Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Licensed to thrill: my feature for the Sunday Star-Times

Licensed to thrill
Bestselling US thriller writer Jeffery Deaver talks to Craig Sisterson about the fun he had penning a new adventure for 007, the world’s favourite British spy

JAMES BOND was created by Ian Fleming for the 1950s-1960s Cold War era during which Fleming, who worked in British Naval Intelligence himself during the Second World War, wrote his 14 spy novels. But ‘007’ is also very much a secret agent for modern times, says Jeffery Deaver, the man behind the highly-anticipated new Bond novel, Carte Blanche.

“One reason I was excited to take this project on is that I don’t see people reading the original books much anymore, and I thought Bond is a character who really speaks to this era of conflict,” says Deaver.

His own twisting psychological thrillers, such as his series featuring quadriplegic sleuth Lincoln Rhyme (played by Denzel Washington in the Hollywood adaptation of The Bone Collector) have scooped awards, made bestseller lists, and been translated into 25 languages in 150 countries.

“Bond is a real hero, there’s nothing ambiguous about Bond,” adds Deaver. “In much of spy fiction there’s an underlying theme of duplicity and moles and ‘who really is the good guy?’ Bond never had any doubt about that. The 00 classification meant he was an assassin, but he isn’t your coldblooded hitman. He was for Queen and country, he was going to make sure the innocent did not suffer at the hands of the villains, and I think that’s the kind of character we need nowadays.”

Deaver is the fifth author to write for the Bond series since Fleming’s death in 1964, and Carte Blanche will be the 23rd ‘continuation’ novel authorised by Fleming’s estate, but only the second since 2002 (after Sebastian Faulks’ period piece Devil May Care in 2008). A long-time Bond fan, Deaver got a text asking ‘Do you want to write the new James Bond book?’ 18 months ago when he was driving from Washington, DC to his North Carolina home.

He “screeched to the side of the road”, spent less than 10 minutes debating with his agent, then said “okay, that’s it, I’m on board”. The excitement of the moment is still clear in his voice now. “There were some practical things we had to talk about. I did not want to do a period piece. I had read Sebastian Faulks’ book and enjoyed it very much, but I felt that to reintroduce and reenergise Bond in the written form we needed the book set in the present day, and he needed to be a young, 30ish, secret service agent. And coincidentally the Ian Fleming estate felt exactly the same way.”

The first thing Deaver did for the research was go back and re-read the original tales. “They hold up extremely well because Fleming was a writer of great observational talent. His books were as much a character study as they were adventure novels. I found his perceptions and insights into geopolitics, and indeed into the psychology of good and evil, were really spot on.”

Deaver admits writing Carte Blanche has been challenging, if extremely fun (he’s particularly loved researching “all the tradecraft, spy stuff”), as he’s had to consider the expectations of not only his own readers, but millions of Bond fans. “I was very concerned that I create an updated Bond that fans of Ian Fleming’s creation would like. I really got into his mindset. I wanted to create a gritty, dark, and yet very intelligent spy ... I tried to write the character through the lens of Ian Fleming.” Deaver even had a picture of dark-featured American musician Hoagy Carmichael, who Fleming said was the man Bond most resembled, beside him when he wrote.

In Carte Blanche, Bond, a veteran of the Afghanistan conflict, is part of the secretive ODG which protects Britain “by any means necessary”. A snippet of electronic info about an upcoming attack that could kill thousands has Bond and his colleagues scrambling to discover who, what, and where in order to prevent calamity. Deaver packs Carte Blanche with intrigue and twists, and takes readers on a whirlwind journey from Serbia to Dubai to Cape Town.

In a way, writing Carte Blanche has brought Deaver full circle, back to his beginnings in terms of reading and writing. He loved Fleming’s books as a child growing up in the 1950s and 1960s (his parents restricted TV and movies but encouraged him to read whatever he liked), and the first narrative fiction he wrote as an 11-year-old was a Bond-influenced story about a spy who stole a top-secret aeroplane from the Russians. “I would study his books and kind of mimic them,” Deaver recalls now.

He shared this life-long admiration for Fleming during his acceptance speech when he won the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger from the Crime Writers’ Association for his 2004 novel Garden of Beasts, a thriller featuring an American hitman on a secret mission in 1936 Berlin. Corinne Turner, Managing Director of Ian Fleming Publications, was in the audience, and began to consider “that James Bond could have an interesting adventure in Jeffery Deaver’s hands”.

Turns out Turner was dead right.

Carte Blanche (H&S Fiction, $39.99]) will be released on 26 May 2011.

Jeffery Deaver will be touring New Zealand in late July. Check
www.hachette.co.nz for more details.


This feature article was first published in the 22 May 2011 issue of the Sunday Star-Times, and is reprinted here online with kind permission.


Have you read CARTE BLANCHE? Will you? Does your 007 knowledge stretch back to Fleming's original Bond novels, or are you familiar with the spy largely thanks to the Bond films? What do you think of my feature article? Comments welcome.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article and vivid. I would prefer it as a period piece personally.