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Literature / Live and Let Die

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The second James Bond novel by Ian Fleming, published in 1954.

Upon returning from leave after the events of Casino Royale, Bond is dispatched to New York City to investigate the sudden appearance of smuggled gold coins in Harlem. The case later takes him to Florida and then Jamaica, and pits him against the Harlem crime boss Mr. Big.

The novel would later become the basis of the eighth Bond film and parts of it would later be incorporated into For Your Eyes Only and Licence to Kill.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Actionized Sequel: While Casino Royale is far from violence-free, Bond really only gets into one "fight" (which he loses). Here, both the good and bad guys have a lot more chances to resort to violence, and that's not getting into all the hostile wildlife Bond has to deal with.
  • Always Save the Girl: Part of why Bond swims on to Mr. Big's island even after he's planted the mine on Mr. Big's yacht. Though it's debatable whether this really made any difference, since by that point the bad guys had already spotted him.
  • AM/FM Characterization: Felix is a jazz fan. So much that when he was younger, he wrote a few pieces on Dixieland jazz for the New York Amsterdam News.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Felix Leiter literally loses one of each when the Robber drops him into a Shark Pool.
  • Artistic Licence – Law: Strictly speaking, Felix Leiter would be outside his jurisdiction for much of the Mr Big case, since the CIA cannot operate inside the US.
  • Author Appeal: Fleming had a lifelong interest in pirates, from the books he read as a child to films like Captain Blood. From his Goldeneye, Fleming had visited Port Royal in Jamaica, which was once the home port of Sir Henry Morgan.
  • Bad to the Last Drop: At once point, Bond and Solitaire are forced to recoup at a local Greasy Spoon, which serves them this alongside an equally terrible breakfast.
  • Badass Bystander: The Pullman porter who helps keep Bond and Solitaire safe on the train to Florida.
  • Big Bad: With a name like Mr. Big, he's already halfway to having it as his official title.
  • Bond One-Liner: Not from Bond himself (still far from the quipping-and-killing machine the movies would make him), but the villains make a pithy little commentary on the shark-mangled Felix:
    "He disagreed with something that ate him."
  • Bowdlerization: As discussed here, several of Fleming's less-sensitive moments were changed or deleted outright when this book first hit the United States.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: An extremely bizarre version happens about three-quarters through the book, when Bond's Caribbean flight is caught in a storm and Bond ponders the cruelty of the Universe and just how long he's got left to live. Commercial flight was fairly new and scary back in the 1950s, but it's still Padding of the first order.
  • Dirty Communists: SMERSH is at it again, this time through Mr. Big's criminal activities.
  • Exploding Fishtanks: The result of the firefight between Bond and Robber.
  • Fingore: Mr. Big orders Tee-Hee to break one of Bond's fingers.
  • Funetik Aksent: How most of Harlem's black people talk.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Mr Big is not only physically very large, and the "big man" of Harlem crime (making it a Meaningful Name), but his real name is Buonaparte Ignace Gallia. Other kids nicknamed him "Big Boy" when he was young.
  • Handicapped Badass: A mild example. Bond spends much of the novel this way once Tee-Hee breaks his left little finger on Mr. Big's orders. Even after a doctor sets the break, it still gives Bond trouble now and then.
  • Hazardous Water: To ensure his island's privacy, Mr. Big has his men dumping offal into the surrounding waters, putting all the sharks and barracudas in the area into a feeding frenzy.
  • Just Desserts: Bond feeds the Robber to the shark that mauled Felix, and later in the book, Mr. Big gets devoured by a swarm of sharks and barracuda.
  • Kick the Dog: Robber shoots seabirds for funzies.
  • Literal Asskicking: When Bond frees himself from Tee-Hee's grip, he bashes his head with his empty pistol, hits him in the groin and plants a foot in the seat of his pants to send him down a staircase to his death.
  • Living Lie Detector: Mr. Big uses Solitaire like this, and apparently she really can detect lies (though she doesn't always tell the truth to Mr. Big about what she senses, preferring to spare those she believes are decent people). She believes it's due to her Psychic Powers, but we never learn whether she's right or not.
  • Manly Tears: When Mr. Big is defeated, Bond, shaken by the whole ordeal, sheds tears.
  • Merciful Minion: Felix befriends the mook who is holding him prisoner; he releases Felix with only a token beating despite orders from Mr Big to inflict more serious injury.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: A core theme of the book, and one of the key differences between the white Bond and the black antagonists. That said, Bond does admit that he understands the power Voodoo can have on an individual's mind, and Solitaire, a white woman who grew up in that environment, is a lot less dismissive of it.
  • Pirate Booty: The treasure of the English pirate Sir Henry Morgan, which Mr. Big discovered in Jamaica and is smuggling into the United States.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Mr. Big's operations are dosed with a bit of Hollywood Voodoo and he encourage rumours that he is really a zombie or even Baron Samedi himself. He even has the stereotypical Scooby-Doo villain motive: smuggling stuff around the country.
  • Shark Pool: Mr. Big has one in a Florida warehouse, where Felix gets mauled and Bond later feeds the Robber to the shark in revenge.
  • Shout-Out: At one point, Bond reads Patrick Leigh Fermor's Caribbean travelogue The Traveller's Tree. A friend of Ian Fleming's, Patrick Leigh Fermor was one of several men whose wartime exploits have led to suggestions that he was the inspiration (or rather, one of the inspirations) for James Bond.
  • Spiteful Spit: After one of Harlem's inhabitants sees Bond and Felix strolling by, he spits.
  • A Taste of the Lash: When Solitaire is "reading" Bond, Mr. Big lashes her to remind who is in charge.
  • Tentacled Terror: An octopus grabs Bond's legs, forcing him to take action against it. This in turn reveals his location to Mr. Big's men and he's caught shortly after.
  • Threatening Shark: Sharks are present around Mr. Big's island, but Bond is more worried about Barracudas when he swims there. Fleming actually goes out of his way to explain that sharks typically don't attack people of their own accord, but the ones who hang around Mr. Big's island have become accustomed to his followers throwing blood and offal into the water every night.
  • Title Drop: While discussing the operation with Felix and Captain Dexter, the latter notes that, until the case is ripe, they have a policy in regards to Mr. Big that goes "live and let live". Bond then answers that his is "live and let die".
  • Tuckerization: Fleming named Bond's alias Ivar Bryce after a friend of his, while Strangways was named after MI6's station chief in Jamaica.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Played with; Bond internally monologues about his plan to invade Mr. Big's island, and the most important part goes off without a hitch, but there are a number of unexpected setbacks.
  • Villains Want Mercy: When the Robber winds up dangling above the Shark Pool he'd intended to throw Bond into, he immediately starts begging for mercy and swears to tell Bond everything he knows. Averted with Mr. Big, whose eyes "held no appeal for help" even when he's half-dead from the mine Bond planted on his yacht and the local wildlife is about to finish the job.
  • What a Drag: Mr. Big ultimately plans to kill Bond and Solitaire by keelhauling them. Through coral. And shark-and-barracuda-infested waters. Ultimately subverted, as the mine Bond had planted on Mr. Big's yacht goes off before our heroes actually hit the coral.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Cited literally when Bond gets a fake Time Bomb accompanied by a written death threat.