Friday, June 3, 2011

Cocktails and Carte Blanche

Cocktails and Carte Blanche
Craig Sisterson takes a look at how the brand new 007 novel from bestselling thriller writer Jeffery Deaver skilfully blends tradition and modernity into a fun, exciting read

Bestselling US thriller writer Jeffery Deaver nicely sums up the essence of the world’s most famous British spy in a passage partway through Carte Blanche, his recently-released modern take on James Bond. 007, now a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan and part of the secretive ODG, is recalling his first meeting with a Man (note the capital letter, Bond afficianados) looking to hire Bond to an organisation that protects Britain “by any means necessary”.

There are plenty of “Special Air or Boat Service chaps about who know their way around a knife and sniper rifle”, but don’t fit “subtler situations”, notes the (M)an. Conversely there are plenty of MI5 and MI6 agents with refined wine appreciation and language skills, but who’d “faint at the sight of blood, their’s or anyone else’s”. Bond, notes the Man, seems “to be a rather rare combination of the best of both”.

And isn’t that one of the main reasons Bond has been loved by readers and moviegoers for decades? He can handle himself in so many different situations, from fistfights and gun battles, to insinuating himself into high-society soirees. He’s like Jason Bourne mixed with MacGyver and Jared from The Pretender - only he predated them by decades. And now he’s back, thanks to the pen (or keyboard) of award-winning twist-master Deaver, whose own award-winning psychological thrillers, such as his series featuring quadriplegic sleuth Lincoln Rhyme (played by Denzel Washington in the film version of THE BONE COLLECTOR) have scooped awards and sold more than 20 million copies in 150 countries.

No doubt some Bond fans were nervous at the thought a new Bond being created by an American author, or even the thought of a modern Bond at all. Many don’t realise that Ian Fleming actually only wrote 12 Bond novels and two collections of Bond short stories, and that Deaver is the fifth author (and second American) authorised by Fleming’s estate to carry on 007’s adventures. Carte Blanche is in fact the 23rd ‘continuation’ novel in the Bond canon, although only the second in about a decade, and the first since Sebastian Faulk’s period piece Devil May Care in 2008.

Unlike Faulks, Deaver delivers a thoroughly modern version of Bond, bringing 007 firmly into the 21st century while also retaining key traditions: fast cars, memorable female characters, fun gadgets, globe-trotting action, repellent villains, and plenty of peril. He also returns to another Fleming tradition; forget “shaken not stirred” martinis, Bond is a whiskey and bourbon drinker (see review below). At the same time, Deaver brings his own trademark touches to bear; readers are taken on a pacy roller-coaster storyline that twists in unexpected ways, not just in terms of plot but also action, characters and reader expectations and assumptions. Deaver’s Bond is a touch more sensitive and self-reflective than Fleming’s Cold War spy, but that suits our modern times, and 007 remains a man of action at heart. No metrosexual here.

Carte Blanche opens with car chases, shoot outs and a train loaded with dangerous chemical in Serbia, before Bond is whisked home. A snippet of electronic info about an attack in five days that could kill thousands and adversely affect British interest has Bond and his colleagues scrambling to discover who, what, and where in order to prevent calamity. Bond uses brains and brawn to battle unknown adversaries as well as the chicanery of colleagues within the British security services, and finds himself on a whirlwind journey to Dubai then Cape Town. In short, it’s a hell of a fun read.

A final thought; none of the authorised ‘continuation’ novels written about 007 since Fleming’s death have been made into films; all of the movies are based on Fleming’s novels, stories, or on original scripts. Given its pacy and action-packed storytelling, memorable characters, and modern yet return-to-the roots take on 007, it would be great see Deaver’s Carte Blanche finally break that trend.


Shaken but not all were stirred By Darise Bennington
Ah, James Bond, lover of beautiful women and a martini, shaken not stirred.

Although, apparently not always. Craig Sisterson discovered in the latest Bond novel that Bond had returned to his roots – whiskey. Hmm, we thought, for Craig to fully appreciate the subtle changes wrought by Ian Fleming’s successor, wouldn’t he need to compare the classic Bond drink with the Jeffery Deaver concoction?

To assist, Ekta, Lesley, and I joined Craig at Auckland’s 1885, all prepared to put ourselves on the line in the interests of good journalistic endeavours. Although, and I say this with much love, Lesley proved a quick ‘piker’, when after her first sip of both the classic martini and what we are calling the ‘Carte Blanche’, she wrinkled her English nose in disgust and declared them both to be “pants”.

So, to compare.

First, and most obviously, the drinks look very different. The Carte Blanche came in a whiskey tumbler with plenty of ice and a twist of freshly peeled orange skin. The martini, of course, came in its traditional glass, with several olives skewered on a cocktail stick.

Second, the flavour. My first sip of the Carte Blanche was like a taste of whiskey heaven. The hint of orange tweeking my taste buds, making my mouth smile (literally). Lesley, making an effort, found that it smelled like Cointreau – but that when she drank it, she did not get the usual Cointreau kick to the back of the throat. “You drink it, and it warmly glides down your throat, and you get the hint of whiskey,” she said. So, not all pants then.

For Craig, a purveyor of manly cocktails, the Carte Blanche was nicer than expected. “It has a strong orange smell, but the taste is a lot more balanced,” he declared. “The citrus takes the edge off the whiskey.” It’s got sweet, it’s got spice, it’s getting better as I drink it, he said.

And then we turned to the martini. According to Craig, 1885’s bar manager, Adam, had perfected it; I must admit I was impressed by the effort that went into making it, right down to the brining of the glass. Craig informed me that it was the best martini he’d ever had, that it was nicely balanced, had a lot going on, had depth and layers. But he still preferred the Carte Blanche, by far. I found the martini to be almost ‘chewy’, robust, and deeply complex. But after a glass and a half, I’d had enough.

Lesley loved the olives, as did Ekta, who said she would have preferred a glass of martini-soaked olives, rather than the martini itself.

The amber hue of the Carte Blanche, flickering in candlelight, enticed me in the darkened bar. The orange peel adding spice to the drink, its sharpness tingling my tongue. I can’t quite imagine how the fans will handle Bond’s defection, but I applaud him and Deaver – orange-scented whiskey on a cold, winter’s night is the only way to go. The only thing missing: a roaring fire, a comfy chair, and Deaver’s novel in my lap.


These articles were first published in the 3 June 2011 print issue of NZLawyer magazine, and are republished here with permission.



  1. Craig, thank you (and Ekta and Lesley and Darise)for your important sacrifice to research.

    I don't know the Carte Blanche cocktail. What's in it? What kind of whiskey did 1885 use?

    Also, Darise's piece didn't satisfy my curiosity about the 1885 Martini. Bond, I believe, usually drank his with Vodka. But I'm guessing that if the one you had is as good as Darise made it sound, 1885 makes theirs with Gin. Do you know what kind?

    (All in the name of research, of course).

  2. Hi Steve, we got 1885 to make the classic Bond vodka martini. I believed they might have used Stolichnaya vodka. Darise paraphrased me a bit - I said 'I don't usually like martinis, but I can tell this one is very well made. It's the best one I've ever had, that's for sure'.

    But I still prefered the Carte Blanche, which is a twist on the original cocktail; the Old-Fashioned. It uses Crown Royal whiskey/bourbon, along with triple sec, two dashes of bitters, ice, and a twist of fresh orange peel. Tastes better than it sounds...

  3. I am a big fan of Jeffery Deaver and specifically of his Lincoln Rhyme series.