CARTE BLANCHE is a new James Bond novel from Jeffery Deaver. Arguably better known for his police procedurals featuring Lincoln Rhyme, Deaver has written convincing espionage fiction (particularly GARDEN OF BEASTS), so he's no stranger to the genre. To take on James Bond, an icon whose name defines espionage, would be a challenge for anyone, but Deaver embraces the character as a well-known friend. The result is one of the best books of the year thus far.
Deaver demonstrates he is Fleming's heir --- in the event he should wish to ascend the throne.
What Deaver was charged with was taking Bond and contributing meaningfully to the franchise built by Ian Fleming and added to (with varying degrees of success) by a number of successors. He accomplishes this and so much more, treating the creator and creation with the respect both deserve, while deftly putting his own distinctive and original creative touches on the story. The result is not just a great James Bond novel, but a great Jeffery Deaver novel, a great espionage novel, and a great thriller. Everything we love about popular thriller fiction is contained in a tightly written story of just over 400 pages that leaves the reader satisfied yet hungry for more.
Deaver relaunches Bond for the 21st century without changing his core. The Bond we meet is in his early 30s, a veteran of the Afghanistan campaign. He is an agent of a new version of the Special Operations Executive, operating independently of the Ministry of Defense, MI5 and MI6. Supporting characters include M --- the real M of Fleming's world, as opposed to the politically correct M of the more recent films --- Moneypenny, Felix Leiter, and…well, you get the idea. Deaver is not obsessed with changing things. Bond also has lots of toys to play with, but they never get in the way of the story. They merely supplement it a bit, and they're not all that different from what we'll have in a year or two on our smartphones.
What a truly wonderful, exciting and spellbinding story Deaver has given us. Bond is in a race against time --- from a Sunday to a Friday --- to protect the Realm from the so-called "Incident 20," a vague threat contained in an intercepted electronic message that promises resultant casualties in the thousands. The lad who is putting together Incident 20 is Niall Dunne, an icily competent and extremely dangerous gent known as "The Irishman," whose ungainly demeanor belies a cold-blooded and mechanical efficiency. The Irishman in turn is employed by Severan Hydt, an enigmatic genius who has made a fortune with his company, Greenway International Disposal & Recycling.
Hydt is as fascinating and as memorable an antagonist as one is likely to find in fiction due to a remarkable fetish that is part of his personality make-up. "Creep" doesn't come close to describing Hydt, and he has an event planned that he will enjoy personally and benefit from professionally. Bond does not know precisely what Hydt and Dunne are devising; he accordingly concocts a daring and dangerous plan to insert himself as close to Ground Zero as possible, with the fate of thousands --- not to mention that of the Special Operations Executive --- in the balance.
From beginning to end, Deaver makes what is old and familiar new again. Bond remains an expert in weaponry, hand-to-hand combat, food and drink, and the erotic. The settings --- from the familiarity of London to the exotica of Dubai to the poverty of Capetown, South Africa --- ring with authenticity. While Deaver is one of the most American of authors, he writes of Bond with an authority and voice that seem as if it was to the (British) manner born.
One more thing. Deaver gives Bond something called "Steel Cartridge" to deal with: an ongoing program that may well have had an influence, both profound and adverse, on Bond's history. There is more, of course, but what is indisputable is that Deaver demonstrates he is Fleming's heir --- in the event he should wish to ascend the throne.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 27, 2011