Publication Date: 26 May 2011
I’m rather fond of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. There’s something about the Cold War setting, the old-school spy game feel to his novels that is appealing to me. All the writers who have since tackled the character have, for me at least, failed to capture the same energy that Fleming had with his stories, although bearing in mind that he created the character that should come as no surprise.
Carte Blanche was released in 2011, the 37th novel to feature James Bond and the first in the series to be written by Jeffrey Deaver. Bond’s history has been shifted so he’s now a modern day, 21st century spy and an Afghanistan war veteran. I’m not a fan of moving Bond out of the Cold War era, despite my acceptance of the film franchise and its constant need to update Bond’s setting and history. For some reason I’m fine with that, yet for the novels I expect him to remain a Cold War spy and never progress beyond that. I’m a real bundle of contradictions.
Modern day Bond works for the Overseas Development Group, which is basically a modern update of Bond’s role in the non-descript secret service of Fleming’s original run of novels. M is still running the show and Bond is still a member of the 00 Section, which gives him carte blanche (don’t blame me, it’s in the book several times) to defend the realm by whatever means necessary. He sets off on the trail of Severan Hydt, the owner of Green Way International, a waste disposal company that appears to be legitimate yet whispers in the intelligence network implies that there might be more to them under the surface.
The novel opens with a breathless set piece in Serbia where Bond is attempting to stop Irish rogue Niall Dunne from derailing a train. From here the plot thickens as Bond has to work against the clock to prevent a huge loss of life, orchestrated by Hydt with assistance from Dunne. In this sense the story is classic Bond – Hydt has a rather excessive obsession with decay and death, and Dunne is a typical Bond villain henchman, stoic yet cunning. Bond meanwhile gets to briefly work with old favourites Felix Leiter and Rene Mathis as well as new character Bheka Jordaan, a South African police officer. I enjoyed the opening, yet I didn’t feel that the rest of the story was able to maintain that level of excitement.
Deaver has a style that I’m not too keen on – lots of repetition of character’s thoughts, and narrative techniques start to grate after a while. Furthermore, Deaver constantly tries to pull the rug out from under the reader’s feet by ending a chapter on a cliff-hanger that’s resolved in an absurd manner at the beginning of the next. Deaver also portrays Bond as being somebody who’s able to think several steps ahead – this is fine – however because Deaver does this via the aforementioned cliff-hangers Bond ends up looking like a smug piece of work. Hardly conducive for hoping that he solves the case. There’s more than a hint of Dan Brown about the narrative, which is perhaps not the most complementary comparison I can make. This style did make me continue through the book relatively easily however, so there’s obviously something about it that works.
If you were to make a film of this story you would have a decent thriller, but you’d have a poor James Bond film. Maybe I was expecting more from it. Maybe I’m just too enamoured with Fleming’s original books. Either way, I didn’t engage with it as I had hoped and ultimately found it a disappointment. I don’t think there’s anything to be read into this, but the next Bond novel has been written by William Boyd and will be set in 1969. A return to the original setting for the character will hopefully reap dividends and be a more entertaining story. We’ll see.