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Carte Blanche: The New James Bond Novel

By Jeffrey Deaver
Simon & Schuster, 2011

In the early sixties I discovered and devoured Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. How disarming to learn that President Kennedy was also an avid fan! Alas, I must confess, we read them at the same time but not together.

The Bond novels are lively, sensational escape entertainments put together with panache. James Bond is a charming, sophisticated, accomplished, ruthless spy who holds the rare double-0 prefix (007)—the British Secret Service’s License to kill. Bond shares with his creator, Ian Fleming, an interest in cars, travel, good food, fine wine, cocktails shaken not stirred, a love of golf and gambling and beautiful women—sexy and stirred up, not necessarily in that order. As Raymond Chandler put it: “Bond is what every man would like to be and what every woman would like to have between her sheets.”

Ian Fleming spent the Second World War as Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence. There he spawned a variety of covert operations, all of them notable for their daring and ingenuity, and certainly a rich source for his future fiction. According to Fleming, in addition to himself, the character of Bond is a combination of a number of people, most notably one Dusko Popov, the British agent code-named Tricycle. (I tried, and failed, to trace the origin of this intriguing code name).

Fleming’s meticulous research and accuracy of detail lends credence to the larger-than-life Cold War villains (invariably from the USSR) that Bond operates against, each with his or her own sadistic trademark. Villains like Le Chiffre, Rosa Klebb, Doctor No, Goldfinger, the unforgettable evil genius, Ernst Stavro Blofeld the head of SPECTRE (The Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Revenge and Extortion), “Pistols” Scaramanga, the world’s most expensive assassin (one million a kill), and Mr. Big of SMERSH As an example of how Fleming woos us into believing it’s all real, take this author’s note in From Russia With Love:

SMERSH, a contraction of Smiert Spio—Death to Spies—exists and remains today the most secret department of the Soviet government….The Conference Room is faithfully described and the Intelligence chiefs who meet round the table are real officials who are frequently summoned to that room for purposes similar to those I have recounted.

The first Bond novel, Casino Royale appeared in 1953. It introduced, in addition to Bond, his boss M, a man “that he loved, honored and obeyed”; M’s secretary Miss Moneypenny; Mathis, a fellow agent he’s especially fond of; and a CIA chap, Felix Leiter. This first Bond novel has one other odd note, the way Bond is described by a female character: “He is very good looking. He reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael.”

Hoagy Carmichael! Brings to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s comment: “Englishmen have strange tastes.”

Suffice it to say, this was all way before Sean Connery. Still, Fleming never described Bond as looking like Carmichael again. Bond, in fact, turned tall, dark and somewhat cruelly handsome after that. Not to mention, ageless.

The Bond books were produced annually from 1953 until Fleming’s untimely death in 1964 (he died of a heart attack on a golf course at age 56). The last one he lived to see published was You Only Live Twice, which takes place in Japan—Bondo-san among the Geishas, so to speak. He wrote a total of 14 Bond books; two were published posthumously but apparently penned earlier by Fleming: The Man With the Golden Gun (1965), and Octopussy and the Living Daylights (1966), two short stories.

A newer edition of Octopussy (2002) contains a charming addition, a third story called 007 in New York, first published in October 1963 in The New York Herald Tribune. In it, Bond has been sent anonymously by M to New York to take care of some “embarrassing, unattractive business…involving a nice English girl unwittingly cohabiting with a KGB agent….” He has agreed to meet her outside the Reptile House at the Central Park Zoo, “an appropriate rendezvous.” The story has many delightful touches that are very New York, including his ride through Times Square to enjoy the sight of the neon BOND sign.

One more legacy of the Fleming creation came to light in 2005. It’s The Moneypenny Diaries—yes, that Moneypenny—the secret, scandalous, salacious diary entries bequeathed to her “niece,” one Kate Westbrook. After much soul searching, Ms. Westbrook decided to edit and release the 1962 entries for publication by St. Martin’s. As she reveals in her introduction, she knew that 1962 was a crucial year, even before she read the entries, because Fleming didn’t write much about it. And, of course, Fleming almost certainly would have applauded her healthy nod to “Aunt Jane’s” reportage:

Yet her diaries interleaved closely with the James Bond series of books by Ian Fleming, which I reread in tandem with the diaries. If what she wrote was true, then the Bond series was, at the very least, based firmly on truth…. I have spent the last five years checking, rechecking and authenticating…. The more I discovered, the more it became apparent that Fleming had reported the events of the time with an alarming degree of accuracy….

A must for Bond buffs.

One cannot talk about Bond without mentioning the many films, some quite spectacular, based on his adventures. A handful were made from the Fleming novels, and I think they are the best, specifically, Doctor No (1962), From Russia, With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964). Of course, the most important cinematic contribution to the Bond saga is Sean Connery. He was the first and remains the best of the many actors who have portrayed him to date. He is now as synonymous with Bond as Alec Guinness is with George Smiley.

But the fact remains that although the films are a tremendous, ongoing contribution to the Bond chronicles, there is still a high demand for novels about him. Witness the number of authors of official James Bond novels: Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, Raymond Benson and Sebastian Faulks. Which brings me to Jeffrey Deaver and his James Bond novel, Carte Blanche.

It begins with Bond, here, in his early 30s (unlike Fleming’s ageless Bond), working for the Special Operations Executive. The Overseas Development Group (ODG)—a new hybrid covert unit of British security—decrypts a text message that promises “casualties in the thousands.” Naturally, when and where this attack will take place are hidden in a code. The origin of the message sends Bond to Serbia where he ambushes the derailment of a train carrying hazardous material. In the course of “identifying” the messenger, the mission turns deadly: one of his Serbian agents is gravely wounded and the messenger’s car goes up in flames. Fortunately, he’s Bond and has an app that gives him a link to a GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) tracking center. It buzzes him:

CRASH DIVE.

Shorthand for Emergency.

Security agent assigned to you died on way to hospital. Reported you abandoned him. Serbs have priority order for your arrest. Evacuate immediately.

Bond gets the hell out with a carrier bag containing slips of paper he snatched from the burning car.

The back story of Bond arriving at this juncture three years earlier now unfolds. He is summoned to lunch at the Travellers Club—that London haven for spies and spymasters– by a man identified only as “the Admiral,” a.k.a. M to a select few. The chatter is hardly idle over a superb meal—“chef knows what he’s about” —accompanied by Bond’s choice of a “perfect” Chablis, Alex Gambal Puligny.

A sip of wine. The Admiral asked, “Have you heard of The Special Operations Executive?”

“I have, yes.” Bond had few idols, but high on the list was Winston Churchill… after the outbreak of the Second World War, he and the minister for economic warfare, Hugh Dalton, had created the SOE to arm partisans behind German lines and to parachute in British spies and saboteurs. Also called Churchill’s Secret Army, it caused immeasurable harm to the Nazis.

…Another sip of wine. “There’s thinking in some circles, that we need to play by a different set of rules…. Especially after Nine-eleven and Seven-seven.”

Bond said, “So, if I understand correctly, you’re talking about starting a new version of the SOE but one that isn’t technically part of Six, Five or the MoD.”

The Admiral held Bond’s eye. “I read those reports of your performance in Afghanistan—Royal Naval Reserve…. I understand you also managed some missions behind the lines that weren’t quite so official. Thanks to you, some fellows who could have caused quite a lot of mischief never got the chance.”

Bond was about to sip from his glass of Puligny…. He set the glass down without doing so. How the devil had the old man learned about those?

…The Admiral put down his knife and fork on the bone china. “Your question.”

“My…?”

“About a new version of the Special Operations Executive. The answer is yes. In fact, it already exists. Would you be interested in joining?”

“I would,” Bond said without hesitation. “Though I should like to ask: What exactly does it do?”

The Admiral thought for a moment, as if polishing burrs off his reply. “Our mission,” he said, “is simple. We protect the Realm…by any means necessary.”

Now three years into “protecting the Realm,” he’s persona non grata in Serbia. So he needs an ally in the ODG office to play detective inspector and sort out those slips of paper that he believes are crucial to the attack that will cause massive casualties. The ally goes by the name of Ophelia Maidenstone; she’s an intelligence analyst with MI6, has unlimited access to top secret material, and she’s drop dead gorgeous (this is a Bond novel, after all).

Meanwhile, Bond is running true to form and tracking, through all the nefarious means at his disposal, the man he believes to be the architect of these attacks. “Combating evil sometimes requires a suspension of accepted values.”

The architect is Severan Hydt. He’s a self-made business magnate who has amassed his considerable fortune through recycling and trash disposal on a global scale. The Times dubbed him “the world’s richest rag-and-bone man.” “Philly” Maidenstone discovers that the attack will be occurring in just a few days. It’s dubbed Gehenna, or hell—in the Bible a place where sinners and unbelievers would be punished. If Hydt’s game is retribution, for what? Maybe the answer is in the one other obsession of Hydt’s that comes to light: He gets off not only on the discard and trash we leave behind but on human remains. He’s traveled the world from Auschwitz to Zaire, inspecting the dead and the desiccated populating mass graves. Could be that he kills just to get a new set of dead bodies. Was that the man’s twisted goal? As one of Bond’s operatives puts it: “Man’s got a whole new idea about porn….”

With the clock ticking, 007 trails Hydt to his company’s headquarters in Cape Town, South Africa. Undercover and posing as a ruthless mercenary sympathetic to Hydt’s enterprise, he engineers a brilliant and chilling strategy that might just avert the looming cataclysm. Of course, any missteps could be his last.

Jeffrey Deaver’s Carte Blanche takes James Bond as Fleming created him and reinvents him in a thoroughly modern way. His innovative take on Bond catapults the character into a whole new universe of suspense. With deft little touches, he gives the usual suspects from the Fleming novels a fresh incarnation. The very talented Deaver rightfully wears the mantle Master of the Mind Game, and I, for one, hope he carries on 007’s legacy forever.

____
Irma Heldman is a veteran publishing executive and book reviewer with a penchant for mysteries. One of her favorite gigs was her magazine column “On the Docket” under the pseudonym O. L. Bailey.

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