Mr Big – A Great Negro Criminal

So after being wined and dined by the Americans, Bond reflects back to the events that sent him to New York. We have another mention of Bond’s 1933 4 1/2-litre Grey Bentley convertible with the Amherst-Villiers supercharger as Bond drives to work, having been called at midnight the previous night by the Chief of Staff informing him that M wanted to see him at 9:00 the next morning. The only clues he receives about what is in store is that it involves the American and Caribbean stations.

It’s been about 5 or 6 months since the events of Casino Royale. You’ll recall that the Bond’s recovery from his beating at the hands of Le Chiffre took place in July, and it is now January. He’s had surgery to repair the back of his hand, which had been “branded” by the SMERSH assassin. Apparently since those events there has been a change of power in the KGB as Bond reflects on who might control SMERSH since “Beria was gone”. It’s a reference to Lavrentii Beria. It’s an interesting story. According the an article on the webpage for the PBS television network:

After Stalin died in March 1953, a power struggle broke out in Moscow. Several Soviet leaders were worried that Beria was hoping to become as powerful as Stalin had been. And so in July of that year, Nikita Khrushchev arranged to have him arrested, denouncing him as an agent of international imperialism. Beria was tried in secret and found guilty. A Soviet general executed him in his underground cell, and according to a witness Beria crawled on his knees begging for mercy.

Beria was the head of the Soviet secret police. He was executed on December 23rd, 1953, just weeks or even days before Bond is summoned to M’s office. When Bond enters the office, M wants to take a look at his hand, to see how it has healed up.

After satisfying himself with Bond’s hand, M goes into the reason for Bond’s visit. Gold coins dated from 1510 to 1644 are appearing on the American market. They’re rumored to have been part of Bloody Morgan’s treasure. While they’re discussing this, we see an interesting peek at the M/Bond relationship.

M paused to fill his pipe and light it. He didn't invite Bond to smoke and Bond would not have thought of doing so uninvited.

We know enjoys his cigarettes, but his respect for M is that he’s not going to take the liberty of smoking in front of M without being invited to do so. In any event, these coins are flooding the American market and showing up everywhere, but usually in the hands of “negroes –porters, sleeping-car attendants, truck-drivers — and getting the money well spread over the States.” The story behind the money is that it is part of Blackbeard’s treasure. Supposedly found in North Carolina in 1928. M, however has intelligence indicating that this money is originating from Jamaica, and is in fact part of the Bloody Morgan treasure. They’ve been watching a yacht that has been making trips from Jamaica to the Florida Keys onto St Petersburg. The yacht belongs to Mr Big. A negro gangster. More interestingly, one of Mr Big’s lieutenants used a twenty dollar bill that had been traced back to a Communist double agent. The belief is that the treasure is being used to finance the American operations of the Soviet espionage system.

They talk a little bit about Mr Big, his background, noting that he is a known member of SMERSH. Bond remarks that he’s surprised that he has reached this level.

'I don't think I've ever heard of a great negro criminal before,' said Bond, 'Chinamen, of course, the men behind the opium trade. There've been some big-time Japs, mostly in pearls and drugs. Plenty of negroes mixed up in diamonds and gold in Africa, but always in a small way. They don't seem to take to big business. Pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought, except when they've drunk too much.'

More cringe-inducing comments there. Very dated, but again, it’s the 1950’s. M adds to this by noting that the negroes are putting out great scientists, doctors and writers, they’re due for a great criminal. In Casino Royale, we had the comments about women, in Live and Let Die, it’s about the African-Americans. There will be plenty more borderline racist comments in this book, and the lingo used by Fleming is painful at times. In any event, once Bond learns that Mr Big is a member of SMERSH, he is immediately interested and wants to destroy him and his organization because of what they did to him and how they turned Vesper just 5 or 6 months previous.