Wednesday, 21 January 2015


 


Carte blanche ('kart 'blonch) ;

Definitions
Noun Plural: Cartes blanches ('karts 'blonches);

      1. Complete discretion or authority; He had carte blanche to do as he wanted
      2. (cards) a piquet hand scoring ten points.
(Yes, that old chestnut; the dictionary definition at the beginning. Nearly as bad as bold letters at the beginning of a page...)

The problem with Ian Fleming is the minute you forget he was basically an overgrown schoolboy you've lost sight of him. Even during the dark days of the War (in Naval Intelligence) when he dreamed up schemes to attack the Hun, the schoolboy is there; that imaginative, endearing mind could only have come from the playing fields and summer woods of a British public schoolboy. Does that diminish him? - not for me. My love of Fleming is his unrivalled knack of setting his reader firmly down into whatever exotic environment 007 is operating in – and often where his creator has recently visited. He was, essentially, a travel writer, a bloody fine one to boot. Add a colourful villain, an evil scheme and you have Ian Fleming's James Bond books. Never mind the schemes varied in credibility – even basic profitability, never mind the stereotypical foreigners or the cardboard women. Fleming was a first-rate writer of second-rate fiction. Who died. So, do we cherish the books he left us?, perhaps wishing the World frozen in a mid-fifties technicolor whirl of those receding days, those times that fade more with every day?. Well, frankly yes, but we can also do the obvious and produce new Bond adventures. After all, he's too good to leave there in Kingston with Mary Goodnight...

Jeffrey Deaver was born near Chicago and has been a journalist, a folksinger and an attorney – he is a scuba diver, a downhill skier (I'd make a joke about there not being much choice, but he could have been a langlauf skier) and he likes his track days. He's written a pile of books, won stacks of awards and even had a work made into a movie (The Bone Collector with Denzel and Angelina). He was approached by the Fleming estate to write a James Bond novel and so...

Running to 428 pages plus Glossary, the Hodder & Stoughton edition of Carte Blanche (ISBN 978 1 444 71647 4) (Ebook ISBN 978 1 444 71644 3) will set you back £19.99 (Mine was a fiver from Waterstones due to a damaged page). Solid, well-produced the book comes with a classy dustjacket and a modern feel that sits well with the contents.

The Plot (SPOILER ALERT) sees a rebooted Bond chasing leads across Serbia to England and then to South Africa. Rebooted?, Deaver's Bond is a 21stCentury animal. After service in Afghanistan with the Royal Navy Reserve*, Bond is basically ex-weekend warrior-turned desk jockey for Defence Intelligence at the M.O.D. Bored at being stuck in an office, his request for 'a little more action' led him to an exclusive London Club for a meeting with 'the Admiral' and the best job offer of his life; the ODG. (*The next time anyone you know laughs at the TA, you'd do well to consider of the three SAS Regiments, two are Territorial. Likewise the Navy's SBS has a part-time counterpart. I've been on exercise with these guys and, trust me – you don't take the p*ss out of them twice.) The Overseas Development Group is to Deaver's Bond as dear old Universal Exports was to Fleming's. A cover, the ODG is the sharp end of British Intelligence – working alongside, yet not part of, MI6 (The popular name for SIS). As a Double-O, Bond can whistle up secret gizmos from Q-Branch as required, order renditions and, of course, take lives where required. This brutal arm of the Intelligence apparatus is a reflection of the World post 9/11 and 7/7. As well as the ODG, Deaver has cooked up Division Three – a shadowy counterpart based primarily in the UK, working with MI5 (The Security Service).

The literary equivalent of the movie Casino Royale reboot, this is a fresh start for Bond. He drives a Bentley Continental GT and keeps his father's old E-Type, but there's something lurking from his past. (Isn't there always?) Echoing Quantum of Solace's Dominic Greene, the principal Baddie is in
the recycling business. Severan Hydt is a freak with a necrophilia fetish, with his Irish sidekick Niall Dunne, an emotionless Engineer who thinks only in terms of problems and problem-solving, Hydt is up to something. Now, in the movies, Sean slaps a girl and she spills the goods, or Roger takes a snap with his micro-camera and there's the baddie's logo right there... perhaps not content with such a lucky agent, Deaver gives his 007 a brain. The guy's close to Sherlock Holmes with his intuition – it actually grates and disappoints on a few occasions, I actually found myself hoping he hadn't seen it so something random would be required to move things forward/keep him from dying. The bad guys get shot, too, which doesn't do it. Fleming would have sent them down a tunnel on a locomotive or buried alive in guano like Dr.No. Also mildy disappointing is the baddie's evil scheme isn't much cop at all in the evil stakes – admittedly a bomb that fires razor-sharp titanium at you isn't high on your list of things to be stuck in a lift with, but the ultimate, final evil scheme is actually much meatier – as was Hydt's side-line of blackmail using reclaimed information.

Jeffrey Deaver has obviously 'done a Fleming' here; he more or less states he's stayed at a certain South African hotel and I'd be surprised if he hasn't been given a tour of the South African Police Service HQ at Caledon Square. Such on-the-ground research marked Fleming's work and Deaver has clearly a similar approach. Some mentions in the book give me reason to believe he may have had 'the tour' at Thames House – or at least an unofficial briefing about some of the work the Security Service does. Bet the bugger had a go round a track in a Bentley, too.

This book is not Ian Fleming; but most people who hold Fleming on a pedestal have either never read him properly or when they first did, racism and startling mysogony was all the rage. (For the record; I take these as signs the books were written in their time – actually judging someone's work by the standards of the next century is, to me, a sign of insanity). Jeffrey Deaver has made a bold stab at re-inventing 007 – it might have seemed bolder had it been written pre-Casino, but it holds up; indeed some of the dialogue seems suspiciously like it was written for Daniel Craig to speak... a decent book, worth the money, a page-turner and overall, it wins a place on my Shelf of Bond

Special thanks are due to Jeremy Toth for kindly allowing the use of one of his marvellous photographs for this post. His site is more than worth the click -  www.jeremytoth.co.nz

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