Tag Archive: Casino Royale

The world first met Ian Fleming’s James Bond with the release of the novel Casino Royale in 1953.  That first Bond story would be adapted into a newspaper comic strip in the UK in 1958, followed by a film–a satirical comedy version–in 1967 starring David Niven, followed by a dramatic film version in 2006 starring Daniel Craig.  But it’s the print comic version, the newspaper adaptation, that received a new retooling of sorts this year.  Dynamite Comics tapped writer Van Jensen (Flash, The Six Million Dollar Man: Fall of Man), artist Dennis Calero (Masks, Kolchak), colorist Chris O’Halloran (Lockjaw, Black Panther), letterer Simon Bowland (Red Sonja, Judge Dredd), and vintage cover artist Fay Dalton (Worlds of Tomorrow) to deliver a 2018 update to Casino Royale for a new generation of readers.  The result is a rich and elegant new look at Fleming’s first Bond adventure.

From the look of Bond’s classic 1933 Bentley to the French casino where much of the story happens, the tone, mood, and style is fresh while also nostalgic.  Jensen balances the extensive dialogue from the original novel to avoid a graphic novel that is merely talking heads.  He is most successful at having Bond explain the rules of Baccarat to the reader via a conversation at dinner with M’s assigned companion for him, Vesper Lynd.  Calero’s Bond has the steely eyes of Michael Fassbender.  At the card table we meet some doppelgangers in this reader’s eyes: Grace Kelly as the American film star, Barbara Bel Geddes as the rich American, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the DuPont heir, Emma Thompson as Mrs. DuPont, Julian Glover as the Belgian, Nigel Green as Lord Danvers, Pete Postlethwaite or Titos Vandis as the Greek.  And in Le Chiffre we see a bit of Aleister Crowley (Fleming’s inspiration for the character) mixed with Orson Welles (who played him in the 1967 film), and a little JFK meets Brad Pitt for American CIA agent Felix Leiter.

O’Halloran’s minimalist use of color and Calero’s lack of background detail helps keep the reader engaged, and Calero’s work is particularly interesting visualizing Bond’s thoughts in a way that evokes a Bill Sienkiewicz style.  The characters are not reminiscent of actors who have portrayed them previously, leaving readers to experience this version of Casino Royale without any preconceptions, although this version may make fans of the original films wonder how Sean Connery would have played Bond in this tale.  The various lettering styles required of the text give more significance to Bowland’s part in telling the story, and O’Halloran’s colors definitely evoke a 1950s world.

Here are some pages from Dynamite’s Casino Royale:

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Craig as James Bond SPECTRE

In the past few decades of the 50 year tenure of James Bond on film it’s really hard to beat Daniel Craig’s first turn as James Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale.  As action goes it’s practically a perfect film, particularly considering that it’s a bit of an origin story–an overdone trope in genre movies.  But despite continuing with an actor who was truly believable as Bond, its 2008 sequel, Quantum of Solace, only muddled along with uninteresting villains, and the 2012 follow-up Skyfall, although interesting, delivered the message that this Bond may be too old to be Bond.

So it’s a relief that James Bond is going back to the basics in SPECTRE–the 24th film in the ongoing series–as hinted in its first trailer released this weekend.  Sure, the support team is still here, like Naomie Harris’s Miss Moneypenny, but this Bond is clearly on a new solo mission, and it’s not just a tangential adventure.  Tying back to the destruction of the late M’s MI6 office building, Bond is off again to seek some revenge.

Bond brother in SPECTRE Christoph Waltz

Better yet, perhaps we will now learn more about the mysterious Mr. White, played by Jesper Christensen, who has appeared in the first two Daniel Craig Bond movies, but each time as a shadowy figure whose motives and secrets remain hidden.  After being caught by Bond at the end of Casino Royale, he managed to escape in Quantum of Solace.  We were led to believe he worked for an organization called Quantum, but does he really work for SPECTRE?


After the break check out the first trailer for SPECTRE:

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Mikkelson Salvation

When we think of Westerns made outside the United States the first that come to mind are usually those directed by Sergio Leone and scored by Ennio Morricone–the “spaghetti Westerns.”  The best of these are from the 1960s, A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.  Danish director Kristian Levring is bringing to the States the next Western this year with his revenge story The Salvation.

Better labeled a EuroWestern perhaps than spaghetti Western, the trailer for The Salvation is making the rounds now after a European release last year, finally to make it into select U.S. cinemas and OnDemand later this month.

The Salvation Eva Green

The last time we saw a movie that had that right Western look was the remake of 3:10 to Yuma, starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, released in 2007.  Yuma was a little bit too Hollywood to result in a modern classic, but there’s something about The Salvation’s trailer that gives us hope.  It may be the lack of Hollywood’s A-List actors.  Instead we have two big European names, former stars of Casino Royale.  Mads Mikkelsen, the well-known Danish actor who plays Hannibal Lector in the American Hannibal TV series is the male lead, playing opposite genre favorite and “Bond girl” Eva Green (The Golden Compass, 300: Rise of an Empire).

After the break check out the trailer for The Salvation.

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Colin Firth british spy

We’re always on the lookout for the next James Bond.  Three years ago we here at borg.com nominated Rufus Sewell here and Paul Blackthorne (Arrow, Dresden Files) and Jason Isaacs (Awake, Harry Potter) here.  Fortunately Daniel Craig doesn’t appear to be giving up his Walther PPK or Aston Martin anytime soon.  But what about the British number one heartthrob, Colin Firth?

Now we at least have an idea of what Firth’s Bond might look like with the preview to the 2016 release Kingsman: The Secret Service this week.  Admittedly we first thought this trailer was for a remake of the classic British spy series The Avengers, with Firth as John Steed.  Ralph Fiennes, the newest M in the James Bond franchise, was the latest to don the famous bowler hat and umbrella for that role.  Firth would have been a good choice for that role, but he also seems to be summoning a little foppish Peter Sellers from the original Casino Royale, too.

Kingsman Secret Service

Based on the six issue comic book mini-series Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class), this latest spy flick has Firth mentoring a street-kid for possible inclusion in a secret spy society.  That mentoring makes this movie give off a vibe like another great coming of age flick of years past, The Freshman, starring Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick.  If Kingsman is half as good as that film, we’ve got something to look forward to.

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Scratch One cover by Orbik

Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re like this reader, you probably thought you read the last of the catalog of Michael Crichton novels when you finished his last novel, Micro, reviewed here at borg.com last year.  But what if there were eight Crichton novels that suddenly appeared, as if by magic, that you had never heard of?  The “lost” Crichton novels?  For fans of Crichton (who died in 2008) and his bestsellers like Jurassic Park, Sphere, Disclosure, and Rising Sun, it’s practically a dream come true.  Diehards may have heard of these eight novels published in the late 1960s, written while Crichton was in medical school, all under the pen name John Lange and all long out of print and nearly impossible to find.

Titan Books’ Hard Case Crime imprint worked with Crichton in his last years to re-edit, re-write a few chapters, and then finalize a new printing of all eight novels, with interesting and catchy titles Odds On, Scratch One, Easy Go, Zero Cool, The Venom Business, Drug of Choice, Grave Descend, and Binary, and all with great new pulp art covers by Glen Orbik.  We plan to review them all here, and today we begin with Crichton’s second published novel, Scratch One, originally published in 1967, but available next week in bookstores.  It’s not yet known if re-releases of two other early works by Crichton, A Case of Need, written as Jeffery Hudson, and Dealing, written as Michael Douglas, will be forthcoming.

Scratch One first edition

Scratch One follows Roger Carr, an American lawyer who has been assigned the posh job of acquiring a half-billion dollar villa in France for a wealthy client.  It’s the type of job Carr is used to as the son of a senator without any other particular value to his firm.  It allows him to maintain a playboy’s lifestyle on the French Riviera and other lavish European locations and use his charisma to land a new lady friend at every stop along the way.  But where Carr sounds like he could be James Bond, he also has no particular skill as a spy or assassin.  That’s relevant because Carr stumbles into a scenario that could be found in an Ian Fleming novel.

Carr in every way is “the Man who Knew Too Little.”  Unfortunately he just happens to look like a real spy being sought by a league of murderers trying to prevent an arms deal with a faction in the Middle East.  Their method of stopping the deal is plucking off one by one key players in Egypt, Portugal, Denmark, and France, and murdering a popular race car driver at the famous annual Grand Prix–a driver who is a wealthy man in his own right who, as part of his side activities, mixes with arms dealers.

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Uncanny Issue 1 Jock cover

Next Wednesday Dynamite Comics is releasing Issue #1 of a new crime series, called Uncanny.  Writer Andy Diggle and artist Aaron Campbell offer up a modern noir story about a flawed yet oddly powerful American named Weaver set in modern-day Singapore.  Uncanny is similar in many ways to many recent crime monthly comic book series.  It’s an edgy, action noir mixed with pulp spy novel crime story that will appeal to fans of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Fatale, Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets, and Jason Aaron and RM Guera’s Scalped.

The update of 1930s-1940s film noir to the modern city is intriguing.  Diggle’s Weaver seems capable of being a variant on James Bond–rugged, overconfident–yet instead of running after the bad guy by all accounts Weaver seems to have created his own problems leaving him to be the man on the run.  Campbell’s art deftly balances the bright lights of the city with the night-time dark tone of a man somehow caught up in the city’s underbelly.  And Campbell’s first issue of the story is heavily influenced by both the recent Bond films Casino Royale and Skyfall.  In fact, his characters, the style and setting are similar to Mike Grell’s James Bond: Permission to Die mini-series.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The 23rd James Bond film has a lot it must accomplish compared to other franchise movies.  On the 50th anniversary of Bond on film, director Sam Mendes had to deliver something special, more than just the latest entry in the Bond canon.  And despite Mendes’s influences, Skyfall had to be more than another Christopher Nolan action romp like the recent Batman films.  After 50 years, Bond is a British tradition, an international icon, the star of every diehard action film fan’s awaited pilgrimage every few years.  Mendes had to blend the classic with the new as each of his predecessors had, and make sure that even that was done in a new way, without copying other action film franchises like the Jason Bourne movies, as the last movie, Quantum of Solace, has been accused of.  Messing with the Bond formula is like messing with the formula for Coca-Cola.  A director of a Bond film has a delicate trapeze act to maneuver to create a successful Bond picture connecting all the elements of the Bond formula.

So how did Skyfall fair?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You may find Ian Fleming’s third James Bond novel, Moonraker, to be a surprising, refreshing read for several reasons.

First, it is new to those who have only watched the movie adaptations.  Moonraker the novel has very little relationship to the 11th Bond film, starring Roger Moore, where Moore’s Bond is trying to prevent a global conspiracy involving the Space Shuttle.

Second, Bond is humanized.  The impressive perfection of Bond in Casino Royale is smoothed out and Ian Fleming, after two other Bond novels, is easing into this super spy’s mystique, his aura, and the nature of this suave and sophisticated man of mystery.  The uncomfortable 1950s racial elements of Live and Let Die are thankfully completely absent here.  Here we see Bond at home, Bond buying a car, Bond’s daily life as Agent 007, including reviewing forms as any government analyst might do.  We get to see that Bond’s life, outside the novels, is routine.  It’s a Bond you may never thought you would get to see, if all you have seen are the films.

Third, Hugo Drax is a fantastic villain.  Even James Bond admires Drax and acknowledges it to other characters throughout Moonraker.  Bond’s preoccupation with Drax’s looks, his facial hair and the odd close-cut workers and their own myriad variety of moustaches is simply intriguing.

Fourth, we get to see Bond commiserate away from the Secret Service offices with M himself.  M invites Bond to an exclusive club called Blades, one of the most perfectly described locations in the Bond universe.  One might think we’ve seen Bond already do the card game bit in Casino Royale, yet Moonraker‘s card war is strangely epic.

Fifth, you’ll find some classic supporting villains that could be found in classic Hollywood mystery stories, including Krebs, a Wormtongue-toady type who at one time could have been played smartly by Peter Lorre.  There’s even a classic mad scientist.

Moonraker finds Bond summoned to M’s office where M proceeds to explain the need for a personal favor.  A certain member of the oldest gentleman’s club in all of jolly old England has been caught cheating at cards.  What kind of a man–a man who could afford to play the highest stakes of games in a club so exclusive only 200 members are ever allowed on the roster–would risk his reputation and membership on such arrogance and stupidity?

M calls on Bond because he is known around the service as the card player to beat, with a background knowledge of every trick in the book, and Fleming goes to some lengths in explaining the games and the ruses, not in any overdone way but just enough to immerse the reader in Bond’s world.  The club has the high brow feel of the club of Duke & Duke in Trading Places, and throughout the novel I wondered if any of Moonraker‘s vivid descriptions directly inspired movie script locations like the exclusive Bushwood Country Club in Caddyshack.

It doesn’t take long for Bond to figure out a way to foil the great cheating millionaire.  But this millionaire, Sir Hugo Drax, is key to the British government’s most important pet project–he is the mind behind the Moonraker missile project.  Moonraker is Great Britain’s first nuclear weapon and the future of the UK’s national defense system.  The significance of the first test of said missile causes M to pull Bond in when a member of the security team is killed at the launch site.  Bond takes over the role, which forces him to work one on one with Drax.

At first Bond loathes Drax and continuously finds ways to criticize him to M, yet once he follows Drax to examine his new creation he is rightly impressed with his ability to pull together a team of researchers and support staff, including 50 Germans, to complete this monumental project.  His work on site causes him to partner with the obligatory Bond girl of this novel, Gala Brand, a Scotland Yard agent posing as Drax’s personal assistant.

Moonraker is full of good action scenes–Bond chasing after Brand when she is kidnapped, Bond and Brand hiding with the missile silo walls, more than one murder attempt against Bond, the grand card game, and uncovering the secret purpose of the Moonraker rocket.  Where Casino Royale was exciting from a plot standpoint but not so much in-depth as far as character is concerned, and where Live and Let Die is now somewhat dated, Ian Fleming’s writing in Moonraker is vivid, rich, and compelling.

Moonraker would be ideal as a film remake today.  With Dame Judith Dench as M, it would be fascinating to see how Bond could be a friend of sorts assisting M after hours on more of a social mission than a political one.  And translating the V-2-inspired rocket and Cold War themes into something compelling today would be a fun challenge for the keepers of the James Bond mantle.

More borg.com James Bond novel “Retro-reviews” can be found here and here.

Review by C.J. Bunce

I was given Michael Dibdin’s series of Aurelio Zen novels as a gift after I was blown away by the short BBC TV series Zen starring Rufus Sewell, my current pick for an ideal future James Bond.  Because of Sewell’s performance I compared his Zen to the original Zen in Dibdin’s first Zen novel Ratking, and found myself comparing James Bond to Aurelio Zen after recently reading Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, Casino Royale.

Certainly there are similarities between Zen and Bond, but for the most part these are very different novels and genres and absolutely different characters.  From a basic level you can easily set up some analogies: Aurelio Zen is from Venice as Bond hails from England–the individuals are very much creations and defined by their origins.  Where Bond leaves London to encounter adventure in cities throughout the world, Zen’s entire world is Italy.  Where Bond has his mixed drinks, Zen has his coffee.  But Bond is a superhero of sorts to his peers and his country, whereas Zen is, by the appearances of his countrymen, flawed, heavily so in fact.  Yet its his flaws, pointed out by his superiors in the police department of Rome and townsfolk of the hill town of Perugia, that makes him endearing and accessible to readers.  He is the put-upon common working cop like Lennie Brisco or Joe Friday, but he just happens to live in Italy.

And Italy is a huge part of the novel and presumably the entire series.  Dibdin writes with such authority of Italy, including political leanings of various towns, factions, and agendas, histories of cities and real people and relationships with Italy and the rest of Europe, carryovers from World War II and Mussolini, etc., that you immediately take his word as your expert travel guide.  Where the BBC series painted a beautiful picture of Italy, however, in Ratking Dibdin shows us Perugia as the seediest of villages, and the citizenry, or at least the wealthy industrial family that is the focus of the story, outright repulsive.  Think of the family in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Dibdin’s Milettis could be interchangeable–no better or worse, just equally creepy and vile.  The ugliness permeates the novel almost to the point of  making the reader want to skip ahead to the next novel in the series where Zen is back working in Rome–but only “almost.”

Zen himself, as Dibdin puts it, carries “one of those annoying little Mona Lisa smiles which makes everyone wonder why you’re so pleased with yourself”.  Sewell nailed this piece of the original character set-up in the TV series, and it is something I expected was more brought by the actor than the story but was pleasantly surprised I was wrong.  Dibdin holds enough back so you do not know what Zen is thinking–Zen is quirky in the most mild-mannered of ways.  He has his own classiness like Bond, but in a boy scout sort of way.

I am familiar with Italy but only the history of Italy of ancient times and I found the people of Dibdin’s Italy as conniving and corrupt as Rome’s founders of several centuries past.  No one can be trusted.  Everyone is out for himself.  It is this realization that Dibdin focuses in on through his story of the grotesque concept of the ratking.  His characters, other than Zen, his mother, and a few friends, are an anti-travelogue for Italy.  In several ways the story is a noir piece akin to John Huston’s noir film Chinatown.  Like Jake Gittes, Aurelio Zen doesn’t have all the answers, and as much as he uses skill to unravel a kidnapping and murder case, he stumbles into and out of answers and danger like Gittes.  In the end instinct and a clear internal code of conduct guides Zen and sets us up for future stories.

Zen is an outsider–a policeman from Venice working in Rome who is shunned by his fellow officers for some past role in working an earlier kidnapping case.  Venetians are looked down upon in Dibdin’s Rome–and the reader gets sucked into stereotypes that at first seem foreign, yet they can easily be replicated in America–how people in one state look down upon another state or region, for example.  The immersion is so deep the reader must stop now and then and ask “am I supposed to know Florencians are aristocratic?”

In Perugia a wealthy patrician calls for help to investigate the kidnapping of a famous friend, a powerful industrialist named Ruggiero Miletti, resulting in a humorous, lengthy passing off of the responsibility until it can land in only one place–our hero’s lap.  The investigation of Miletti’s children becomes the playground for Zen’s sleuthing, despite pressures from every direction to fail at his task, from bosses, government agencies, the family, even the criminals themselves in a nicely strange twist.  The best pacing and action is in the last third of the novel, where Dibdin’s cop is in full stride.  The ending is crafted very well, and includes a jumping off point for future books.

Did Miletti’s own family kidnap him for a ransom to help the family’s failing businesses?   Or did individual family members play some role in this dark web of lies?  … the lavish son Daniele, the ethereal and seductive daughter Cinzia, the perverted son Silvio, the conniving son Pietro…  Is Zen himself just part of the ratking or is that imagery itself flawed?  As Zen forges ahead he learns that his own survival may depend on his ability to adapt and succeed at this single case.  Dibdin’s introduction to Zen in Ratkingreveals a measured character in a very dark world, but a character you will want to see again very soon.

By C.J. Bunce

In March 1952, on his estate called Goldeneye in Oracabessa, northeast Jamaica, ex-British Naval Intelligence officer Ian Fleming finished his first spy novel, penned over the past two months.  As the 60th anniversary of the birth of James Bond approaches, what better time to read the twelve novels and nine short stories written by Fleming?  Casino Royale was a collection of Fleming’s ideas and experiences, and the result of a long-time desire of Fleming to write his own spy novel.  The character of Bond was a compilation of several spies Fleming had met while in the military.

Can the Bond novels hold up after 60 years?  Even considering Bond’s 1950s era womanizing that has been to one extent or the other in 24 Bond films (the original comedy plus the 23 films including the forthcoming Skyfall) the Bond of 1952 is as familiar as the current Bond.  The James Bond novels remain in the top 25 best selling novel series of all time.

As theatrical adaptations go, Casino Royale is very faithful to the original novel.  But there are enough twists and turns that anyone who has only seen the Bond films will find new elements to enjoy in the original novel.  It begins with a dossier read by head of the Secret Service “M,” on one Soviet agent, Monsieur La Chiffre, who “stole from the till” and lost on bad investments over time and with a bounty on his head he is in need of millions of francs to save his own life.  La Chiffre has cleared out accessible bank accounts to turn that money into greater wealth come June at the casino at Royale-Les-Eaux in France, and La Chiffre is reputed as a formidable player.  The recommendation: “the finest gambler available to the Service should be given the necessary funds and endeavour to out-gamble this man.”

Despite that seemingly silly premise, readers can look forward to tight writing, great characterization, and well-plotted action.

What doesn’t come through in the movies is Bond’s inner thoughts.  Modern audiences see Bond as polished and perfect.  The original Bond story shows a different man.  This could reflect a character not yet firmly established or the fact that the character himself was only recently made a 00 agent, the designation of a British agent who had made two kills.  His inner-workings are fun–at one point he plots to rob the bank at the casino and how many men it would take to do the job successfully, simply as an afterthought between pondering how we will proceed next in his actual assignment.

Bond is a renaissance man.  Sure, in the movies he is portrayed as suave and knowing what drink to order, but in Casino Royale we see Bond fluent in French cuisine and culture.  And he is also fluent in subtlety.  His extreme paranoia, required to keep a spy in the danger game alive comes across over and over.  No rest for the weary?

It’s difficult not to approach Bond novels without reference to the corresponding films.  Thankfully Fleming’s first Bond novel can now be compared to the first Daniel Craig Bond film, as opposed to the funny 1967 comedy spoof version with David Niven. In that regard the movie reflects the novel with familiar characters M, head of the Secret Service, assistant Moneypenny, René Mathis, from the French service, CIA agent Felix Leiter, and Vesper Lynd, assistant to the head of the S (Soviet) branch of the British intelligence.

Unlike James Bond of the movies, James Bond of the novels is self-correcting.  He may have classic womanizer thoughts or presumptions, but does not hesitate to adapt or change his mind and act against his baser instincts, something we rarely see in the movies.  Hard-hearted is not yet the established Bond as featured in Casino Royale, and he is a bit more likeable, more personable, apologetic, less automaton.

The plot revolves around a game of baccarat of the highest stakes (literally in the game they break the world record for high stakes play), with Bond strategically placing himself opposite La Chiffre, and they become the key competitors despite a dozen other players.  Bond withstands a few attempts on his life, including one at the table, and ultimately loses millions in the first round of play.  American Felix Leiter comes to the rescue with an endless pot of CIA money, that Bond uses to re-enter the game and finish the job.  From there, Bond and assistant Vesper Lynd are kidnapped as part of a trap, and La Chiffre attempts the most brutal torture to exact the money from Bond, money Bond hid at the hotel.

Iam Fleming’s writing is evocative of the time and place: “Bond lit a cigarette and settled himself in his chair.  The long game was launched and the sequence of these gestures and the reiteration of this subdued litany would continue until the end came and the players dispersed. Then the enigmatic cards would be burnt or defaced, a shroud would be draped over the table and the grass-green baize battlefield would soak up the blood of its victims and refresh itself.”

Negatives?  Readers may encounter a few quirks.  One may be nits like over-use of the word “ironical” once preferred to the modern “ironic,” which after several uses grates a bit.  Fleming also has Bond over-explaining his actions to Mathis in the last chunk of the novel.  And there is a long sequence that is not so much the modern Bond tongue-in-cheek encounter with the “Bond girl” of the week, but reads a bit like a scene from a Harlequin romance novel.

But certainly there is more of what you’d hope for than not:  Bond’s love of wine and food.  A fast car (here a Bentley).  Bond’s vodka martini (the “Vesper”).  A heightened awareness of surroundings.  Pleasure in relationships with other agents.  Pursuit of the beautiful woman of the moment.  Calculated risks.  Confidence to the point of over-confidence.  A car chase.  A crash.  A hand-to-hand fight.  A card game.

A W carved on the back of Bond’s right hand is a curiosity–carved by a Soviet agent who chooses not to kill Bond, but brand him with the symbol of the Russian word for spy.  (Did this come up later in the series?)

There is also much explanation that makes sense of Vesper’s role in the card game and aftermath, that was rather rushed in the film adaptation.  And the ending fully explains why readers were eager for the next and subsequent James Bond spy thriller.

No question–Casino Royale is a fun read, and although it may be obvious, it explains why the successful franchise got off to a good start.

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