Casino Royale by Ian Fleming is a spy thriller featuring James Bond. Fleming created the James Bond character, and wrote many novels about the British spy and his fight against enemy agents during the Cold War. This particular novel shows how Bond came to occupy that role after he accepts a mission from MI-6, the British Secret Service, to defeat Le Chiffre, a Russian agent, in a poker game.
Le Chiffre has taken Soviet money, intended to fund a Communist-controlled trade union, and invested it in brothels. When France outlaws prostitution, Le Chiffre finds himself in hot water. He faces another threat in the form of SMERSH, the Soviet spy agency, which is trying to hunt him down and kill him. He intends to recover the money he spent on brothels through gambling. The Casino Royale, located in the north of France, is where Le Chiffre and James Bond face off. Bond, an experienced gambler, plans to bankrupt Le Chiffre to stop him funneling money to the Communists.
In this, his first mission as a spy, Bond isn’t alone. He has allies: Vesper Lynd; Mathis, a French agent; and Felix Lieter, an American agent in the CIA. Before Bond can even get into a game of baccarat with Le Chiffre, SMERSH agents catch up to him and try to kill him with a bomb. Their attempt is unsuccessful and Bond reaches the casino, where he succeeds in winning all of Le Chiffre’s money. Even though Bond won against Le Chiffre, his evolution into a master spy is not yet complete.
When Vesper is lured away by Le Chiffre and kidnapped, Bond follows to try to save her. He gets into a car accident though, and is captured as well. Le Chiffre tortures him, and Bond learns first-hand the dangers he faces if he pursues a career as a spy. Before Le Chiffre can break him, a SMERSH agent catches up to them and kills Le Chiffre. Although both Bond and Vesper escape the SMERSH agent, Bond is gravely injured.
For the next three weeks, he is hospitalized. During that time, he considers whether or not he wants to be a spy. He’s attracted to Vesper, and decides that he’d rather start a romantic relationship with her than be a spy, so when he’s released from the hospital, they go on vacation to the seaside. Bond decides he wants to marry Vesper and leave his life of espionage behind, but before he can propose, he witnesses her making a secret phone call. Her actions are suspicious, and though he doesn’t confront her about them, he doesn’t ask her to marry him either. Their relationship suffers.
Finally, he cannot bear the tension between them anymore and he confronts her. He demands to know what she’s hiding from him, and she promises she will tell him the following day. They make love and when he goes to her room the following morning, he finds that she has committed suicide. Bond also learns that she was a double agent, working for the Russians. His anger at her betrayal pushes him to devote himself to spying for the British government, and his fate is decided.
The Cold War is an important theme in Casino Royale because it drives the main plot and provides part of Bond's motivation to become a spy. The Cold War was a conflict between the Western powers (America and Western Europe) and the Soviet Union. These nations took sides in an ideological conflict between democracy and capitalism on one side and communism on the other. Because this conflict still exists today, Casino Royale remains relevant, as well as entertaining, with its car chases, intrigue, and sex. The Cold War itself never resulted in the outbreak of traditional warfare, because the nations involved were equally frightened of nuclear war after the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan at the end of World War II. Instead, Cold War was fought between intelligence agencies. The CIA and the British Secret Service faced off against the KGB (represented by SMERSH and MWD in Casino Royale).
Good versus evil is another important theme. At the start of Casino Royale, Bond views himself as the good guy, and the Soviets as an evil entity that must be overcome at all costs. Part of his evolution as a character and as a spy involves his realization that the Soviets view themselves as good, and him as evil. This shakes his belief in himself and leads him to question whether he really wants to be a spy partway through the novel. It is only after learning of Vesper’s betrayal that he discovers his own determination.
Bond's relationship with women is a third important theme, not only of Casino Royale, but of all of Fleming’s Bond novels. His opinion of women is in line with a 1950s-patriarchal stance; that is, he thinks they are best left taking care of the home. He also doesn’t mind objectifying them, though he does have a romantic side. Vesper’s actions and betrayal are, for Bond, unforgivable. Not only did she abandon the role he thinks she should have had "mainly as his wife" but she also almost got him killed.