James Bond Blogging
Bruce summarizes the climactic ending of the novel with:
Instead of killing Bond, the killer instead brands the back of Bond's hand with an inverted 'M' - to mark him as a spy should he happen to be at a card table with a member of SMERSH in the future. The pain pushes Bond into unconsciousness, and he is out...presumably for the rest of the day.
What Bruce is missing here is the shockingness of this denouement. Bond only escapes death because the assassin doesn't happen to have orders to kill him and doesn't want to take action on his own. Fleming's novels, unlike the movies loosely based on them, emphasize the arbitrariness of intelligence work. Le Chiffre's plan to recoup the funds he's embezzled from SMERSH, M's plan to stymy Le Chiffre's plan, Bond's plan to rescue what's-her-face, and Bond's eventual rescue from torture, all depend on chance. Not timely and well-considered bravery. The Soviety assassin's decision is the culmination of this fundamentally passive and arbitrary plot-structure.
But I do second Bruce's prediction: it's very unlikely that the proposed movie remake of Casino Royale will use Fleming's ending.