During my 14th spring, I was struck down in a traffic accident and spent the summer of 1974 in the hospital. I passed the time more engaged than otherwise thanks to one man. Bond. James Bond.
Bond's curious literary mix of cartoonish escapade mixed with a decidedly adult and, yes, literary sophistication (Anthony Burgess claimed that Goldfinger was one of the 20th century's 99 best novels) kept me turning pages rather than staring at the clock. Over the months, I read 12 of the 14 Bond novels, having already read Casino Royale. To this day, I keep Moonraker in reserve, just in case.
Since 007 creator Ian Fleming's demise in 1964, at 56, "the Fleming Estate" (whatever/whoever that is) has commissioned a series of, how to say … tributes (among the authors: Kingsley Amis and lately Sebastian Faulks). For the most part, I've stayed away from them, not wanting to ruin rose-coloured teenage memories.
Then again, money's money, so when the call came, I settled in to read the latest knock-off, thriller-scribe Jeffrey Deaver's Carte Blanche. Deaver is the author of a ton of New York Times bestsellers, and one gets the sense that after Faulk's literary efforts, the estate was looking for a guy who could deliver the straight goods. Deaver, demonstrating no lack of confidence, said as much in an interview:
"The novel will maintain the persona of James Bond as Fleming created him and the unique tone the author brought to his books, while incorporating my own literary trademarks: detailed research, fast pacing and surprise twists."
So, how did he do? Deaver updates everything to the present, complete with the headlines. Nowadays, James is a former Royal Naval reserve who served with distinction and "subtle" panache in Afghanistan, thereby catching the eye of a certain top-secret operation within British intelligence (the fictional Overseas Development Group). The cars are faster (a sleek new jacked-up Bentley Continental GT), the technology techier (courtesy the "Q" branch of the ODG) and the woman just a tad more politically correct.
Still, Deaver does do an excellent job of updating the famed Bondian female nomenclature. Remember Solitaire, Tiffany Case, Honeychile Rider, Kissy Suzuki and, of course, Pussy Galore? Meet Felicity Willing. She's a single career gal with a twist (no spoiler alert here, you'll have to read the book).
As to plot, the villain, the creepily monikered Severen Hydt, runs a massive corporate recycling outfit called Green Way International. This is a cover for all sorts of nasty doings around the world. In chasing him to ground, Bond zips from London to Serbia to Dubai to Cape Town. And, yes, he's still a bit of a booze hound (bourbon and a sampling of fine South African wines).
And what of Deaver's (self-ascribed) vaunted research? The author has a slightly eccentric propensity to inject into his characters certain perverse conclusions emanating from his accumulated evidence. To wit:
"Recycling's a curious business," Hydt yelled. … "Most products are far cheaper, cleaner and easier to make from raw materials than recycled ones. The extra lorries for transporting recycling materials and the recycling process itself add to fossil fuel pollution. And remanufacturing uses more power than the initial production, which is a drain on resources." He laughed. "But it's politically correct to recycle … so people come to me."
Whoa, this guy really is evil.
In the end, Bond gets his man (and his woman) and the various plots are neatly and competently tied off, complete with "surprise twists." At 414 pages, Deaver might take a bit long to get there, but on the whole he delivers what he promises.
That said, and again this may be my teen self talking, the strange corners of the original Bond, the dark wit leavening a decidedly incorrect attitude toward sexuality and violence, is all gone. What's left is surely the grist of a potential bestseller. More's the pity.
Douglas Bell co-wrote with Patrick Graham and producers of Trailer Park Boys the film Afghan Luke, a thriller, opening this fall.