Jeffrey Deaver joins the ranks of those novelists who have taken up Ian Fleming’s mantle and contributed to the James Bond literary universe. In Carte Blanche, he writes with a well-paced style that is sometimes less cluttered than Fleming’s, though he captures his literary progenitor’s voice remarkably well, and he retains the same characterization of James Bond: a hardened agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Deaver is also cleaner than Fleming, who included some rather racy aspects to his novels that could alienate some readers. Deaver successfully translates Bond from a potential relic of the Cold War era into a new agent of the 21st century, dealing with the problems of today like terrorism, the green movement, and an increasingly technological world.
While Daniel Craig‘s portrayal of James Bond differs significantly from his film predecessors, causing many to dislike him, I was pleased to see that the filmmakers were returning to Bond’s roots in literature. In the novels, Bond is not perpetually tuxedo-clad and unflinchingly suave; rather, he is a hardened agent, cold and calculating. At times that comes out in Connery’s performances, while Roger Moore fully ignores that aspect of the character. On the other hand, the two actors with the shortest run in the James Bond film universe–Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby–both embraced that steely, rugged side of Bond’s nature, as does Craig.
Two authors picked up after Fleming for any significant length of time: John Gardner and Raymond Benson (not counting Charles Higson’s Young James Bond novels, which I have not read yet). While I prefer Gardner’s novels overall, Benson is just as good, and they retain most elements of Fleming’s characterization of Bond, not falling into the trap of just watching the films and ignoring Fleming’s roots. Having no personal experience with Jeffrey Deaver’s writing style, I was afraid that he might ignore tradition and take his cue from the films. If he did, the films he followed were the Daniel Craig reboot films, and that’s just fine.
Deaver’s Bond is a child of the late seventies and eighties, and a veteran of the Afghanistan War; his backstory, given by Fleming, was adapted to fit into a twenty-first century story. The novel feels like a Fleming novel, if he had started to write Bond on this side of the millennium. While the antagonist is no Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Deaver certainly kept me guessing through the end. There is a maniacal plot, the mysterious Incident 20, which Bond must look into, though it seems quite elusive, as what seemed to be clues unravel quite often, opening a Pandora’s Box of new or changing leads. This threat plays well into twenty-first century preoccupations: recycling and the green movement.
Many of the staples of the Bond novels are there: gadgets (though happily not as overblown as the film’s gadgets) in the form of an all-purpose iPhone (or the iQPhone, as those in Q Branch call it, filled with apps that no modern spy could live without); Mary Goodnight–not the sex-kitten from the film The Man with the Golden Gun, but actually Bond’s secretary; Bill Tanner, Miss Moneypenny, M, Rene Mathis, and Felix Leiter all appear more or less prominently; beautiful, richly drawn foreign locations: Dubai and Cape Town, South Africa to be precise; and a Bond who is not an emotionless womanizer, but one who has aspirations of settling down in the future, though his first love will always be the British Realm. This brings up the only point about which I was slightly disappointed: this Bond does not have the experience of the previous Fleming novels. I wonder, if this continues has a series, Deaver will attempt to incorporate some of that, even in references, into his stories.
I really enjoyed this book, and I hope Deaver decides to continue with this as a series. He leaves us in a place where he could absolutely continue with at least one more novel that would reveal much more of Bond’s personal history, taking us to an even more emotional place. I listened to the audiobook, read by Toby Stephens, who was excellent.