The Bond in Casino Royale is pretty different than the Bond in any movie, including the earliest ones — even including the two that were based on this very book. He has no confidence in his ability to succeed, and is suspicious of working with women out of a professional fear that he might become emotionally entangled with them.
He doesn't fire a gun, and his only attempt at hand-to-hand fighting is laughably ineffective.
He makes it through the book on luck, and the ability to withstand torture long enough to be rescued. First outplayed at baccarat, and then outmaneuvered in an ambush by the Russian agent, Le Chiffre. Both times, he survives only by being bailed out, first by American money, courtesy of Felix Leiter, and then by a Russian bullet, courtesy of another Soviet agent, also sent to kill Le Chiffre. This isn't the hyper-competent Bond we're used to seeing.
But the most interesting difference is that Bond's arc in this book is from questioning the ethics of the job he's chosen, to accepting that the world is actually less complicated than he thought.
At the beginning of the book we see Bond's internal moral struggle at a low simmer. He doesn't like that murder is part of his job, but he does enjoy the lifestyle it brings: caviar, vodka martinis, and high-stakes gambling.
Bond frowned. "It's not difficult to get a Double O Number if you're prepared to kill people," he said. "That's all the meaning it has. It's nothing to be particularly proud of. I've got the corpses of a Japanese cipher expert in New York and a Norwegian double agent in Stockholm to thank for being a Double O. Probably quite decent people. They just got caught up in the gale of the world like that Yugoslav that Tito bumped off. It's a confusing business, but if it's one's profession, one does what one's told. How do you like the grated egg with your caviar?"Ian Fleming
Later, talking to the older agent Mathis, he announces that he is jaded the whole enterprise of espionage, and takes a postmodern position, that there's no objective heroes and villains, it's all a matter of which side you're on.
"You see," he said, still looking down at his bandages, "when one's young, it seems very easy to distinguish between right and wrong, but as one gets older it becomes more difficult. At school it's easy to pick out one's own villains and heroes, and one grows up wanting to be a hero and kill the villains."
"Well, in the last few years I've killed two villains. The first was in New York— a Japanese cipher expert cracking our codes on the 36th floor of the R.C.A. building in the Rockefeller center, where the Japs had their consulate. I took a room on the fortieth floor of the next-door skyscraper and I could look across into his room and see him working. Then I got a colleague from our organization in New York and a couple of Remington thirty-thirty's with telescopic sights and silencers. We smuggled them up to my room and sat for days waiting for our chance. He shot at the man a second before me. His job was only to blast a hole through the windows so that I could shoot the Jap thorugh it. They have tough windows at the Rockefeller centre to keep the noise out. It worked very well. As I expected, his bullet got deflected by the glass and went God knows where. But I shot immediately after him, through the hole he had made. I got the Jap in the mouth as he turned to gape at the broken window. Bond smoked for a minute.
"It was a pretty sound job. Nice and clean too. Three hundred yards away. No personal contact. The next time in Stockholm wasn't so pretty. I had to kill a Norwegian who was doubling against us for the Germans. He'd managed to get two of our men captured — probably bumped off for all I know. For various reasons it had to be an absolute silent job. I chose the bedroom of his flat and a knife. And, well, he just didn't die very quickly.
"For those two jobs I was awarded a Double O number in the Service. Felt pretty clever and got a reputation for being good and tough. A Double O number in our Service means you've had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of some job.
"Now," he looked up again at Mathis, "that's all very fine. The hero kills two villains, but when the hero Le Chiffre starts to kill the villain Bond and the villain Bond knows he isn't a villain at all, you see the other side of the medal. The villains and heroes get all mixed up…"
Mathis is surprised by this revelation, not because it hadn't occurred to him, but because he thought Bond was smart enough not to fall for it. "It is, of course, a difficult problem in the abstract," he says, "the secret lies in personal experience."
Bond's argument is the argument of someone who has come face-to-face with evil, but failed to understand the ramifications. He ought to have realized that there is nothing wrong with killing someone, if they deserve to be killed.
By the end of the book, after Vesper is revealed to have been a double agent, and then, like Le Chiffre, murdered by her own masters for violating their inscrutable code, Bond comes to realize that Mathis was right all along. Presumably, this is where the focused, doubtless, hyper-competent Bond we recognize starts to emerge. The devilish, smirking, pistol-wielding seducer.
I don't know that I'll read any more of the books to find out. It wasn't all that well-written, and if (as I suspect) Bond becomes a less dramatic character as the series unfolds, it would be a shame. I like the introspective Bond, and I think that continuing to struggle with the nature of his duty, in a world where expedience is the primary ethic, would be more interesting to explore.