A few years ago, I found myself standing next to Barbara Broccoli at a party. Rather sycophantically, I told her how impressed I was by the Broccoli family’s ruthless strategy for keeping the Bond franchise alive. Every time the lead actor got a bit clapped out, they carted him off to the knackers yard and replaced him with a younger, better-looking version. She laughed and confessed that Craig had personally auditioned for her and her teenage daughter in their London flat wearing nothing but a pair of Speedos.
Something tells me that isn’t how the 61-year-old Jeffery Deaver landed the job of writing the new James Bond novel. Nevertheless, Corrine Turner, the managing director of Ian Fleming Publications Ltd, has taken a leaf out of Barbara Broccoli’s book, recruiting a constant stream of new authors to keep the brand fresh. Last time out, Turner plumped for middlebrow literary novelist Sebastian Faulks. This time round she’s gone a bit downmarket and settled for a bestselling thriller writer.
I’m a Bond fanatic – I have a first edition of Kingsley Amis’s Bond novel, Colonel Sun – and was irritated to begin with by the number of details Deaver gets wrong. For instance, he has Bond make himself breakfast which consists of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and marmalade. Marmalade? With eggs and bacon? No self-respecting ex-public schoolboy would ever do that. Unfortunately, Deaver is American and the nuances of the English class system are lost on him.
He also has no grasp of the current climate of austerity in Whitehall. Carte Blanche is supposed to be set in the present, but the official car of Bond’s boss is a 10-year-old Rolls-Royce. M would be lucky to get a Prius these days.
However, if you can get past these lapses Carte Blanche is pretty good. Deaver’s no slouch when it comes to the technical detail. When Bond wants to blow something up, he doesn’t just use a hand grenade, he uses a Swiss HG 85. This is the first Bond book I’ve read which contains a glossary at the back.
He also shares Ian Fleming’s talent for exciting action set pieces. Deaver’s Bond has a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for action behind enemy lines in Afghanistan which is just as well because he has to shoot his way out of a tight spot on virtually every page. The story rattles along at breakneck speed.
Where Carte Blance differs from the standard Bond adventure is in the mystery element. Deaver’s chief villain is called Severan Hydt and it goes without saying that he has a fiendish plan for world domination. But we only learn what it is about halfway through, having been kept guessing until that point. On the whole, this works well and the desire to find out what’s really going on keeps you turning the pages.
So not a bad effort. If Fleming was Connery and Sebastian Faulks was Timothy Dalton, Jeffery Deaver is Pierce Brosnan.