(Before proceeding it might be helpful to see my introductory comments to Casino Royale.)
Live and Let Die was published in 1954, only one year after Casino Royale. Supposedly Ian Fleming had completed at least a first draft of this second novel before the first one was published. While Live and Let Die has some similarities to Casino Royale, it’s also a more ambitious novel. I’m guessing Fleming felt more confident in portraying his character. Whether it was deliberate or not, Live and Let Die feels written more with a screen adaptation in mind. Long-time Fleming fans will probably not find much new in this analysis. This is not a review or book summary, but notes on the contents of the book, especially concerning terminology I wasn’t previously familiar with, brand names, place names, historic events, etc. Basically, my own personal reader’s guide. A few references are repeated from Casino Royale (Chelsea, for example), and for those I’ve largely copied my entry for the previous book.
I haven’t included page numbers because this will vary by edition. I’m reading the 1964 Signet Books mass market paperback. Mr. Fleming was kind enough to divide his books into brief chapters, so references should be easy to find in the text. If I’ve made any factual errors, feel free to point this out via the Contact Me page.
Last revised 4 May 2023
Chapter 1: The Red Carpet
James Bond enters the novel in style, arriving in New York City via BOAC, the British Overseas Airways Corporation. BOAC was a British government-owned airline that operated from 1939 to 1974. The airline performed a crucial function of maintaining air routes between Britain and its colonies and allied countries during World War II. It was the first airline to use aircraft powered by jet engines (i.e. not propellers) in passenger service, in 1952, but Bond arrives on a prop-driven plane.
Bond travels to New York on a Stratocruiser, another name for the Boeing 377, a commercial design that can be traced back to the B-29 Superfortress. The 377’s maiden flight was in 1947 and it generally seated either 63 or 84 passengers. Due to problematic engines, only fifty-five 377’s were built for commercial service, with the last one delivered to BOAC in 1950.
007’s port of entry to the U.S. is Idlewild, the airport that opened in Queens in 1948. Officially called the New York International Airport, Anderson Field, the airport was commonly referred to as Idlewild after the name of the golf course that previously occupied the land. It was renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport in December, 1963. In 1951, Idlewild had an average of 73 takeoffs and landings per day.
U.S. Health, Immigration, and Customs:
Fleming uses this term as though it’s one government organization, but I think they were handled separately. I can’t find much information on how U.S. customs and immigration control was organized in the 1950s. The U.S. Customs Service was established in 1789 and became the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2003. In the 1950s, Customs was part of the U.S. Treasury Department. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service was established in 1933 and was part of the U.S. Department of Justice during the 1950s. Despite their overlapping functions, the overall goal was to protect U.S. commercial interests by preventing smuggling and enforcing tariffs, and to protect the paranoid who absolutely believed that nefarious socialists would overrun the country at any moment. Bond also reflects on the many other institutions that would be alerted by his passport, including the Bureau of Narcotics (a division of the Treasury Department), Counterintelligence (maybe referring to the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, known at the time as the Security Division?), Treasury, and the FBI.
Fleming wastes no time, hitting us with bigotry on page one, when Bond feels exposed entering the U.S. in such a public fashion. “…he felt like a Negro whose shadow has been stolen by the witch-doctor.” I imagine Fleming being more of an “accidental” racist, a result of his upbringing rather than any malicious intention, but that’s not a justification.
Halloran and Grady:
Halloran is the FBI agent who greets Bond at Idlewild, Grady is the driver.
Buick and Dynaflow:
The FBI drives a reliable American Buick. The company was founded in 1899 and by the early 1900s was the largest carmaker in the country. Various acquisitions and partnerships by Buick led to the formation of General Motors, where Buick is still a division. Fleming knew his automobiles. He describes the FBI’s Buick as having “Dynaflow gears,” an automatic transmission developed by Buick and introduced in 1948. Known early on for slow but quiet shifting, Dynaflow was sometimes referred to as “Dynaslush,” and was discontinued in 1964.
Everyone in the Bond novels seems to smoke, and Halloran smokes “Luckies,” the Lucky Strike brand of chewing tobacco first sold as cigarettes in the early 1900s. The tobacco in Lucky Strikes was toasted rather than sun-dried, creating a flavor that, if you can believe the ads, was preferred by the likes of Bette Davis and Douglas Fairbanks. Halloran takes his cigarette from “a fresh pack of Luckies,” the exact phrase used by Billy Joel in his 1983 song Keeping the Faith.
Halloran gives Bond $1,000 in spending cash, which he claims is “communist money” from the “Schmidt-Kinaski haul.” I can’t find a real-life Schmidt-Kinaski reference. Hans-Thilo Schmidt was a civilian employee in the German Army’s cryptographic office and sold information about the Germans’ Enigma cipher machine to the French during the 1930s. I’m pretty sure that’s not the intended reference, so maybe Fleming made this one up.
Bond reflects that this is “His first sight of America since the war.” Presumably he’s recalling his assassination of a Japanese cipher expert at Rockefeller Center, as described in Chapters 9 and 20 of Casino Royale.
At a time when America had become the primary global superpower and Britain’s empire was rapidly shrinking, Fleming can’t resist taking a dig at the upstart colonists: “…the number of women at the wheel, their menfolk docilely beside them…”
Secret agent Bond notices details of life during his drive through NYC, including “Civil Defense warnings.” Civil defense is a generic term for preparing the masses for the consequences of foreign attack or invasion. In the U.S. in the 1950s, this was manifested through various federal, state, and local efforts primarily oriented around the possibilities of a nuclear strike, possibly reaching its most absurd point with the 1952 Duck and Cover campaign, featuring Bert the Turtle promoting the ridiculous notion that children could survive a nuclear explosion by hiding under their school desks. This would not have been a foreign concept to Bond, as Britain had its own Civil Defence Corps, established in 1949.
Bond enters Manhattan via the Triborough Bridge, renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge in 2008. Still often called the Triborough, this complex of bridges opened in 1936 and connects Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. Some of the drama behind the Triborough’s construction is described in Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, a biography of Robert Moses, the mastermind behind the bridge and many other NYC infrastructure projects of the time.
New York City:
Bond predicts something similar to the 9/11 attacks by describing NYC’s strategic and cultural prominence. “I hate to say it, but this must be the fattest atomic-bomb target on the whole face of the globe.”
No expense is spared for Bond’s visit, as he is lodged in the top floor of the St. Regis, the luxury hotel at Fifth Avenue and East 55th Street in Midtown Manhattan. Financed by John Jacob Astor IV (who went down with the RMS Titanic in 1912) and opened in 1904, in the 1950s the hotel was still in the family, owned by JJA IV’s son, Vincent Astor. The St. Regis might also offer a strategic benefit – in the 1950s, the La Boite nightclub in the hotel basement was frequented by prominent Russians celebrating Novy God, the Russian New Year. An early scene in The Godfather (1972) depicts Michael (Al Pacino) and Kay (Diane Keaton) having dinner in a room at the St. Regis.
Arriving at the St. Regis, Bond is introduced to Captain Dexter of the FBI, who is in charge of the U.S. domestic side of the operation.
Mr. Big’s chauffeur (who Fleming clumsily refers to as a “Negress”!) drives a Cadillac, the luxury car maker owned, like Buick, by General Motors. Co-founded in 1902 by Henry Ford, who had left his own company in anger, Cadillac was named after city of Detroit founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. The brand had a reputation for technological and stylistic innovations, including, in the postwar years, heavy use of chrome, tailfins, and wraparound windshields.
Bond notices the driver of Mr. Big’s Cadillac cut off a Checker Cab. The Checker Motors Corporation, founded as the Checker Cab Manufacturing Company in 1922, was the sole vehicle provider for Checker Taxi, a nationwide taxi operator based in Chicago. For decades, Checker cabs were the defining image of urban taxis in the U.S.
As with Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, Mr. Big is a mysterious figure introduced to us from a distance. Bond only recognizes him in the Cadillac by his “huge, grey-black face.”
Bond’s room at the St. Regis has an Aubusson rug, which was most likely made in Aubusson or Felletin in central France, an area known for its tapestries and carpets as far back as the 1300s.
Bond is happily surprised to reconnect with Felix Leiter, the CIA agent who was so helpful in Casino Royale. Here Leiter is acting as liaison between the CIA and the FBI.
This international mission includes the British Secret Service because of the “Jamaican end” of the operation. Jamaica played an indirect part in Casino Royale and will be more significant here. Jamaica was still a British colony in the 1950s.
Bond implies that he can choose to accept or reject an assignment, something I thought only applied to the Impossible Missions Force. Describing M to Leiter, Bond says, “He just gives one the facts. Never tells one any good news. I suppose he thinks it might influence one’s decision to take a case or not.” I can’t imagine Bond turning down a mission, much less M tolerating such a situation.
Dexter reports to Bond, “Mr. Hoover instructs me to say that he’s very pleased to have you along.” That might have been a high compliment in 1954, but doesn’t hold up well today, knowing what a racist and general back-stabber J. Edgar Hoover was. Hoover was director of the FBI from 1935 to 1972 and through much of the 1940s and 1950s he was so busy obsessing over mythical Communists that he denied the existence of organized crime and their activities in drugs, prostitution, etc.
Leiter and the St. Regis do their best, but Bond doesn’t eat as well here as he did at the Royale. Lunch is soft-shell crabs with tartare sauce (the UK spelling of tartar sauce), medium-rare flat-beef hamburgers, French fries, broccoli, a mixed salad with Thousand Island dressing, ice cream with melted butterscotch, and Liebfraumilch, a semi-sweet German white wine. Bond is particularly hesitant about the butterscotch. Fleming refers to the lunch as “American cooking at its best,” and I’m honestly not sure if he intends it as a compliment or an insult.
Bond smokes Chesterfields here instead of his usual preferred blend as described in Casino Royale. First marketed in 1873, Chesterfield uses a blend of Turkish and Virginia tobacco and today is owned by Altria.
Winter in New York:
Bond received his assignment two weeks earlier, in early January, putting the current story in mid- to late-January.
Bond recalls his flat in Chelsea. Chelsea is an upscale London neighborhood on the north bank of the Thames. Much of the real estate in Chelsea is still controlled by long-time property owner and management company Cadogan Estates, as it has been since the 1700s. Bond would be disappointed to learn that nearly 7% of Chelsea’s residents today are from the U.S., and he might not have appreciated the neighborhood’s prominence in Swinging London of the 1960s. We can only hope Bond might have bumped into George Smiley, who also resided in Chelsea.
Chapter 2: Interview with M
Just like Casino Royale, Live and Let Die opens with Bond on assignment in a foreign country, then flashes back to M’s office to provide the necessary background.
Bond drives his grey 4.5L Bentley convertible with Amherst-Villiers supercharger, as described in Casino Royale. This time the model year is specified as 1933.
Bond begins is drive to the office on King’s Road, implying he lives either on or just off this historic road through Chelsea. King’s Road really was the King’s Road, a private road for the use of King Charles II in the 1600s, and didn’t enter public use until the 1800s. King’s Road was a hub of mod culture in the swinging 1960s.
Bond’s commute takes him from King’s Road to Sloane Street (passing Sloane Square) and in to Hyde Park. No further directions are given, but presumably Bond keeps driving, because we know from Casino Royale that the Secret Service building overlooks Regent’s Park, which is nearly a mile north of Hyde Park. Hyde Park is 350 acres, established as a hunting ground by Henry VIII in the 1500s, and opened to the general public in 1637. Home to Kensington Gardens and royal residence Kensington Palace as well as Speakers’ Corner, an area of the park where public speaking and debate was welcomed through much of the 19th and 20th centuries, until the Internet brought everyone indoors. Perhaps Bond would have observed pacifist Donald Soper, a Methodist minister who was a regular at Speakers’ Corner during those years.
Chief of Staff:
We get a brief introduction to M’s Chief of Staff, who is not named here but is clearly Bill Tanner, who we met in Casino Royale.
Stations A and C:
The Chief of Staff informs Bond that his new case involves Stations A and C, meaning the United States (A) and the Caribbean (C). Bond reflects on having worked under Station A during the war, probably another reference to the Rockefeller Center episode mentioned in Chapter 1.
A flashback within a flashback, Bond recalls meeting with M, clearly identified here as head of the Secret Service, at the end of the previous summer, following the events of Casino Royale.
We don’t meet Q here, but, per M, it is Q who arranged for the skin graft to cover the mark left on Bond’s hand by the SMERSH agent in Chapter 18 of Casino Royale. This seems like an odd task for a quartermaster, but I’m not hip to secret service job functions.
Smert’ shpiónam, or “Death to Spies,” SMERSH was a real Soviet agency and became Bond’s arch-nemesis in Casino Royale. At that time, SMERSH was estimated to have a “few hundred” operatives and was blamed for the deaths of six British double agents.
Bond wonders about the status of SMERSH “now that Beria was gone.” Lavrentiy Beria was a Politburo member and head of the NKVD. He briefly became head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs when Stalin died in March 1953, but was executed for treason during Khrushchev’s coup a few months later. That would place the events of Life and Let Die in early 1954.
Now Bond arrives in Regent’s Park for his appointment with M. The park (see map above) is 410 acres and a convenient location for the Secret Service, home to Winfield House, which was occupied by the Royal Air Force during World War II and in 1955 became residence for the U.S. ambassador to the UK. Bedford College was also located there in the 1950s, and five London Underground stations are in or very near the park. I can find no evidence that the Secret Service was actually located there, though it appears that the Special Operations Branch once occupied a building nearby.
Bond briefly glimpses Miss Moneypenny, M’s “desirable” and “all-powerful” secretary.
M shows Bond a collection of gold coins of various origins that have been recovered primarily from Harlem and Florida, estimated to be abandoned treasure of Sir Henry Morgan, referred to throughout the book as “Bloody Morgan.” Morgan was a privateer (basically a state-sanctioned pirate) active throughout the Caribbean in the 1600s, raiding Spanish settlements in Cuba, the Yucatán Peninsula, Panama, and other areas. Morgan was arrested and taken to London in 1672 to help improve relations between Spain and England, but the English considered Morgan a hero and he returned to Jamaica in 1675. He became a wealthy plantation owner and continued his nefarious ways until his death in 1688. The idea of a lost Morgan treasure appears to be an invention of Fleming’s imagination.
Brethren of the Coast:
M mentions the Brethren of the Coast, a collection of pirates and privateers operating in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic Ocean. Henry Morgan was a founding member of the Brethren, which loosely regulated who did what to who and how the booty was to be divided up. The Pirates of the Caribbean film series features a highly idealized version of the Brethren.
St. Petersburg, Florida:
Station C has identified a yacht called the Secatur, owned by Mr. Big of Harlem, making regular runs from Jamaica to St. Petersburg, Florida, which M describes as a “sort of pleasure resort.” Having lived in St. Petersburg in the early 2000s, I definitely did not consider the city a “resort,” but the vibe was probably very different in Bond’s time. Incorporated in 1903, St. Petersburg is in west-central Florida, between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The city experienced residency and tourism booms in the early 1920s and again in the 1950s. In 1950, St. Petersburg had a population a little under 97,000. St. Petersburg should not be confused with St. Pete Beach, which is the barrier island community off the coast of St. Petersburg on the Gulf of Mexico.
M identifies a numbers game called Peaka Peow as part of Mr. Big’s gambling operation. It appears to have come to Jamaica via China. The game is a kind of lottery, where contestants guess a series of numbers or, in this case, Chinese characters, except the characters are not randomly drawn but selected (hopefully in advance) by an individual. I would call it a scam, but I’m not inclined to play lotteries to begin with.
We learn a little more about Mr. Big, a “Negro gangster” based in Harlem. We learn that Mr. Big is working for SMERSH and is using Morgan’s recovered treasure to finance Soviet espionage activities in the U.S. He is Haitian with a “good dose of French blood” and “trained in Moscow…”
Mr. Big is head of the fictional Black Widow Voodoo cult. (However, Josephine Gray was sometimes referenced as the Black Widow Voodoo Queen when she was convicted in 2002 for insurance fraud, having caused multiple deaths that she claimed were the result of Voodoo curses.) Fleming might be referring to Obeah, a practice of spell-casting and healing practiced in the British Caribbean colonies. To an upper class Westerner, Obeah would certainly resemble the stereotypical Voodoo. I expect that whatever is described as Voodoo in Live and Let Die will probably not bear much resemblance to real-life practices.
The Black Widow Voodoo Cult believes Mr. Big to be an incarnation of Baron Samedi. Baron Samedi is associated with Haitian Voodou rather than Jamaican traditions, but perhaps that makes sense with Mr. Big being Haitian. Baron Samedi is a lwa, or loa, a kind of intermediary between the living and a creator, much as priests are intermediaries in Christianity. Lwa can protect or heal mortals who they deem worthy. Believers often make offerings of food and drink, including tobacco in Baron Samedi’s case. François “Papa Doc” Duvalier, dictatorial president of Haiti from 1951 to 1971, tried to present himself as the embodiment of Baron Samedi.
One third of the population:
Fleming, speaking through M, delivers quite the back-handed compliment to ethnic minorities. M tells Bond, “…the Negro races [a problematic term itself] are beginning to throw up geniuses in all the professions – scientists, doctors, writers. It’s about time they turned out a great criminal.” M goes on to describe these “Negro races” as “Nearly a third of the white population. They’ve got plenty of brains and ability and guts.” M implies that Blacks were inherently slow in becoming proficient in the professional trades, failing to acknowledge the impact of centuries of repression. Slavery was abolished in Britain in 1833, nearly thirty years before the U.S. passed the Emancipation Proclamation. Just as in the U.S., however, that didn’t end systemic racism. To restore a labor force decimated by World War II, Britain encouraged immigration from Jamaica and other Caribbean countries in the 1950s, and these workers faced much the same discrimination as minorities in the U.S. Widespread civil rights demonstrations began in the 1960s. In the U.S. (since this is where Bond spends much of the novel), Martin Luther King, Jr., became a pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954, the year Live and Let Die was published. The Montgomery bus boycott took place the following year.
Score one for British exceptionalism. “For God’s sake, don’t step on the FBI’s toes,” M says. “Covered with corns.”
The chapter ends with Bond meeting Commander Damon, head of Station A and, for some reason, a Canadian.
Chapter 3: A Visiting Card
Like Le Chiffre, Mr. Big is of mixed (i.e., impure) blood, in this case “half Negro” (whatever that means!) and “half French”; 45 years old, of “huge height and bulk,” and, also like Le Chiffre, he has a weakness for women “consumed in quantities.” A chronic heart disease gives his skin a grayish tinge and his nickname is an acronym of his initials, Buonaparte Ignace Gallia.
Mr. Big began his criminal career working for the “Legs” Diamond gang. Jack “Legs” Diamond was a prominent Prohibition bootlegger in New York City and Philadelphia. The “Legs” nickname may have come from his recovery from four separate shootings between 1927 and 1931. Diamond’s real life was certainly more violent than depicted in the 1980s Peter Allen musical Legs Diamond.
As it does so often, the U.S. has created its own enemy. Despite his criminal background, Mr. Big was trained by the OSS, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. The OSS was an intelligence agency that operated from 1942 to 1945; afterwards, its functions were taken over by the INR (Bureau of Intelligence and Research) and the CIA.
Because of his fluency in French, Mr. Big was sent to Marseille, a city on France’s Mediterranean coast, to oppose the “Pétain collaborationists” during World War II. Philippe Pétain was a Marshal of France (a rare title given to generals for extraordinary achievements) who became head of the Vichy French government that collaborated with the Nazis during the war. Following the war, Pétain was convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison. While the collaborationist government was appropriately based in the city of Vichy, Marseilles was a hub of criminal activity between the world wars and was occupied by the Nazis from 1942 to 1944.
After detouring to Moscow for five years, Mr. Big settled in Harlem, operating night clubs and brothels (Le Chiffre also had brothel experience). One of his SMERSH assignments is the assassination of a Soviet double-agent when he is en route to “the Soviet week=end rest camp at the former Morgan estate on Long Island, at Glen Cove.” Glen Cove is on the northern shore of Long Island overlooking Hempstead Bay and Long Island Sound. J.P. Morgan, Jr., among others, built estates in the area during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Part of the Morgan estate was later gifted to the community as Morgan Memorial Park. I can find no background on what the Soviets might have been doing at Morgan Jr.’s estate, but he did issue a $12 million loan to Russia at the start of World War I. It’s possible that Fleming confused his millionaires. George Dupont Pratt built Killenworth, a Glen Cove mansion, in 1912; it was sold to the Soviets in 1946 as a retreat for Soviet UN delegations. The community of Glen Cove has not been too happy about this, but it appears Killenworth is still in use by the Russian government.
Bond reflects that Mr. Big has “the whole transportation system of America under surveillance” due to a preponderance of Black train porters, stevedores (dockworkers typically involved in loading and unloading ships and trucks), and truck drivers. It’s true that Pullman porters (Pullman was the predominant passenger rail operator in the U.S. for decades; Amtrak was not founded until 1971) were almost exclusively Black through the 1950s. While there was more diversity in the other transportation professions by this time, Blacks were a significant portion of those work forces. Of course, even at the time it was outlandish to believe that all Black Americans would mindlessly serve Mr. Big out of fear of Voodoo curses.
Bond hasn’t forgotten his commitment to attacking SMERSH, established at the end of Casino Royale. Learning that Mr. Big serves SMERSH, Bond doesn’t want to kill him, he wants to commit “a Homeric slaying.” Homer being the poet of ancient Greece who wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey. Bond wants Mr. Big’s death to have an impact of epic proportions, echoing through the Soviet power structure as Homer’s work echoed across time.
Large orange juice, three eggs “lightly scrambled,” bacon, toast with marmalade, and a double espresso.
Going undercover in the U.S., Bond is forced to dumb down his clothing with a wardrobe supplied by the FBI:
- Worsted suits – “worsted” fabric has been processed to be less fuzzy, flatter, than regular wool
- Foulard ties – ties with a small repeating pattern.
- Socks with clocks – not a Dr. Seuss story; clocks are decorative sections of fabric rising vertically from the ankles of socks.
- Camel-hair overcoat – the term these days sometimes refers to a coat of a particular brown/beige color, but true camel-hair coats are made with a blend of actual camel fur, which has strong insulating properties.
- Moccasin shoes – shoes without a heel, typically made from leather, with one piece of fabric wrapping around the entire foot and a seam at the top of the shoe.
- Swank tie clip – Attleboro Manufacturing began producing women’s jewelry in the late 1800s, but after World War I they switched their focus to men’s jewelry and began selling under the Swank name in the 1920s; The company returned to women’s jewelry in the 1970s.
- Mark Cross billfold – Mark Cross was founded in 1845 as a manufacturer of equestrian gear before moving into luxury leather goods like billfolds and handbags; the brand name has been passed through multiple corporate owners over the years.
- Zippo lighter – Bond traditionally uses a Ronson lighter, but only a Zippo will do for a character undercover in the U.S., where most Zippos have been manufactured since they began production in 1933.
- Travel-Pax – Bond receives a “plastic Travel-Pax” with toiletry items (razor, toothbrush, etc.); the capitalization implies Travel-Pax is a brand, but I can’t find anything relevant; there is a PAX that manufactures emergency bags and luggage, but they were founded in 1997.
- Hartmann Skymate – The FBI provides a Hartmann Skymate suitcase for Bond to carry all his new brand name products; Hartmann was founded in Milwaukee in 1877; they continue to sell high-end luggage, but not the Skymate line.
Bond carries the .25 Beretta 950 he had in Casino Royale; first produced in 1952, lightweight and low profile for concealed carry, effective only at short ranges.
Guaranty Trust Company:
Bond’s cover is as a Bostoner – which seems improbable – working for the London office of the Guaranty Trust Company, a real business that in 1959 was acquired by J.P. Morgan & Co.
Bond is deprived of the pyjama-coat he favors (again from Casino Royale), told by the FBI, “We mostly sleep in the raw in America, Mr. Bond.” That’s news I didn’t really want.
We know Bond has a scar on his right cheek; to aid his cover, he attempts to cover it with Covermark, a line of dermocosmetics developed in 1928 specifically to conceal birthmarks, blemishes, scars, etc.
The Traveller’s Tree:
Bond reads The Traveller’s Tree by Patrick Leigh Fermor, published in 1950. The book described Fermor’s travels in the Caribbean after World War II and Fleming, in a footnote, calls it “one of the great travel books.” Fleming quotes a surprisingly long passage from Fermor’s book specific to Voodoo practices. The passage seems terribly imperialist to me, but Fermor was apparently strongly opposed to slavery and wise to the long-term consequences; even many modern-day readers give The Traveller’s Tree high marks.
Mr. Big (presumably) arranges for an explosive to be delivered to Bond’s room disguised as a random package. Intended as a warning, the mini-bomb makes it hard to avoid another comparison to Casino Royale, when the men in straw hats wet off a bomb in Chapters 5 and 6. Attempting to maintain his cover, Bond refers to the bomb as a “pineapple” when he reports it to the FBI. Fleming creates something of a ticking-clock scenario; the message from Mr. Big compares the ticking clock of the bomb to Bond’s heart, saying, “The beats of your own heart are numbered.”
Chapter 4: The Big Switchboard
Bond spends time on Fifth Avenue to get acclimated to NYC. The long avenue runs much of the length of Manhattan, passing, among other things, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and Central Park. The area near the St. Regis is one of the world’s premier shopping districts, with Tiffany & Co., Saks Fifth Avenue, and a number of major airline ticketing offices among the 1950s occupants.
Bond has an unspecified “traditional American meal” at Glorifried Ham-N-Eggs on Lexington Avenue. Lexington, on Manhattan’s east side, parallels Fifth Avenue for much of its length. The street’s name comes from the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Lexington in 1775. I was surprised to learn that Glorifried Ham-N-Eggs was a real business in 1950s NYC, and according to their menu you could enjoy a hearty breakfast or lunch for less than $1.
We briefly meet Lt. Binswanger of the NYPD’s homicide division. Apparently the NYPD hasn’t changed much over the years, as Binswanger’s impulse is to crack skulls based on suspicion alone.
The St. Petersburg connection leads to Ourobouros Bait and Worm, owned by a Greek sponge-fisher from Tarpon Springs, Florida. (Is the name Ourobouros significant? The ouroboros is the classic symbol of a serpent consuming its own tail.) Tarpon Springs is on the Gulf of Mexico, roughly twenty miles north of St. Petersburg. The sponge business became important to the local economy in the late 1800s, and in the early 1900s sponge-divers were recruited from Greece to support the industry. The 1953 film Beneath the 12-Mile Reef was filmed partly in Tarpon Springs.
The Secatur transmits “en clair” after it sails from Jamaica or Cuba. “En clair” is French for “clear,” so it is most likely not trying to conceal her transmissions.
The authorities determine the Secatur is transmitting in an “unknown and completely indecipherable” Voodoo language and they plan to seek a translator from Haiti. This is most likely the Haitian Vodoun Culture Language, often referred to as Langay or Langaj. Langay is not a formal language but a compilation of words and phrases from other languages related to Vodou practices.
Binswanger wants to arrest Mr. Big and interrogate him at the Tombs, more formally known as the Manhattan Detention Complex, first established in 1838. At the time of Bond’s visit to New York, the Tombs was in its third iteration, a 1941 Art Deco building. Throughout its long history, the Tombs has had a troubled history, with reports of overcrowding and inhumane conditions.
1935 and 1943:
When Binswanger threatens to give Mr. Big “the works,” Dexter asks if he wants to provoke “a race riot” similar to events in 1935 and 1943. He’s referring to Harlem in both cases. In 1935, a Puerto Rican teenager was detained for shoplifiting in a Kress department store. Rumors that the teenager had been beaten to death by store employees led to vandalism directed primarily at white-owned businesses. Later investigations acknowledged that segregation, over-aggressive policing, and discriminatory employment practices were the larger culprits. In 1943, a Black woman was arrested when she had a disagreement with the staff in a Harlem hotel. A Black Army soldier who was present intervened and was shot by police. Later, the soldier was incorrectly reported to have died, and hostilities broke out. Over a two-day period, six people were killed and hundreds were injured. Again, systemic discrimination was later determined to be the real problem. Ralph Ellison based the climax of Invisible Man on his observations of the 1943 event.
Dexter believes that if Mr. Big were improperly detained, “those Voodoo drums would start beating from here to the Deep South.” Ritual drumming is part of Haitian Vodou practices, but, as earlier in the novel, the white characters seem to believe that all Black Americans are practitioners of Vodou and are all connected in a close-knit network.
King Cole Bar:
Leiter and Bond make plans to meet at the King Cole Bar, a real establishment opened in 1932 on the ground floor of the St. Regis. The likes of Salvador Dalí, Marilyn Monroe, and John Lennon frequented the King Cole over the years. King Cole, or Coel Hen, is a mythical Welsh character out of the Middle Ages.
Bond is already nostalgic for London, recalling a pub menu advertising “Giant Toad & 2 Veg.” I’m assuming the Giant Toad is toad-in-the-hole, sausages prepared in Yorkshire pudding.
We’re introduced to Mr. Big’s switchboard operator Whisper, whose voice was diminished by a case of tuberculosis. Whisper is from Harlem’s “Lung Block,” bordered by Sixth and Seventh Avenues and 142nd and 143rd Streets, where infection rates were especially high in the 1930s. Fleming correctly points out that in the 1930s, Harlem Blacks died from tuberculosis at twice the rate of whites throughout New York.
House of Lords and Martini & Rossi:
Bond and Leiter have martinis at the King Cole Bar. Leiter specifies House of Lords gin, a variety of gin sold by Booth’s since back in the 1700s. The text identifies it as an American gin, but Booth’s was a British company, as confirmed by their 1950s advertising. The martinis are also made with “Martini Rossi,” which I assume is Martini & Rossi vermouth. Like House of Lords, Martini & Rossi is also not an American company. It was founded in Italy in the 1800s and is still headquartered there. For teetotalers like myself, vermouth is a “fortified” wine, or wine with added alcohol, herbs, and sugars.
The neighborhood in upper Manhattan has been mentioned several times, but Leiter gives us a more detailed description of the Harlem we’ll be seeing in Live and Let Die. He compares pre-War Harlem with the Montmartre, a Paris neighborhood with a reputation for a thriving and bohemian nightlife, and home to Sacré-Cœur Basilica. “Now,” Leiter says, “Harlem’s a little rough these days. People don’t go up there the way they used to.” Black Americans moved to Harlem in large numbers during the Great Migration beginning in the early 20th century. The Harlem Renaissance, the good years that Leiter refers to, represented a thriving arts and music culture in the 1920s and 1930s, until the Depression and post-War suburban dislocation caused social and economic hardship in Harlem and throughout New York City. Even during its peak, Harlem still experienced considerable socioeconomic diversity – this was still home to the Lung Block. Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, is a fascinating book on Harlem’s history.
Leiter makes the problematic statement, “Personally, I like Negroes,” then claims to have written “a few pieces on Dixieland jazz for the Amsterdam News…” The Amsterdam News was founded in Harlem in 1909 and is still published weekly today. As it is (and was) a Black-operated business serving a primarily Black readership, it seems a little unlikely that a white CIA agent from Texas wrote articles for the paper.
Leiter claims the additional journalistic achievement of writing “a series…on the Negro theatre about the time Orson Welles put on his Macbeth with an all-Negro cast at the Lafayette.” In fact, Orson Welles staged a revised version of Macbeth with support of the Federal Theatre Project, created by the Work Projects Administration to promote employment in the arts. Welles changed Macbeth‘s original setting from Scotland to Haiti. The play opened with an all-Black cast at Harlem’s Lafayette Theatre in 1936 and toured the U.S. during the rest of that year.
Chapter 5: Seventh Avenue
It’s worth noting that the original title for Chapter 5 was, thankfully, deemed offensive and was changed to Seventh Avenue for the U.S. edition. I won’t repeat it here but the original title is easy enough to find online. Like the other avenues, Seventh runs much of the length of Manhattan, except where it is interrupted by Central Park, passing Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden, among other historic sites. Today it is Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard north of Central Park. Powell served Harlem’s district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1945 to 1971.
We meet Tee Hee Johnson, one of Mr. Big’s flunkies, who will play a significant role later in the novel.
Bond and Leiter go to Sugar Ray’s, a real Harlem restaurant owned by boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. Frank Sinatra, Langston Hughes, and Lena Horne were among the celebrity clientele. Robinson also operated a barber shop, a lingerie store, and a real estate business on the same Seventh Avenue block.
Haig & Haig:
Leiter and Bond have scotch and soda at Sugar Ray’s, and in keeping with Leiter’s preferred brand from Casino Royale, the scotch is Haig & Haig Pinchbottle. Haig & Haig was founded in the 1700s but today is owned by multinational Diageo. Pinchbottle refers to the unique dimpled shape of the bottle.
Winter-time New York experiences “the bone-chilling wind from the north which the Negroes greet with a reverent, ‘Hawkins is here.'” The term Hawkins, or Hawk, appears more commonly applied in Chicago. In his 1967 song Dead End Street, Lou Rawls sings, “…they call it the Windy City because of the Hawk…”
Walking through Harlem, Bond and Leiter see advertisements for women’s hair straightening products Apex Glossatina and Silky Strate. Apex was founded by Sara Spencer Washington, a New Jersey woman who became a millionaire operating a beauty supply company, a hotel, and a golf course. I’m unable to find anything on Silky Strate. I’m not qualified to get into the cultural and social issues surrounding hair straightening products aimed at Black women, but the National Cancer Institute has demonstrated a higher incidence of uterine cancer among users of hair straightening chemicals.
Peg-top trousers are among the fashion styles the two agents observe in Harlem. Peg-top, or pegged, pants are wide in the hip and legs and narrow at the ankle. They are an essential component of the zoot suit that was popular in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Seven Keys to Power:
Harlem shops selling “lucky charms and various occultisms” also offer The Seven Keys to Power, an actual book written by Lewis de Claremont, who wrote a series of books on the occult. According to a 1948 print ad, The Seven Keys to Power will help you “obtain property,” “make people do your bidding,” “banish all misery,” and achieve many other remarkable objectives.
Leiter and Bond dinner:
The two agents dine at Ma Frazier’s, which appears to be a fictional restaurant. Dinner is little neck clams (the second smallest variety of hard-shell clam), fried chicken Maryland (fried chicken served with gravy and garnished with…bananas), bacon, and sweet corn.
The Savoy was a music and dance hall in Harlem that opened in 1926 and was named after the Savoy Hotel in London. The Savoy’s customers were mostly Black but the club was fully integrated. The Savoy closed in 1958 and the building was demolished the next year. Leiter name drops the Savoy and a series of dances and musicians, all of which seem to have originated or performed there.
Chapter 6: Table Z
When Bond notices the scent of marijuana at Mr. Big’s night club, Leiter says, “Most of the real hep-cats smoke reefer.” Bond may be an adventurer, but he no doubt is square enough to believe that alcohol and tobacco are the only civilized vices.
Witchballs are among the décor at Mr. Big’s night club, the Boneyard. Witchballs, or witch balls, were a folk practice in parts of England during the 17th and 18th centuries; hollow spherical glass shapes were hung from windows to protect against evil spirits or spells. Sometimes they were filled with holy water or salt. They were also used in areas of the Ozarks and Appalachians in the U.S. They don’t seem to have a particular connection to Vodou, so it’s an odd detail to include in the Boneyard.
Bond imagines the Boneyard dance performance as “macabre and livid, as if El Greco had done a painting by moonlight of an exhumed graveyard in a burning town.” El Greco lived from 1541 to 1614 and had a vivid, melodramatic style. He lived his formative years in Greece but is often associated with the Spanish Renaissance because he moved to Spain in 1577, lived there the rest of his life, and completed some of his best known works in Spain.
It’s hard to imagine Fleming would have described a nightclub filled with white patrons in the same animalistic terms he applies to the Black clientele at the Boneyard. Words like “feral” and “jabber” create a stereotypical otherness, and I’m not sure if Fleming really felt this way or he was exaggerating to create a greater sense of tension for Bond. Either way, this language throughout the book doesn’t hold up well.
Chapter 7: Mr. Big
We now get a closer look at Mr. Big, and he is endowed with the physical “imperfections” typical of Bond villains, with “a great football of a head,” skin like a corpse, hairless, and eyes that “bulged slightly…animals eyes…”; these genetic flaws, of course, are partly to blame for Mr. Big’s evil nature: “…so ghastly a misfit must have been bent since childhood on revenge against fate and against the world…”
Mr. Big displays a Baron Samedi effigy in his office, partly to reinforce his public image and also to intimidate visitors, and it has this effect on Bond.
Mr. Big introduces Bond to his intended bride and alleged telepath Solitaire. Her name is the result of her lack of interest in men, so of course she is immediately smitten with 007. She is Haitian, but “the daughter of a French colonial slave-owner.” I can’t help but wonder if Bond would be so attracted to her if she didn’t have white ancestry.
Chapter 8: No Sensayuma
Mr. Big instructs his henchmen to hurt Leiter “considerably” and leave him near Bellevue Hospital. Bellevue still exists, a few miles south of Harlem, making it the oldest public hospital in the U.S., established in the 1700s but not formally named Bellevue until 1824. Bellevue is a “safety net hospital,” treating patients who are uninsured and possibly unable to pay for services. Hopefully Leiter won’t need it, but the first heart failure clinic in the U.S. opened at Bellevue in 1952.
Back in the chair:
Tee Hee Johnson returns and fulfills his role as Bond’s torturer, at Mr. Big’s direction. For the second time in two novels, Bond is tied to a chair and tortured, though this time not as severely as he was by Le Chiffre.
Mr. Big claims to be such a super-achiever that he suffers from accidie, which he defines as “the deadly lethargy that envelops those who are sated, those who have no more desires.” This immediately sets him apart from Bond, who is practically nothing but desire, as emphasized by his attraction to Solitaire in Chapter 7, whereas Mr. Big only sees Solitaire as a resource to be exploited. Accidie, sometimes acedia, is derived from a Greek term for negligence or listlessness. In ancient Grece accidie had more to do with inertness, an emotionally neutral state. Early Christians, as they did so often, hijacked the term into moral persecution, and applied it as a term of evil thoughts or spiritual sloth. It was not meant as praise, yet Mr. Big is giving himself a backwards compliment for his many accomplishments.
Mr. Big goes so far as to portray himself as an artist, specifically comparing himself to Benvenuto Cellini. Cellini was an Italian artist who lived in the 1500s. It seems an odd choice for Mr. Big’s comparison, but Cellini was proficient in multiple disciplines, as a sculptor, goldsmith, and author. More importantly, his life was rife with violence, both directed toward and inflicted by him. Embezzlement and “immorality” (sleeping with his models) were among the charges against him, but he inflicted violence with his fists and guns and fled more than one city during his life to avoid imprisonment. In Mr. Big’s world view, where violence is an accepted business practice, he may very well see Cellini as a kindred spirit.
Tee Hee Johnson uses a Colt .38 “detective special with a sawn barrel.” The Colt Detective Special was introduced in 1927 and was the first snub-nose revolver on the market. The Detective Special is a modified version of the Colt Police Positive Bond keeps under his pillow in Chapter 1 of Casino Royale. The “sawn barrel” seems an odd choice, as the Detective Special was already manufactured with a short barrel to allow for easier concealment.
Chapter 9: True or False?
Leiter describes his treatment by Mr. Big’s flunky, the appropriately named Blabbermouth. Thank heaven for Leiter’s street-wise connections to the Black community, he can distract Blabbermouth with talk about music, inspiring Blabbermouth to be kinder to Leiter than Mr. Big intends.
Duke and Jelly Roll:
Leiter specifically chats up Blabbermouth about Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton, two musicians and band leaders of a similar time period; Ellington was born in 1899 and Morton in 1890. Morton got his start in the southern U.S. but lived and traveled throughout the country during his short life (he died in 1941). Ellington was a long-time New Yorker and became famous partly through his performances at the Cotton Club, a Harlem night club that operated from 1923 to 1940 and the subject of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1984 film of the same name. Leiter attributes Ellington with an odd comment about the clarinet, calling it “an ill woodwind that nobody blows good.” He’s paraphrasing a 16th century saying, “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.” I don’t get the clarinet reference, as clarinet players featured prominently in Ellington’s bands over the years, not to mention Ellington’s 1936 composition, Clarinet Lament.
After Bond assaults Tee Hee and two other henchmen and escapes, Mr. Big is powerful enough to make waves with the NYPD and the FBI. Just as he did in Casino Royale, Leiter clears the path for Bond, performing a support function so British Bond can do the real work.
Bond’s cover in Casino Royale included an import/export angle but this is the first specific mention of Universal Export. Here it is not a formal cover but one “used by agents for emergency calls on open lines from abroad.”
Bond’s call to M – “the cold voice that Bond loved and obeyed” – gives a clearer sense of what a father figure M is for 007.
Bond departs New York from Pennsylvania Station, which must have been one of the great rail stations in its day. Opened in 1910 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, Penn Station offered the largest interior space in New York City. Even by the time of Bond’s visit, passenger traffic through the station was declining, thanks to increased air travel and the development of the U.S. interstate system. The original station was demolished in the 1960s to make way for Madison Square Garden, but a new Penn Station was built and the Moynihan Train Hall expansion opened in 2021.
Bond plans to take the Silver Phantom to Florida. In fact, the Silver Meteor was the train that ran between New York and Miami, with a section of the train separating and going to Bond’s destination of St. Petersburg. First operated by the Seaboard Air Line Railroad in 1939, the Silver Meteor, with a somewhat revised route, is still operated by Amtrak, however the combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and track destruction from Hurricane Ian in 2022 have caused a dramatic drop in passenger traffic in recent years.
Bond will travel under the false name of Bryce.
Eastern Air Lines:
Leiter is going to Florida with Bond, but for some reason they are traveling separately. Leiter travels on Eastern Air Lines, one of the big four domestic U.S. airlines at the time (American, TWA, and United being the other three). Formed by a consolidation of other air carriers in 1934, Eastern controlled most of the New York to Florida passenger air travel at the time of Leiter’s trip.
Bond is given a reservation in a hotel on Gulf Boulevard in Treasure Island, Florida. Treasure Island is one of a series of barrier island communities on Florida’s central Gulf Coast. Gulf Boulevard runs from Treasure Island north to Clearwater Beach. The island was occupied by the Tocobaga people until the Spanish showed up and killed most of them. According to U.S. Census records, tiny Treasure Island had a population of 75 in 1950 and 3,506 in 1960, so a lot of residential construction was going on in Bond’s time. There were far more tourists than residents in any given year. Bond’s hotel is on Sunset Beach, which is a real beach on the south end of Treasure Island.
007 commemorates his departure from New York, and his possible partnership with Solitaire, with a hearty breakfast of a double pineapple juice, cornflakes and cream (milk?), shirred (or baked) eggs with bacon, toast and marmalade, and a double espresso.
Chapter 10: The Silver Phantom
Coloured Veterans of Korea:
Departing the St. Regis, Bond notices a man (implied to be in Mr. Big’s employ) fundraising for the Coloured Veterans of Korea. I can’t find evidence of such a group, but the armistice ending hostilities in Korea was signed in 1953, the year before Live and Let Die was published, by which time there were 600,000 Black troops among all the U.S. service branches. President Truman ordered integration of the U.S. armed forces in 1948, but many officers, including General Douglas MacArthur, continued to segregate their soldiers. It’s sad but not surprising that Black soldiers were often treated terribly by white senior officers, and were subjected to even worse treatment when held as prisoners of war by the Chinese army.
Seaboard Air Line Railroad:
Fleming identifies Seaboard Air Line Railroad (SAL) as operator of the Silver Phantom (which, per Chapter 9, was really the Silver Meteor) rail service. SAL merged with another rail operator in 1967 to form the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. During Bond’s time, SAL operated approximately 4,000 miles of rail, and the railroad played a significant role in bringing tourists to Florida and bringing Florida’s crops, especially citrus, to the rest of the country. SAL wasn’t an airline in the modern sense; before commercial air travel became popular, the phrase “air line” simply indicated the shortest distance between two destinations.
Bond notices rail workers on board the Silver Phantom monitoring “the ammeter and the air-pressure dial.” An ammeter measures current (in amperes) in an electric circuit.
Bond tells Solitaire he smokes “about three packs a day.” If a pack holds twenty cigarettes, Bond is averaging sixty cigarettes a day. If he sleeps eight hours a day, that’s a cigarette every sixteen minutes. For crying out loud, stop smoking.
During a stretch of the train ride, 007 sees the U.S. free of phony glamour and hyperbole. “The train was running through the unkempt barren plains and swamps between New York and Newark. It wasn’t an attractive prospect. It reminded Bond of some of the stretches of the pre-war Trans-Siberian except for the huge lonely billboards advertising the current Broadway shows and the occasional dumps of scrap-iron and old motor cars.”
Bond and Solitaire have a light lunch on the train of chicken sandwiches, Sanka, and old-fashioneds with Old Grand-Dad Bourbon. Sanka is a brand of instant decaffeinated coffee first sold in Europe in 1905 and today sold in the U.S. by the Kraft Heinz Company; a song lyric from the musical Kiss Me, Kate says, “I would gladly give up coffee for Sanka.” Old Grand-Dad has been produced in Kentucky since the 1840s. James Cagney smuggled Old Grand-Dad in the 1931 film The Public Enemy, and John Steinbeck carried it with him in Travels with Charley.
We learn Solitaire’s real name, Simone Latrelle.
Chapter 11: Allumeuse
Bond and Solitaire have pre-bottled martinis (which sound similar to the tiny airline cocktail bottles), with dinner of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, salad, and “the domestic Camembert that is one of the most welcome surprises on American menus.” I’ve traveled quite a bit around the U.S. and never knew Camembert to be a thing, but I traveled in different circles than Fleming would have. Camembert is a soft, creamy cheese, similar to brie, that originated in the actual town of Camembert in Normandy in northwest France.
Solitaire reflects on her upbringing in the Caribbean tropics and how different her experience is from Bond’s. I suspect this is more a reflection of Fleming’s own view of the tropics, seeing only the exotic extremes rather than the day-to-day life of the majority. She considers experiences like catalepsy (a state of muscular rigidity, fixed posture, decreased pain sensitivity, and little or no response to external stimuli, it can occur in epileptic patients, and I once had a beagle that entered a cataleptic state several times before the vet figured out the dog had epilepsy), mailism (sometimes called myalism, a practice relating to Vodou or Obeah, involving interaction with spirits, seems to have been primarily written about by the Jesuit missionary Joseph J. Williams), and houmfor (houses or temples where Vodou ceremonies are conducted).
Bond tells Solitaire that he takes Voodoo (really Vodou, I think) seriously and that he understands fear as a motivator. Soon Solitaire, inadvertently, identifies the real secret of Mr. Big’s success, not evil spirits or zombies, but physical violence. “And you would say so too, if you knew the way he deals with those who haven’t obeyed him completely, the way they are tortured and killed.”
One makeout session with Solitaire and 007 seems to have completely forgotten his love for Vesper Lynd. He tells Solitaire, “You kiss more wonderfully than any girl I have ever known.”
Time and foreshadowing:
There’s that phrase again, a variation of what Le Chiffre told Bond in Casino Royale. Bond tells Solitaire, “When the time comes I want to be alone with you, with all the time in the world.”
Balmain’s Vent Vert:
Solitaire wears Vent Vert perfume made by Pierre Balmain, the fashion company named after its founder. Balmain, the company, was founded in 1945, and introduced the green-colored Vent Vert, French for “green wind,” in 1947. The original Vent Vert supposedly had 1,100 components. In 1991, the company introduced a different Vent Vert formulation.
A French word meaning to tease or joke and appears to generally refer to a woman teasing a man sexually or emotionally.
Chapter 12: The Everglades
Bond and Solitaire depart the Silver Phantom at Jacksonville, in northeastern Florida, to avoid Mr. Big’s henchmen. Jacksonville is currently the largest city in the state of Florida, in terms of both population (950,000 in 2020) and geographic area, but in Bond’s day it had a little over 200,000 residents. Evidence has been found of human occupation as far back as 2,500 BCE, but starting in the 1500s the indigenous peoples were forced out first by the French, then the Spanish, then the British. Florida became part of the U.S. in 1821, and the town of Jacksonville was chartered in 1832. After World War II, like so many U.S. cities, suburban sprawl drew residents out of the urban areas, causing a period of poverty and decline in city services.
Bond and Solitaire board the Silver Meteor from Jacksonville to St. Petersburg. Described in Chapter 9, while the Silver Phantom was fictional, the Silver Meteor was (and still is) the actual train serving the eastern seaboard.
007 is definitely not eating as well as he would like on this mission. He and Solitaire have orange juice, coffee, and scrambled eggs for breakfast on the Silver Meteor. “‘The scrambled eggs’ll be cooked with milk,’ said Bond. ‘But one can’t eat boiled eggs in America. They look so disgusting without their shells, mixed up in a tea-cup the way they do them here. … And bad American coffee’s the worst in the world, worse even than in England.'”
Florida and St. Petersburg:
Solitaire knows the score when it comes to the kind of grifter economy that has always dominated the state of Florida. She tells Bond, “At this time of the year, Florida’s the biggest sucker-trap on earth. On the East Coast they fleece the millionaires. Where we’re going they just take it off the little man.” And her description of St. Petersburg as a retirement community may have been accurate at the time, but I can at least say that St. Petersburg today is not as bad as she describes it: “Everybody is nearly dead in St. Petersburg. It’s the Great American Graveyard. When the bank clerk or the post office worker or the railroad conductor reaches sixty he collects his pension or his annuity and goes to St. Petersburg to get a few years sunshine before he dies.”
Solitaire also accurately describes the Evening Independent, a St. Petersburg newspaper founded as a weekly in 1906 and becoming a daily in 1907, Florida’s first daily paper. Given the city’s nickname, “The Sunshine City,” starting in 1910 the Evening Independent was given free on any day with no sunshine. From then until 1986, when the Evening Independent became part of another newspaper (the St. Petersburg Times), the free offer only had to be honored 296 times.
Kids and Kubs:
Solitaire tells Bond about the Kids and the Kubs, two baseball teams strictly for players age 75 or older. In fact, the Kids and the Kubs are softball teams formed in 1930, and they are still in operation today, with open tryouts for anyone past their 74th birthday.
Solitaire continues her diatribe against St. Petersburg, telling Bond of the Restorium, “a hospital for alcoholics. But very old ones, I suppose…” The only historic reference I can find is the Huber Restorium, a nursing home apparently founded about 1952 or 1953 by Florence L. Huber, a nurse who moved to St. Petersburg from New Jersey in 1952. The Huber Restorium appears to have been a general nursing home and not specific to treating addiction issues.
Perhaps Bond learned his lesson after Vesper’s death, or perhaps this was his normal operating style, but here he fully intends to keep his attraction to Solitaire from affecting his job performance. “His growing warmth towards Solitaire and his desire for her body were in a compartment which had no communicating door with his professional life.”
Miss Orange Blossom:
Bond envisions the Gulf Coast of Florida as “the land of ‘Miss Orange Blossom 1954.'” This seems to imply the story takes place in 1954 or 1955. I can’t find evidence of a state-wide Miss Orange Blossom pageant in Florida, although it certainly sounds plausible, especially for the 1950s. The city of Davie, just north of Miami, has an annual Orange Blossom Festival that includes a local Miss Orange Blossom pageant.
Park Street and Central Avenue:
A cab driver in Mr. Big’s surveillance network spots Solitaire as she and 007 travel by taxi to Treasure Island. He sees her at “the intersection of Park Street and Central Avenue, where the avenue runs on to the long Treasure Island causeway across the shallow waters of Boca Ciega Bay.” Perhaps the cabbie is at Sunset Park, the small city park at this intersection. Boca Ciega Bay is part of the channel between the mainland and the barrier islands.
We meet the Robber, one of Mr. Big’s henchmen in the St. Petersburg area, who is given a mission regarding Bond and Solitaire.
The Everglades of the chapter title is not the real Everglades, the heavily polluted and trampled wetlands in south Florida, but the name of the hotel where Bond, Solitaire, and Leiter stay on Treasure Island. I’m unable to find a record of a real Everglades lodge in the area.
Bond shares with Leiter and Solitaire the poem on notepaper he received on the train in Chapter 11. Solitaire describes it as a “Voodoo fetish,” an “invitation to the Drum Witch,” given to Bond because Mr. Big wants him dead. Another definition I’ve found describes it as “a voodoo fetish that houses a spirit.”
The “Drum Witch” Solitaire refers to seems to more commonly be described as a witch drum, a drum used in divination ceremonies by witches or shamans of the Sámi, indigenous people of the area that is now northern Norway.
Solitaire claims the ouanga is a trademark of the Ashanti, or Asante people, native to the southern part of present-day Ghana. The Ashanti Empire fended off European colonization longer than most African peoples, but were finally made part of the British empire in 1901. The Ashanti are a matrilineal society, where the mother generally determines property and inheritance rights.
Chapter 13: Death of a Pelican
Leiter describes events in Ocala, Florida, where the Silver Phantom train car previously occupied by Solitaire and Bond is first shot up and then blown up. Ocala is considered part of north Florida, but it’s closer to the center of the state, about eighty miles north of Orlando. Its population in 1950 was less than 12,000. A thoroughbred horse farm was opened near Ocala in 1943, and more such farms followed, so that by 2007 whoever is responsible for such things named Ocala the Horse Capital of the World.
Carry On, Bond:
Fleming offers a little British exceptionalism, one of the trademarks of the Bond novels, and it’s given weight by having these words come from Leiter. He tells Bond, “Before you arrived over here you could have counted the mistakes Mr. Big has ever made on one thumb. Now he’s made three all in a row.”
Leiter confirms the Secatur is currently in Havana, Cuba. In 1954, Cuba was essentially an American colony, ruled by U.S.-sponsored dictator Fulgencio Batista. Havana is the capital and the country’s largest city. Havana had the lion’s share of Cuba’s resources in the 1950s, with rural citizens suffering high rates of poverty, hunger, parasitic infection, and tuberculosis, maybe explaining why Fidel Castro began his revolution in the country and not the city.
Although they never actually get there, Leiter suggests dinner at a Tampa restaurant called Los Novedades, “the best restaurant on the whole coast…” The Cuban restaurant’s actual name was Las Novedades, located in Tampa’s Ybor City, a neighborhood established in the 1880s primarily as a site for cigar factories and their employees. Las Novedades opened in 1890, just in time for Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders to dine there en route to the Spanish-American War. It was considered Tampa’s oldest restaurant, undergoing several changes in ownership over the years until closing for good in 1990.
Bentley driver Bond is not impressed with American automobiles. “They lacked personality and the patina of individual craftsmanship that European cars have. … Designed to serve for a year and then be turned in in part exchange for the next year’s model.” He’s relieved that Leiter is driving a Cord, a line of luxury cars manufactured in Connersville, Indiana. The Cord L-29 was the first front-wheel drive auto sold in the U.S. starting in 1929. Bond estimates Leiter’s Cord to be more than fifteen years old, and I’m hoping it is a Cord 812, the car Bob Kane and Bill Finger used as a model for the first comic book iteration of the Batmobile.
Solitaire described St. Petersburg’s Central Avenue to Bond in Chapter 12, mentioning “sidwalk davenports” where the old folks sit and socialize. On their way to Mr. Big’s secret facility, Leiter and Bond drive down Central Avenue and see for themselves. The “davenports” were simple benches painted green. They were first used in 1908, lining not only Central Avenue but other St. Petersburg streets, with as many as 7,000 benches at the peak. This being Florida, use of the green benches was typically limited to whites only. Most of the benches were removed in the 1960s. There was an attempt to return some of the benches along Central Avenue in the early 2000s, but they were resdesigned to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them, because Floridians hate homeless people. Ultimately, the benches were all removed because most sidewalks in commercial districts in the U.S. are public space in name only, and are really controlled by private business, and businesses don’t like non-customers loitering on their sidwalks.
Bond observes the elderly men along Central Avenue wearing “Truman shirts,” which are just short-sleeved, button-down shirts with a tropical print or pattern. The style was popularized by President Truman, who wore them when visiting his vacation home in Key West, Florida. They are similar to guayaberas, except guayaberas typically have four front pockets.
Ourobouros, the bait shop and Mr. Big’s secret facility, is secured by a Yale lock. The company was founded in Connecticut in 1868 and has obtained many patents for its products over the years.
Ourobouros is guarded by the Robber, introduced in Chapter 12. He carries a Remington .30 shotgun. The company was founded by Eliphalet Remington in 1816. The Robber’s gun might be the Remington M1903 or M1903A3 Springfield rifle.
Leiter gives Bond some good-natured teasing over his relationship with Solitaire, and Bond replies, “You read too much Winchell.” Presumably he means the syndicated gossip columnist Walter Winchell, famous in both print and radio. Winchell wisely opposed Hitler in the 1930s and foolishly supported Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. In 1951, Winchell elevated a personal disagreement with Josephine Baker into false allegations of Communist sympathies, preventing Baker from performing in the U.S. for nearly ten years.
Chapter 14: ‘He Disagreed with Something that Ate Him’
Following Solitaire’s abduction, Bond and Leiter have a gloomy dinner at the Everglades hotel of tomato juice, boiled fish with white sauce, frozen turkey with “a dab of cranberry,” lemon curd with cream substitute (whipped cream?).
Mound Park Hospital:
Bond is sent on a wild goose chase to Mound Park Hospital. There really was a Mound Park Hospital in St. Petersburg, previously called City Hospital but renamed after a 1923 expansion. A new, 251-bed building was opened in 1952, not long before Bond’s visit. The hospital was city-funded until it went private in 1968 and became Bayfront Medical Center and, later, Bayfront Health.
So many adventures?:
When Bond finds Leiter nearly dead in the beach-side cottage, he reflects on “the Texan with whom he had shared so many adventures.” Did I blink? Live and Let Die is set less than one year after Casino Royale, when Bond and Leiter first met.
Trans Caribbean Airways:
Essentially chased out of the country by the FBI, Bond plans to take “Trans Carib” to Jamaica. He certainly means Trans Caribbean Airways (TCA), founded in 1945 to provide service between several Caribbean destinations and New York City, Newark, and Washington, DC. TCA was acquired by American Airlines in 1971.
Eastern Garden Aquarium:
Bond calls the Eastern Garden Aquarium in Miami to learn what might have done such damage to Leiter. I can find web sites with vintage post cards advertising an Eastern Garden Aquarium south of Miami, so it apparently existed and appears to have been a breeding facility for commercial sellers of tropical fish. The Miami Seaquarium might have been a better source for the information Bond needs, but it didn’t open to the public until 1955.
Chapter 15: Midnight Among the Worms
Bond has an early dinner of rare steak, French fries, coffee, and Old Grand-Dad at “a small grill called Pete’s.” I can’t find a record of such a restaurant, so I can’t confirm if it was real or fictional.
Looking for stray objects to elevate him so he can climb in the window of Ourobouros, Bond has Florida pretty well figured out. “In a land where litter and junk is so much a part of the landscape he soon found what he wanted.”
Bond finds a stash of gold coins in the sand lining the bottom of a tank with a scorpionfish, a boxy-shaped fish with poisonous spines. There are many varieties of scorpionfish, most of which are native to the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. A single sting from a scorpionfish is generally not fatal to humans (depending on the location of the sting), but it can be extremely painful and requires medical attention.
Bond recovers a Spanish gold coin with the image of Philip II. Philip II was king of Spain (1556-1598), King of Portugal (1580-1598), King of Naples and Sicily (1554-1598), and holder of several other royal titles, thanks partly to his marriage to Queen Mary I of England. The Philippines were named for him.
Bond compares the scorpionfish to a “poison-fanged Cerberus.” In Greek mythology, Cerberus was a multi-headed dog that guarded the gates to the Underworld, not to prevent entrance, but to keep the dead from escaping, just as the scorpionfish prevents the old coins from being “liberated” from their hiding place.
After their shootout in Ourobouros, Bond describes the Robber as “this deadly coconut-shy.” Coconut-shy is a carnival game where the player throws balls in an attempt to knock down a row of coconuts on a post. I don’t quite get the reference, maybe Bond sees the Robber as a carnival-like figure, relatively flamboyant compared to his usual opponents?
Bond kills Robber:
It’s significant that Bond has an opportunity to save (or at least try to save) the Robber, but insteads sends him to death by shark. While it’s hard to imagine M would complain about the Robber’s death, killing intermediaries is not really part of Bond’s mission. The Robber’s death is entirely in retaliation for what was done to Leiter.
Chapter 16: The Jamaica Version
After stopping at the fictional Gulf Winds Bar and Snacks for more Old Grand-Dad, Bond crosses Tampa Bay on the Gandy Bridge, the older of two bridges connecting St. Petersburg and Tampa. The original bridge opened in 1924, but was replaced with a newer bridge in 1975. Bond would have driven on the original bridge, as a second span was not added until 1956. The bridge was named after George S. Gandy, Sr., a prominent St. Petersburg developer who sponsored development of the bridge.
After spending the night in a motel near Tampa International Airport, Bond has breakfast of coffee and a triple-decker Western sandwich. The Western sandwich is a new one on me, but it apparently originated with settlers on the U.S. frontier frying eggs that were about to go bad with onions and any other seasonings that happened to be available. They typically also include peppers and ham. It’s sometimes called a Denver sandwich because the toppings amount to a Denver omelet.
The specifics of Bond’s mission have been somewhat vague up till now, when it is clearly spelled out: “…the discovery of the source of the gold, its seizure, and the destruction, if possible, of Mr. Big himself.”
“Bond was glad to be on his way to the soft green flanks of Jamaica and to be leaving behind the great hard continent of Eldollarado.” A play on El Dorado, the gold city imagined by 16th century Spanish colonizers. Bond has clearly not been impressed with trashy, greedy America, and who can blame him?
State Highway 1:
Flying over south Florida to Jamaica, Bond notices “State Highway No. 1,” which is really U.S. Highway 1, the highway that runs the entire east coast of Florida, from the Keys to the Georgia border. Most drivers today prefer I-95, which parallels much of U.S. 1’s route, but the first stretch of I-95 didn’t open until 1960.
Bond’s Trans Caribbean flight makes a brief stop in Nassau, which is both a city and an island, and is the capital of the Bahamas. The Bahamas was still a British colony until it was granted “internal autonomy” in 1964 and became fully independent in 1973.
The plane windows are made of Perspex, sold by the UK’s Imperial Chemical Industries. Polymethyl methacrylate, also known as acrylic glass, was sold by other companies as Plexiglass, Lucite, and various other trade names. It’s a relatively lightweight material with a higher impact strength than regular glass.
Bond’s flight lands at Palisadoes Airport in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica. Today this is the Norman Manley International Airport. Palisadoes Airport was just opened in 1948 on Palisadoes tombolo, the sandy isthmus that encircles Kingston harbor.
During and after the tumultuous storm that disrupts his flight to Kingston, 007 reflects on his “stars.” “Your stars have already let you come quite a long way since you left your mother’s womb and whimpered at the cold air of the world.” And, later, “This happy landing at Palisadoes Airport comes to you by courtesy of your stars. Better thank them.” This ties in with the mystical aspect of Solitaire’s alleged telepathy, but also with Bond’s own superstitious nature, hinted at in Chapter 5 of Casino Royale.
Bond is quite happy to be in Kingston, Jamaica’s largest city, founded in 1692. Bond is lucky not to be here sooner; Hurricane Charlie struck Jamaica as a Category 3 storm in 1951 and killed 152 people.
Bond meets Strangways, “the chief Secret Service agent for the Caribbean,” who quickly impresses Bond. Strangways is 35, wears an eye patch, and is a former Lieutenant Commander in Special Branch of the RNVR, or Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves. In the late 1950s, the RNVR was absorbed into the RNR, or Royal Naval Reserve. Strangways will also play an important role in Dr. No (1958).
Strangways lives in Stony Hill, a suburb on the north side of Kingston, toward the Blue Mountains, a mountain range northeast of Kingston.
Isle of Surprise:
Mr. Big’s facility is on the Isle of Surprise in Shark Bay. Based on descriptions Fleming provides throughout the book, others have determined this to be Cabarita Island, in Port Maria Bay, on the northern side of Jamaica at the town of Port Maria. Port Maria was part of Bond’s cover in Chapter 4 of Casino Royale.
Mr. Big’s henchmen live in wattle-and-daub shacks on the Isle of Surprise. The “wattle” is a lattice woven from wood strips, and the “daub” is a mixture of mud, clay, sand, animal dung, and/or straw. The construction technique has been used around the world, with evidence recovered of it from before 4,000 BCE.
After a fisherman is killed while seeking the rumored treasure on the Isle of Surprise, “the island was ju-ju, or obeah…” Juju (derived from the French word “joujou,” or “plaything”) is a West African spiritual system involving amulets and spells, and generally refers to luck derived from magical properties. Obeah, as described in Chapter 2, is sometimes used by Westerners interchangeably with Voodoo.
Bauxite is a sedimentary rock with high concentrations of aluminum, making it a primary source of aluminum. By the the mid-1950s Jamaica was the world’s second largest bauxite provider and is still one of the top sources. Bauxite mining has been the cause of significant deforestation in Jamaica and the process can leave land unusable for farming. Fleming mentions two U.S. companies active in the trade, Reynolds Metals (maker of Reynolds aluminum foil and acquired by Alcoa in 2000), and Kaiser Corporation (previously known as Kaiser Aluminum and Chemicals Corporation and existing today as Kaiser Aluminum Corporation).
Bermuda naval base:
Strangways recruits two divers from “the naval base at Bermuda” to inspect the Isle of Surprise, who also meet a tragic end. This is probably the Royal Naval Dockyard, established by Britain as a shipyard in Bermuda in the late 1700s. Much of the base was closed for active use in 1957 and cruise ships sometimes dock there today.
Strangways arranges for Bond to drive a Sunbeam-Talbot coupé. Sunbeam-Talbot was originally Clément-Talbot, founded in 1902. No model is specified, but it could be either an 80 or 90 model; both were introduced in 1948 and both offered a coupe design, although the 80 was discontinued in 1950.
Strangways arranges for Bond to spend a week recuperating at a house on Manatee Bay owned by the West Indian Citrus Company. According to the Fleming’s Bond site, this is really Long Bay, on the far west end of Jamaica. As far as I can tell, the West Indian Citrus Company is a fictional operation.
Champion harpoon gun:
Bond receives a Champion harpoon gun, which appears to be a model made by Arbalete. I’m not sure if it’s the same company, but there is a Laguiole Arbalète G. David, specializing in cutley, folding knives, and other products, headquartered in Thiers, located in central France west of Lyon.
Bond requests a limpet mine from Strangways. A limpet mine is a mine that is attached to its target with magnets; for example, a diver could attach the mine to a ship or submarine. They were first used by the British in World War II.
Chapter 17: The Undertaker’s Wind
Bond has a delicious breakfast to commemorate being out of the land of hamburgers and French fries. Paw paw (a fruit with a flavor compared to a combination of banana and mango; spoils quickly so is difficult to ship) with lime, red bananas, star apples (purple-colored fruit with flavor compared to applesauce and grapes), tangerines, scrambled eggs, bacon, coffee grown in the Blue Mountains (which Fleming calls “the most delicious in the world”), marmalade, and guava jelly. (No mention of bread but there must be some with the marmalade and jelly.)
Bond in Jamaica:
007 recalls a previous post-War mission in Jamaica involving “the Communist headquarters in Cuba” trying to infiltrate Jamaican labor unions. (Remember, per Chapter 13, Cuba was still largely controlled by the U.S.) Labor unions were (and still are) a constant source of hand-wringing for capitalists and imperialists alike, with charges of “socialism” to promote fear, as reflected by concern over the French unions in Casino Royale.
We meet Quarrel, Bond’s guide in Jamaica and a native of the Cayman Islands, a group of three islands lying south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica. Still a British territory today. I’m a little disheartened that, like Solitaire, a key to Bond’s acceptance of Quarrel seems to be that Quarrel had one European parent. “There was the blood of the Cromwellian soldiers and buccaneers in him and his face was strong and angular and his mouth was almost severe. His eyes were grey.”
Flame of the forest:
Bond observes “the Bengal fire” of Flame of the Forest. There are several varieties of plants referred to by this name, but the Bengal reference makes me think it’s Butea monosperma, a deciduous tree native to south and southeast Asia with bright red-orange blossoms. Rudyard Kipling mentioned it in a couple of his stories.
Bond and Quarrel pass through “the plains of the Aqualta Vale…” I can’t find much on this but, with a reference to sugar cane and bananas, it appears to have been a plantation or estate.
The waters of Shark Bay are “ruffled by a light breeze” caused by the trade winds. The trade winds are east-to-west winds that are prominent in the equatorial region. These are the winds that direct tropical storms and hurricanes across the Atlantic. They also blow Saharan dust across the ocean, where it contributes to Florida’s colorful sunsets.
Bond and Quarrel reconnoiter Beau Desert, a beachy area on the western arm of Shark Bay. The name appears to be fictional. Recalling from Chapter 16 that Shark Bay is really Port Maria Bay, Beau Desert would be about where road A3 travels along the bay.
Fleming’s description of the area around Manatee Bay (really Long Bay, per Chapter 16) includes “…nothing has happened since Columbus used Manatee Bay as a casual anchorage. Jamaican fishermen have taken the place of the Arawak Indians, but otherwise there is the impression that time has stood still.” There appears to be some debate as to whether the indigenous people Columbus encountered on Jamaica are more appropriately referred to as Arawak or Taíno. The Taíno spoke an Arawak dialect but lived on the islands, whereas Arawak are generally considered to have lived on the mainland. Columbus’ reports and Spanish documents used the word Taíno, meaning “good” or “prudent.” Columbus described the Taíno as being “very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil.” His first response was to kidnap twenty-four of them when he returned to Europe. Behavior of the Europeans didn’t improve from there.
Bond is bitten by sandflies, a general term for any blood-sucking fly found in sandy areas. In some areas they are called “no-see-ums” because they bite and flee so quickly you may not see them. Tom Wolfe wrote of no-see-ums at Muroc Field (later Edwards Air Force Base) in The Right Stuff. I personally encountered these on the Florida panhandle and I found them as irritating as Bond does.
Quarrel describes the Undertaker’s Wind and the Doctor’s Wind. The Undertaker’s Wind blows “bad air” off the island at night, and the Doctor’s Wind blows fresh air onto the island during the day. I can’t find much on this so I’m not sure how widely the terms are used, but there is a naval adventure novel set in Jamaica called Undertaker’s Wind by Jan Needle.
Duppies and Rolling calf:
Bond notices that the locals don’t walk alone at night out of fear from duppies and the rolling calf. Duppies are evil ghosts or spirits that torment people at night. The rolling calf is a specific duppy, a calf-like creature burdened by chains, believed to be the ghost of someone who was dishonest during their life.
Quarrel prepares dinner of fish, eggs, and vegetables.
Bond reads up on local marine life with books from the Jamaica Institute. This is probably the Institute of Jamaica, established in 1879, which administers arts and culture programs throughout the country, including the Natural History Museum of Jamaica.
Fleming name drops a series of marine life researchers: William Beebe (1877-1962), Allyn Vine (?) (1914-1994), Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997), and Hans Hass (1919-2013).
Merthiolate and Milton:
When Bond is injured by the spines of sea-eggs (a variety of sea urchin), Quarrel treats the wounds with “Merthiolate and Milton.” Thiomersal was a mercury-based antiseptic marketed under the trade name Merthiolate. I can’t find a reference to “Milton” but I’m guessing it’s Mercurochrome, the brand name for another mercury-based antiseptic, mebromin.
Bond and Quarrel have a nervous run-in with a barracuda. Barracuda are salt-water fish with lots of sharp teeth and a ferocious appearance. They have a reputation for attacking humans, but just like with sharks, the image does not reflect reality, as Quarrel acknowledges when he says, “If we swim towards it, it gone away.”
Bond spends the week at Manatee Bay getting in shape before approaching the Isle of Surprise. Fleming/Bond acknowledges his unhealthy lifestyle, as his training involves no alcohol and ten cigarettes/day, which still seems like a lot but is a big improvement over the three packs a day he bragged about in Chapter 10.
Chapter 18: Beau Desert
Bond learns of a shark repellent devised by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL). The NRL was founded in 1923 and conducts primarily corporate-sponsored research in a variety of fields. NRL developed some of the early satellites in the 1950s and developed the first modern radar in the U.S. As for the shark repellent, it was a mixture of copper acetate and nigrosine black dye (an ingredient in lacquers and microbiology stains). The repellent, called Shark Chaser, doesn’t arrive in time for Bond to use, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered, as Shark Chaser was eventually determined to be ineffective.
Here we get a better description of Bond’s launching point for his approach to the Isle of Surprise. Beau Desert was a former plantation about 1,000 acres in size.
Beau Desert “had a history dating back to the time of Cromwell.” (This is the second reference to Cromwell, the first being the description of Quarrel in Chapter 17.) Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was a Member of Parliament and served in the British military. In 1655 he led the campaign that took Jamaica from Spain.
To avoid releasing smoke that might alert Mr. Big’s people, Quarrel cooks his and Bond’s meals on a Primus stove. Established in the late 1800s, Primus produces camp stoves and other camping equipment. In 1953, not long before Bond and Quarrel are at Beau Desert, Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary used a Primus stove as they ascended Mount Everest.
We still don’t meet Q, but Q Branch is credited with delivering Bond’s diving gear and other supplies.
Bond’s equipment includes “a commando dagger of the type devised by Wilkinson during the war.” Henry Nock founded a weapons manufacturer in 1772, which became James Wilkinson & Son when it was taken over by Henry Wilkinson in 1824. The company took up shaving razors manufacturing, gave up weapons, and still does business today. The commando knife, initially produced by Wilkinson but today manufactured in the UK by Fairbairn-Sykes, is a flat, double-edged blade about twelve inches long and is still in use by the British military.
As Le Chiffre used a Benzedrine inhaler in Casino Royale, Bond takes a Benzedrine tablet to increase his alertness and focus for his underwater mission. Benzedrine was an early variety of amphetamine. Both Allies and Axis military used Benzedrine to counteract fatigue among soldiers during World War II. The use of Benzedrine was largely discontinued as it was found to be addictive.
The Secatur arrives powered by General Motors Diesel engines. Diesel engines for motor vehicles and boats were manufactured by the General Motors Diesel Division from 1938 to 1965, when the division was taken over by GM’s Detroit Diesel Engine Division.
The Secatur uses a Decca Navigator System, a system developed in the U.S. but produced by the British company Decca and first used by the Royal Navy in World War II. The Decca used hyperbolic radio navigation, receiving signals from land-based transmitters and determining location based on the time difference between the receipt of those signals.
The Secatur flies two flags, the U.S. flag and the Red Ensign, a flag featuring the Union Jack in the upper left and flown by British merchant or passenger vessels.
Chapter 19: Valley of Shadows
Bond is attacked by an octopus, fairly preposterous but otherwise brilliantly written. Octopus in real life almost never attack humans unless they are threatened. Apparently all variety of octopus carry venom that can be injected via the beak. Most have too little venom to kill a human, but it can still be a painful experience. Perhaps writing this scene inspired Fleming’s 1965 short story “Octopussy.”
Bond wears a Rolex, though we don’t get specifics about model or features, except that it’s clearly waterproof. Rolex was founded in London by a German and a Brit and, as of 1919, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. In fact, damage to their watches from dust and moisture is what motivated Rolex to develop a waterproof casing in 1926. I’m guessing Bond is wearing the Oyster Perpetual Submariner; while not the first true diving watch, the Submariner was introduced in 1954 and was waterproof to 100 meters.
Chapter 20: Bloody Morgan’s Cave
Mr. Big’s Lair:
It’s hard not to think of Ken Adam’s brilliant set designs for the Bond films when we get to Mr. Big’s cave lair under the Isle of Surprise.
Two of Mr. Big’s workers in the cave work at an iron cauldron with “three hissing blow lamps.” These are just blowtorches powered by gas or propane and used in this case for melting the gold objects into a transportable form.
Chapter 21: ‘Good Night to You Both’
His first duty:
“And Bond knew his first duty was to stay alive and get Solitaire and somehow keep her away from the doomed ship where the acid was slowly eating through the copper time-fuse.” His first duty?!? Even if the mine destroys the Secatur, Bond’s mission won’t be complete if Mr. Big isn’t on the boat. Never mind Bond’s compartmentalization in Chapter 12. This is where Bond gets his reputation for being easily foiled by women.
Bond reflects that Mr. Big looks like “an elemental, a malignant spectre from the centre of the earth…” Elementals are mythic figures most associated with the works of the 16th century physician-philospher Paracelsus (1493-1541). The four categories of elementals – gnomes, undines (water nymphs), sylphs (air spirits), and salamanders (amphibians) – correspond to the four elements of ancient times – earth, water, air, and fire.
Mr. Big book-ends the novel by essentially repeating M’s dialogue from Chapter 2. “In the history of Negro emancipation, there have already appeared great athletes, great musicians, great writers, great doctors and scientists. … It is unfortunate for you…that you have encountered the first of the great Negro criminals.”
Mr. Big references a book, Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, to justify his criminal ways. Instincts was published in 1919 by Wilfred Trotter, a British neurosurgeon. Trotter addressed the classic question of whether humans are free-thinking individuals or subject to a herd mentality, and his book title makes it fairly clear where Trotter stood on the matter. I can’t find much in the way of neutral reviews of the book, but Instincts seems to have been based more on Trotter’s own observations and readings rather than a comprehensive sociological study.
Chapter 22: Terror By Sea
Bond notices people carrying “jippa-jappa holdalls.” A jippa-jappa is a basket woven from the fronds of the jipijapa, a variety of palm common in the Caribbean. Some Panama hats are made from this material also.
Bond’s dark plans:
Rather than being tortured on the coral reefs and being eaten by sharks, as Mr. Big plans, Bond resolves to kill Solitaire and then himself if their situation becomes truly hopeless. Contemplating such a plan is very different from carrying it out, and the fact that we believe Bond capable of this is an indication of the character’s dark nature.
Solitaire and Bond:
The novel’s biggest weakness, apart from the imperialist racism, is that Solitaire’s infatuation with Bond is never justified. The romance in Casino Royale seemed much more plausible. Bond’s stated reciprocation may or may not be sincere, possibly he’s just smoothing the path forward. But it doesn’t make sense for Solitaire to lose her mind over the first British guy to come along.
Bond notices the Secatur’s position relative to windward and leeward. Windward is upwind from the point of reference, toward the direction of the wind; leeward is downwind from the point of reference.
“The first tears since his childhood came into James Bond’s blue-grey eyes…” Really? What about this line from Casino Royale, just after Vesper’s death: “His eyes were wet, and he dried them.”
Chapter 23: Passionate Leave
Back to nature:
007 can relax now, mission accomplished. The images of nature – birds, plants, the water – contrast with the tension intended by the urban imagery that opened the book.
After being rescued by Quarrel and Strangways, Bond has “a Lucullian breakfast” before being treated at the local hospital. It’s a reference to the Roman military leader and politician Lucullus (118 BCD – 57 BCE), who retired to great luxury and had a reputation for lavish and extravagant banquets.
Casino Royale took place almost entirely in one location, but Live and Let Die takes Bond to several locations, giving the book much more of a travelogue feel and showing off Fleming’s travel writing. Fleming’s collection of travel writing, Thrilling Cities, was published in 1963 and New York was one of the cities covered in the book. Perhaps because of the novel’s mobility, this book feels more cinematic than Casino Royale. I tend to not have “favorites” when it comes to franchises, but Live and Let Die might be my least favorite Fleming Bond novel, primarily because of the racist attitudes and the preposterous love affair with Solitaire.
I keep looking for significance in the name of Mr. Big’s boat. “Secatur” (French “secateur”) generally refers to a pair of handheld pruning shears. As an agent of SMERSH, maybe Mr. Big is intended to prune the dead soul of capitalism, or some such thing. Otherwise, I don’t see any importance in the name.
“All the time in the world” did not foreshadow death as it did in Casino Royale and as it will again in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. However, Chapter 20 of Casino Royale does somewhat foreshadow Mr. Big. When Bond and Mathis discuss “the nature of evil,” Mathis says, “Well, when you get back to London you will find there are other Le Chiffres seeking to destroy you and your friends and your country. M will tell you about them. And now that you have seen a really evil man you will know how evil they can be, and you will go after them to destroy them in order to protect yourself and the people you love.”
As with this book, Fleming began writing the next James Bond novel before Live and Let Die was even published.