous thing Bond has basically ever decided to do for any woman ever.
- Obviously Solitaire has to be stripped naked before being sent to her death (207)
- Solitaire is described as “absurdly childish” (215), which is obviously a turn on (ew)
- “A doctor had been to visit Solitaire, but he had found her chiefly concerned about getting some clothes and the right shade of lipstick.” (217) – Pretty sure she has some fairly serious cuts on her back from, you know, BEING DRAGGED ACROSS A REEF. But whatever.
Racism scale: OH DEAR GOD MY EYES
- Every single black person Bond runs into in New York, he’s 112% sure they’re from Harlem
- “…he felt like a Negro whose shadow had been stolen by a witchdoctor.” (2) – We made it TWO PAGES before this shit started. Esh.
- Bond stares at a “Negress” who is driving Mr. Big around Manhattan and notes, “A Negress acting as a chauffeur is still more extraordinary. Barely conceivable even in Harlem, but that was certainly where the car was from.” (6)
- People of color can only be “porters, sleeping-car attendants, truck-drivers” (13-14)
- “‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a great Negro criminal, before,’ said Bond. ‘Chinamen, of course, the men behind the opium trade. There’ve been some big-time Japs, mostly in pearls and drugs…[Negroes] don’t seem to take to big business. Pretty law-abiding chaps, on the whole…” (16-17) – Please stop, James. Just…please, stop.
- “…the fear of Voodoo and the supernatural, still deeply, primevally ingrained in the Negro subconscious!” (20)
- “If [Mr. Big] wasn’t sprung in half an hour…those Voodoo drums would start beating from here to the Deep South.” (32) – MAKE IT STOP
- Leiter on pre-war Harlem: “Perhaps pick up a girl and risk the doctor’s bills afterward.” (37) – Holy Jesus…!
- Every place they walk past in Harlem advertises only hair relaxers and/or skin bleachers (42)
- Remember that time Solitaire was literally said to look like the daughter of a colonial slave-owner????
- References to Mr. Big’s (black) henchmen as “clumsy apes” (58)
- “the sixth sense of fish, of birds, of Negores” (94)
- The relationship between Bond and his diving coach/pal in Jamaica is “that of a Scots laird with his head stalker; authority was unspoken and there was no room for servility” (159)
- A tie floats in the water like “a Chinaman’s pigtail” (212)
Overall rating: 3 out of 5 martinis
Based on the movie’s theme song alone, I had very high hopes for Live and Let Die. But Bond’s bad attitude mostly ruined it for me. He hated America, then he was rude to basically every person of color he ran into, and then he didn’t even have the decency to send a wire back to Felix to profess his undying love?? Come on, man.
(I can say, though, I’m about halfway through Moonraker at the moment, and…esh. Nothing can be more boring than that book.)
* Read along: Fleming, Ian. Live and Let Die. New York: Berkley, 1983. Print.