1951. Ian, a former Navy spy and member of the British secret services, leaves London at the age of 42 and takes up residence at Goldeneye, a splendid villa on the Jamaican coast where he earns a living as a journalist. Basking in the sun, surrounded by coconut palms and sandy beaches, his happiness would seem to be assured – until, that is, his partner of 15 years, Ann, asks him to marry her.
Troubled by a sense of something left unfinished, Ian delves into his memories and recalls an evening ten years earlier in the middle of the Second World War: on a mission for the Navy in Portugal, he once crossed paths with the double agent Dusko Popov at the casino in Estoril. Popov, with two stunning women at his side, had just bet at baccarat all the money MI5 had bankrolled him with to carry out an operation against the Germans. Jealous, but also fascinated by this seductive, self-confident, witty and above all heroic man, Ian began to watch his every move.
That game of baccarat left a lasting impression on Ian Fleming, who drew inspiration from it when many years later he came to write his first novel: Casino royale. This story takes place during the cold war, but the first pages are otherwise closely based on that remarkable real-life encounter.
In Le Joueur de baccara, Alexandra Echkenazi imagines how and why Ian Fleming created James Bond. Following on from Le Journal de Mary, she once again combines her talents as a journalist and as a novelist to recreate the personal story at the heart of the grander portrayal of global geopolitics and competing cultures.