Le Chiffre ("the number") is a holocaust survivor with no Christian name and no memory of his life before the age of 37. He is paymaster to the French communist trade union which is controlled by SMERSH - the Soviet counter-intelligence agency. Le Chiffre embezzles SMERSH money and invests in brothels looking to make money off SMERSH. His investment fails when the law changes to outlaw prostitution and now he wants to recoup his losses by playing high stakes baccarat. He brings 25 million francs to the tables at Casino Royale, located in the fictional town of Royale-les-Eaux on the coast of northern France. Across the channel at MI6 - the chief M hears about Le Chiffre's predicament and directs recently appointed 00 agent James Bond into action. The plan is to foil the brilliant Le Chiffre's game and deny him the money to pay back SMERSH, guaranteeing his end at their hands.
Bond enters the game as a Jamaican playboy of tobacco and sugar money. Bond is joined on his mission by Vesper Lynd from the Russian Division of MI6, Rene Mathis of the Deuxieme Bureau and Felix Leiter of the CIA. During the game he loses his money at one point, but Felix brings American cash and puts him back in. In action scenes he is saved by his colleagues on more than one occasion.
The book is in three parts; in the first Bond is introduced and wins the game, in the second part a desperate Le Chiffre kidnaps Vesper and Bond. Bond is gruesomely tortured at Le Chiffre's hand, leading to much speculation about Bond's alleged infertility, and stays alive only when a SMERSH agent enters and kills Le Chiffre. SMERSH then physically marks Bond as a spy on his arm, but leaves him alive, failing to live up to their name (SMERSH is a portmanteau for two Russian words 'death to spies'). The third part of the book has romance and betrayal where Bond and Vesper enjoy some idyllic time together and Bond thinks about marrying her. Soon enough it turns out that Vesper was a double agent. She kills herself when she sees a SMERSH agent following them and realizes there's no escaping fate. Bond's retaliation and ongoing conflict with SMERSH continues through the next few books.
Casino Royale introduces the enduring Bond formula with car chases, kidnapping, torture, betrayal, and women, but Bond is also demystified from the legend of the movies. His inner dialog is sexist and stereotypical towards women and non-white-Britishers; there is a lot of misogyny and racism in the book from the time. This was before the movies made Bond more acceptable to today's audience. Also unlike the movies here he is a broken man - cold, ruthless and brutal rather than suave, charming and smooth. At one point in the mission he is okay with Vesper being killed since she is an agent. There are no gadgets and the action is grounded. Casino Royale sets the stage for Bond's future outlook towards women. There is no lasting love interest. The women enter his life and leave fully formed.
In the book he doesn't drink vodka martinis, there's no parkour here, the game is baccarat instead of poker, and he's tortured with a carpet beater instead of a knotted rope. In place of an Aston Martin from Q branch, Bond drives a 1931 4.5 litre Bentley Blower which is his long serving car since before the war.
Bond's first appearance.
Bentley, not the Aston.
Baccarat, not poker.
Violent & sexist.