CARTE BLANCHE by Jeffery Deaver (H&S Fiction, 2011)
Reviewed by Craig Sisterson
The latest 007 novel is an exciting instalment in the adventures of Ian Fleming's iconic spy, which includes elements pleasing to fans of both Fleming and Jeffery Deaver, the bestselling scribe tasked with bringing Bond into the new century.
Jeffery Deaver nicely sums up the essence of the world’s most famous 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 aficionados) 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?
The debonair secret agent 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. 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 interests 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 from Serbia to Dubai then Cape Town to prevent calamity. In short, it’s a hell of a fun read.
Packed with pace, action, and intrigue. Deaver brilliantly melds tradition (fast cars, gadgets, repellent villains), modernity (a more reflective Bond, more rounded female characters), and his own twist-filled storytelling style. 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.