And so the Ian Fleming Estate lobs the literary Bond franchise at another popularist scribe, hoping award-winning thriller writer Jeffery Deaver doesn’t make the same crushingly disappointing mistake Sebastian Faulks did with his woeful Devil May Care (“Seb? Seb?! Would you mind writing a James Bond book for us?”/”Oh Tim, you know I admire Fleming immensely, but I don’t do pulp fiction.”/”But Seb, you’re so brilliant a writer I’m sure you could do just as good a job as Fleming under the exact same conditions.”/”You mean, three hours a day? Like a machine? Churn it out in six weeks?!”/”You can do it Seb!”/”Mmmm…writing a classic Bond villain would be fun.”/”Yes Seb!”/”I could give him a deformity – something animalistic, a twisted limb both disgusting & oddly alluring to females.”/”Oh yes Seb!”/”A monkey’s paw!”/”Genius!”/”And Bond could dispatch him, brutally -”/”Yes!”/”"- under the wheel of a paddle steamer!”/”Oh yes, yes, yes Seb!”/”I’ll do it!”/”I love you Seb!”/”Where’s my advance?”/”A hundred grand?”/”Many thanks.”)
No, fortunately Jeffery Deaver doesn’t treat Carte Blanche like an exercise in ’sixties pastiche. He contemporises the action, which flits from Serbia to London to Cape Town via Dubai, repositioning Bond toward the start of his career and throwing the thirtysomething 007 into a genuinely thrilling tale of the twisted profits to be made by dealing in decay.
His target is Severan Hydt, a pioneer of waste disposal & recycling with a perversion for decomposition (to the point of bedding his PA, an ex-beauty queen in her ‘seventies, just to revel in the increasing translucency & discolouration of her parchment flesh.) Hydt’s right hand man is Niall Dunne, an ice-cold analyst unafraid of getting his hands dirty if need be, a one-man reptilian slaughterhouse who’s more than a match for Bond in the Intel & strategy stakes. Together, Hydt & Dunne are planning an atrocity – known only as ‘Incident Twenty’ – in which thousands will die. Can Bond stop them in time?
All the old crew are here – ‘M’ (not Dame Judi, but the ancient Admiral of old) Moneypenny, Q, and his own PA, Mary Goodnight (“Goodnight occasionally received cards or souvenirs inspired by the film Titanic, so closely did she resemble Kate Winslet” – did you get that Ms Casting Director? Good.) Bond’s organisation is the Overseas Development Group, an autonomous offshoot of MI6 with one mission: “to protect the Realm…by any means necessary.”
Bond drives a Bentley Continental GT coupé (“..the finest off-the-peg vehicle in the world, Bond believed”) and has most of his gadgets in an iPhone souped up by Q (and hence called an iQPhone.) Almost everything has been discreetly updated to give Bond the edge on Bourne. The only exception to the modernisation is Bond himself.
I read all Ian Fleming’s original Bonds in my early teens, and, whereas the minutiae of the plots have long been forgotten, the essence of Fleming’s Bond - as I remembered him – has been retained in Carte Blanche. Resilient and reluctant to kill (but accepting it as part of the job with zero regrets) he’s always at the eye of the storm he creates, taking lives and ladies when he can because he never knows when he might slip and the storm engulf him. He’s a scarred warrior of the old school: a borderline paranoic with few friends, a brutal machine defined by his tastes, a gastronome, a sommelier, a petrol head, and a colossal prick.
Here’s Bond’s concept of motorway etiquette:
He was travelling north along the A1. Still, the speedometer needle occasionally reached 100mph, and frequently he’d tap the lever of the silken, millisecond-reponse Quickshift gearbox to overtake a slow-moving horsebox or Ford Mondeo. He stayed mostly in the right lane, although once or twice he took to the hard shoulder for some exhilarating if illegal overtaking. He enjoyed a few controlled skids on stretches of adverse camber.
What a douch. Now let’s listen to Bond ordering wine with a work colleague:
Bond picked a bottle of an unoaked Chardonnay from Napa, California.
“Good,” she said, “The Americans have the best chardonnay grapes outside Burgundy but they really must have the courage to throw out some of their damned oak casks.”
Bond’s opinion exactly.
No-one of rational taste would even attempt to formulate that arsefeta-rammed sentence without expecting an immediate eye-gouging. And it’s not an isolated incident. Open Carte Blanche at any random page and you’ll find Bond behaving like a supremely arrogant snobend.
Bond had his coffee and water in front of him as he sat with the National newspaper. He considered it the best newspaper in the Middle East. You could find every sort of story imaginable…
Excellent Formula One coverage too – important to Bond.
Add to that last numbing sentence his passion for skiing and I begin to wonder if James Bond really throws himself at danger for Queen & Country. Perhaps he just wants to kill himself? I’d kill him, given the opportunity, if he wants to save himself the effort and ensure his Scottish housekeeper a pension.
“Mr Bond,” I’d say, “Her Majesty is grateful for your services, but you really are an insufferable twat -” Sphut! Right between the sunbleached monobrow.
But if you can stand all that. If you can put up with the constant, empty, living-on-the-edge felchlint, then Carte Blanche is worth it, as a perfectly professional thriller that’s never less than compelling. There’s even an intriguing subplot involving Bond’s hunt for his parents’ killer that could easily spawn two or three sequels, so this may not be the last we hear of Jeffery Deaver’s James Bond.
I just hope next time he’s a little bit less of an arse.