His creator, Ian Fleming, endowed Agent 007 with many remarkable skills, but mastery of disguise is one he acquired only after Fleming's death. From brooding Sean Connery to icy blond Daniel Craig, everybody wants to know: Who is the real James Bond?
That eternal question was of no small concern to veteran thriller writer Jeffery Deaver when he accepted an assignment from Ian Fleming Publications Ltd., which administers the author's lucrative posthumous career, to create the latest authorized 007 novel, Carte Blanche. But given his own mastery of the spy writer's tradecraft - among Deaver's many awards is the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger from Britain's Crime Writers' Association, received for his novel The Garden of Beasts - he quickly developed an authoritative profile of the famous shape-shifter.
"I did not go back to the movies at all," Deaver confessed during a noon-hour interview in Toronto this week, looking gaunt but still sharp after four radio interviews with distant stations mixed with early-morning work on a new novel. As with so much of the material that eventually became Carte Blanche, Deaver found his inspiration in the words of the creator.
"Ian Fleming felt that Bond most closely resembled the American musician Hoagy Carmichael," the author reveals. "So I downloaded a picture of him and put it next to my computer. He was the fellow I had in mind as I wrote."
That unusual image is typical of Deaver's original turn on a potentially tired formula. He may look like Hoagy Carmichael, but Deaver's Bond has all the moves necessary to keep a 21st-century thriller clipping right along - as well as the gadgets to match, beginning with a wicked smartphone loaded with killer apps.
In homage to the master, Deaver assiduously provides all the necessary elements of a classic Bond thriller - the colourfully pathological villains, the fast cars, the fine wines, the Walther pistol and, of course, the many femmes fatales and otherwise, with names that become increasingly preposterous with each introduction until the climatic appearance of one Felicity Willing. Pushing the envelope of plausibility to the breaking point without collapsing into parody - another Fleming specialty - Deaver's breakneck plot begins with sabotage in Serbia and skips from one geopolitical hot spot to another until it lands 007 in Cape Town and the arms of the beautiful, incorruptible and perversely Bond-resistant South African police officer Bheka Jordaan.
But unlike Kingsley Amis and Sebastian Faulks - his two most distinguished predecessors as "continuation authors" of official Bond novels - Deaver makes no attempt to reproduce the style or Cold War milieu of the originals. His Bond is young enough to be the grandson of Fleming's, a veteran of the Afghan not the Second World War, and Deaver peppers his otherwise familiar biography with original touches.
"I think it was very important to bring Bond, the man, to life, which Fleming did through his persona in combat and in his relationships with Moneypenny and Q and Felix Leiter," Deaver said. "But I wanted to do a little bit more."
One result is a subplot in which Bond is tormented by revelations about the fate of his parents - killed in a mysterious mountain-climbing accident during the collapse of the Soviet Union. Most audaciously, Deaver has his Bond savour a brand-new cocktail. He not only looks like Hoagy Carmichael, he drinks Crown Royal and Triple Sec.
Once again, Deaver claims sanction from the creator of the literary if not the filmic Bond, pointing out that Fleming's secret agent drank "relatively few" martinis. "He did have them shaken, not stirred," allowed Deaver, who explains why for the first time in Carte Blanche, "but he drank much more American bourbon and Canadian whisky."
If there is any guiding formula to the book as a whole, Deaver added, it is wholly his own - something he insisted on when he agreed to continue the never-ending story.
"My only requirement was that I be the author and I was going to write the kind of thriller that I normally write," he said. "It's a typical Deaver format."
That means it moves at an amazing pace over a four-day span, with a new do-or-die deadline ever few chapters, constant gunfights, surprise twists and giddy reversals. When it comes to writing thrillers, a reviewer in Britain's Telegraph newspaper commented, "Deaver is a far better craftsman than Fleming."
As for the gadgets so integral to the Bond franchise, Deaver is ambivalent. "Spies use technology, and you could not write a spy novel without it," the author said. "But you should not rely on it too much."
There are richer veins of intrigue in the never-ending story of James Bond, according to his latest creator. "What it comes down to is Bond mano-a-mano with the villain," he said. "That's where the real excitement comes from. It's about the human drama, about betrayal, and good versus evil." Themes that were already ancient when Ian Fleming was young - and will never grow old.