James Bond is back. And in Carte Blanche
, he is just out of Afghanistan, seconded to a new security agency -- one that is a distinctly separate entity from MI5 or 6. A decryption reveals that Britain is harbouring a vicious clandestine figure, and a great many people are to die -- within a week. 007 is in action in his own country for once, his hands tied by an irritating bureaucratic colleague, and up against a sinister opponent who luxuriates in the sights and sounds of death and putrefaction. And if the latter sounds like the kind of villain Lincoln Rhyme might be taking on, that’s because 007’s new chronicler is the American writer Jeffrey Deaver, creator of the quadriplegic criminologist Rhyme.
There is now a long and impressive tradition of continuing the literary adventures of Ian Fleming's superspy after his elegant creator's death, and it has to be said that the results have been only fitfully successful. The first post-Fleming Bond novel, Robert Markham’s Colonel Sun, was a lovingly crafted tribute by a pseudonymous Kingsley Amis, and did considerable justice to the original concept. The entries by the American writer Raymond Benson were generally received with less enthusiasm (proving that Benson’s considerable knowledge of Bondiana did not constitute sufficient credentials for the task), and while the veteran thriller writer John Gardner’s entries began strongly, he appeared to lose interest in the project; the last two books in his 007 sequence were workaday, to say the least. Sebastian Falk’s recent entry, Devil May Care, placed Bond back in the Fleming era, and was a diverting outing.
Like Gardner, Jeffrey Deaver is, of course, a considerable thriller writer with a body of work that has acquired a strong following (principally for his novels featuring Lincoln Rhyme). And like any writer approaching the task of continuing the adventures of Britain's most famous spy, Deaver was faced with a variety of dilemmas. Should he bring Bond into the modern age, as John Gardner (and the continuing film franchise) had done? Or should he create a period adventure in the fashion of the last non-Fleming Bond adventure by Sebastian Falks? To some degree, Deaver has opted to have the best of both worlds. This is a 21st-century Bond, post-9/11 and post-7/7 (both namechecked in this book), and Bond has given up smoking (something else that John Gardner wished upon the hero in his series). Many of the comforting facets of the Bond books are in place, including the sybaritic lifestyle and the absurdly-named women he encounters (how long did it take Deaver to come up with the name Ophelia Maidenstone?). The eternal Miss Moneypenny is on board, as is the de rigueur grotesque villain. The modern reader consuming the book (and it demands to be consumed -- at a brisk pace) will be wondering what version of the spy chief M we will encounter: a middle-aged woman with echoes of Judi Dench? No, M in Carte Blanche is an admiral (clearly, in fact, Fleming’s Sir Miles Messervy), and all the other aspects readers have come to expect in Fleming's adroitly written thrillers are satisfyingly in place. In fact, the opening suspense sequence (involving multiple deaths and the destruction of a train) is something that would have done Fleming proud. But as Deaver would no doubt be the first to admit, there was only one Ian Fleming, and any new Bond adventure is essentially an act of ventriloquism. But if such initiatives are to be undertaken, it is to the Fleming Estate’s credit that the talented Mr Deaver was chosen for the job. Fleming aficionados may have caveats, but there is no denying that Deaver's customary storytelling expertise is handsomely on display here, and Deaver can offer a frequently persuasive Fleming simulacra. --Barry Forshaw
--This text refers to an alternate
Praise for Jeffery Deaver (: )
'The most creative, skilled and intriguing thriller writer in the world' (Daily Telegraph
'The art of writing blockbuster thrillers is not easily mastered but Deaver has it at his fingertips.'
'The best psychological thriller writer around' (The Times
'The master of ticking-bomb suspense' (People magazine