The Spectator offers a critical 'Carte Blanche' review
James Bond is the great chameleon. From the velvety burr of Connery through to the tango tan of Moore and the aluminium pecs of Craig. And then, of course, there is the Bond of the books. Between covers (of the literary sort, at least), Bond transforms again: refrigerated in the black-and-white of print, he becomes clinical and orderly, disdaining the stagey theatrics of modern day spycraft -- reports The Spectator
It is to this Bond that Jeffery Deaver returns in the latest addition to the 007 canon, Carte Blanche. Indeed, Deaver himself is given carte blanche. Rather than merely update Bond, as did Sebastian Faulks in his 2008 effort Devil May Care, Deaver recasts him completely. Carte Blanche takes us into the present day, cue a full complement of references to Afghanistan, Lehman Brothers, the Icelandic volcano and â one to keep Clarkson and co. purring for many a year â Top Gear.
The character of Bond, however, remains remote. He clocks up his air-miles while leaving precious little trace. We learn that he doesnât have much of an appetite for modern theatre, is ânot an aftershave sort of manâ and (fitting for the porridge of contemporary correctness) likes his women âslim and elegantâ though is continually kept in check courtesy of the by-the-book love-interest, Bheka Jordaan. But that is about it in terms of psycho-biography, save a revelation about his mother parachuted into the final pages.
The plot, meanwhile, is unremarkable. Bond is part of a new covert organization, euphemistically named the Overseas Development Group, charged with decoding an enigmatic message promising thousands of deaths. Thus he finds himself pitched against a suitably shivery disposal tycoon, Severan Hydt, before the rug is pulled and the ambrosial aid worker (and Bondâs fellow nocturnal gymnast), Felicity Willing, is shown to be more than just a pair of 'flawless thighs'.
As with the plot, so with the prose. Deaverâs style is smooth and competent, but occasionally, his propensity for elaborate simile â one characterâs obsession is âas explosive as a VS-50 land mineâ â seems hobbled rather than Homeric. He also stalls the action in favour of needless historical cushions; for instance, most readers donât need to be told that the KGB was âthe infamous Soviet security and spy apparatusâ.
More tellingly, Deaver colours the narrative with film references. One car chase is compared to âan old American police movieâ, while the headquarters of MI6 is likened to a âfuturistic enclave from a Ridley Scott filmâ. All of which reminds readers of the cinema screen's capacity to show every screech and tyre-spin of the getaway car.
One of the problems the novel faces is how to trumpet the alternative merits of the novelized Bond as opposed to his ritzier onscreen namesake. While it offers a Bond less brassy than the preposterously conspicuous agents of the films, the autopilot prose and matchstick-thin plot often donât seem enough to convince a jury more accustomed to the full-blooded, surround-sound experience. Deaver doesnât use the roomier medium of print to get his writerly trowel out and start digging.
But perhaps this is to misread Bond. He has no time to worry about clausal ornament, genre theory or narrative show-jumping. Bondâs oft-repeated mantra of purpose and response might be taken as the rubric of Deaverâs mission here. And, old pro that he is, the purpose of delivering a credible update is more than fulfilled in the four-hundred page response currently evacuating bookshop shelves. As 007 might say, job done.
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