Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver
In the latest addition to the Bond canon, Jeffery Deaver takes our favourite thirty-something secret agent, uproots him from the 1960s and transplants him firmly into the twenty-first century, in the same way that the film of Casino Royale did a few years ago.
The Bond I envisaged though wasn’t the gorgeous Daniel Craig, but the original and best, Sean Connery, and Deaver has succeeded in bringing Fleming’s original character up to date. All the trademarks were there – cars, quality booze, jet-setting, and women, including the superfluously named Felicity Willing! As far as women go though, this modern Bond has a very slight vulnerability – he is deeply attracted to his new secretary, Ophelia (Phillly) Maidenhead – a girl who rides a motorcycle. She does have a fiancé though, and Bond isn’t going to intrude.
The plot moves on at a cracking pace in typical Deaver style with, as he puts it, a surprise ending every few chapters. The surprises are not always cliff-hangers either – there is even the odd anti-climax or two which ups the ante for the next biggie. We start in Serbia, before moving to London and environs, then Dubai and Cape Town – all perfect locations for action.
The main baddie is a typical megalomaniac with a modern field of business – recycling – in all aspects you can think of. He is a nasty man who has a peccadillo – a lust for examining death and decay – from still alive but ageing, beauty queens to exhumed corpses. This fetish leads him to need fresh newly killed bodies to explore, and a partnership with an skilled Irishman who, throughout the book, remains almost unreadable. Together they have hatched the ‘Gehenna’ plot, and Bond will have to go undercover and use all the technology and personnel at his disposal to foil it. The moment I heard the word ‘Gehenna’ though, my alarm bells started ringing. Surely, using names such as a Jewish word for Hell for one’s dastardly plot, would similarly set klaxons off at GCHQ and other monitoring stations. Why don’t baddies choose fluffy names for their dastardly deeds?
Fleming may have been one of the first authors to use branding to highlight the lifestyle of his hero – Dom Peringnon and Aston Martins spring to mind, but Deaver takes that concept and slight overdid it for me. He also never forgets to let us know he’s updated the scenario – I found the constant reminders that we’re now in the 21st century were all too plentiful. Mentions of Top Gear, Guy Ritchie films, and the Two Ronnies(!), which are all so of their time, will date this book in a way that keeping it classic, as Fleming did, won’t. The one area of direct homage to Fleming is Deaver/Bond’s creation of a new cocktail – viz the ‘Vesper’ inCasino Royale. For info, a Carte Blanche is a double Crown Royal over ice (a Canadian Whisky I’m unfamiliar with), half a measure of triple sec, two dashes of bitters and a twist of orange peel.
On the whole, I thought Deaver’s Bond was well done – he’s obviously researched long and hard to make sure he got it right, going back to the original novels. The result is a good hybrid of Fleming’s Bond in a Deaver thriller. A few little Americanisms appeared to have got through – a woman is ‘keyboarding’ rather than typing at a computer for instance – but that is small beer. Deaver’s expertise in modern tradecraft is also admirable, but does require much explanation for all the new technology at Bond’s disposal. One nice thing was that Deaver has delved into Bond’s back-story to bring tantalising glimpses of growing up to life.
The supporting characters were great – especially Philly, and Percy Osborne-Smith, Bond’s counterpart in MI5. The love interests though were rather subdued, sublimated to the driving pace of the plot; (if this gets filmed, no doubt, they’ll be more prominent). The villains may have been rather one-dimensional as regards their personalities, but the detail they brought to the plot was impressive. The bickering between the government agencies made up for any deficiencies there though, and we get reminded of M’s first name … first revealed in Moonraker, but my lips are sealed.
In summary, this book is not perfect, but it was great fun, and a must for any Bond fan. (7.5/10)