Ian Fleming’s secret agent is back. Not that you’d recognise him. Continuing the Have I Got News For You-style roulette of guest authors, the mission of writing a modern Bond novel falls to Jeffery Deaver. And like HIGNFY’s recent Master Chef episode, he’s not entirely successful.
Carte Blanche follows 2008’s best-seller Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks. Wittily echoing Fleming’s style, Faulks continued the chronology of the series directly from The Man With The Golden Gun, neatly referencing the Middle East while packing in period detail.
Deaver has other plans.
Updating 007 for the 21st Century, the esteemed thriller writer reboots Bond completely. There are still some familiar faces, such as M and Moneypenny, but James is now an 80s baby. Taken out of his Cold War context, he’s a serious faced 30-something who served in Afghanistan. You might as well call him Jason Bourne.
The only thing remaining from Fleming’s fiction is Bond’s love of brand names, which Deaver subtly achieves by mentioning Oakley sunglasses every few paragraphs.
Walking around with his iPhone – sorry, “iQPhone” – Deaver’s 007 is a modern, sensitive guy. He doesn’t like political incorrectness (he calls someone up for using the word “coloured”) and resists the urge to bed his colleague Ophelia Maidenstone because she’s recovering from a break-up: “When she’d slipped the ring off and handed it back, she’d also returned a piece of her heart,” Bond laments, in flowery prose that doesn’t really belong in the world of espionage.
No, the world of espionage is far more suited to iPhones and apps and clumsy references to modern pop culture. “I’m beginning to feel a bit like the Lehman Brothers,” Bond says at one point. It’s a wonder he doesn’t tweet it.
But Bond is far too busy for that. He’s got to thwart the sinister Green Way waste disposal company and prevent a suspected terrorist attack.
There’s lots of running around to be done, during which Bond constantly pauses to judge distances and angles, like a maths teacher with a gun. He also enjoys reciting the number of bullets left in his Walther, a repeated staccato sentence that starts off as effective, then swiftly becomes annoying.
The rest of the time Deaver writes in acronyms, because that’s what real spies do. ODG, NOC, AFO, SAPS and more litter the pages like a game of spy Scrabble. Jeffery Deaver even includes a guide to his abbreviations, because that’s what all good books need: a glossary.
That’s not to say Deaver ruins everything. His pacing is sharp and his geographical accuracy keeps things realistic. He also has a good ear for names – the nasty Severan Hydt and attractive Felicity Willing stand out as great additions to the 007 canon.
The villain of the piece, Severan, is a menacing figure. His long yellow nails and necrophiliac tendencies contrast well with his silent Irish henchman, Niall Dunne, who at one point stands “still as a Japanese fighting fish”. Whatever that means.
Hydt also chooses a suitably topical scheme to carry out his evil plan: recycling. The presence of skips and landfills makes the exotic locales feel grimy and authentic – although the subject of unwanted rubbish seems appropriate more than once before the end of the book.
Deaver ultimately contrives one twist too many in an attempt to be clever, but the final pages move quickly enough to get away with it. It’s not a patch on Charlie Higson’s Young Bond series, but if you can accept a non-smoking 007 who stands for sexual equality, then Carte Blanche is a diverting read. But it’s not a great book, and it’s definitely not a Bond book.
Should the Fleming estate continue the HIGNFY formula and bring out another 007 adventure? If they do, maybe they can get Brian Blessed to write the next one.
Carte Blanche is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.