Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE
Author: Jeffery Deaver
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
In several ways, the cinematic and literary run of the James Bond most of us grew up with ended in 2002. Partly due to audience responses to the excesses of the film version of Die Another Day and the success of the Jason Bourne films, both EON Productions and Ian Fleming Publications realized the contrivance that 007 was frozen in time and ageless no longer held up. For nearly half a century, the World War II vet and Cold Warrior had remained a two-dimensional character with new actors on the screen and new writers for the continuation novels. But, after 2002, clearly new directions for both the films and books were needed.
In 2008, designed to coordinate with the Ian Fleming Centenary, the new James Bond novel was Sebastian Faults’ Devil May care, a flawed attempt to return Bond to the decade that made him an icon, an adventure set just after Fleming’s own final novel, Man With The Golden Gun. For its part, the film franchise had already launched its reboot of the saga with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale, a new incarnation of Bond having to earn his double O. On the large screen, at least, the frozen in time ice had finally been broken.
Now, the novels have followed suit with Jeffrey Deaver’s highly-praised Carte Blanche: A New James Bond Novel, and the title is a good summation of what readers will find. Not only is Carte Blanche a new 007 book, but this is a new James Bond, a young agent in his 30s in a very new milieu in which to operate. Yes, many of the old names populate the supporting cast—M, Bill Tanner, Miss Moneypenny, Felix Leiter, Rene Mathis—but these characters mostly have cameo appearances to remind us of the James Bond legacy. (By the way, this M is the Admiral Miles Mercerby of old, not the Judy Densch character of the Brosnan films and Raymond Benson books.) Yes, this Bond still likes the same Sea Island shirts and fine dining, not to mention guns, cars, and gadgets in a world where gadgets are everyone’s playthings. In fact, the head of Q branch is no longer Major Boothroyd but a new engineer named Sanu Hirani. Bond is not working for MI-6, but rather a disguised offshoot code-named the Overseas Development Group.
What else has changed? Carte Blanche refers to what Bond can and cannot do as political realities now limit his license to kill. In England, he has no power of autonomy at all as that’s the purview of MI-5, and 007 has to work with a disagreeable liaison from that organization to work inside the U.K. He feels a sense of freedom when he leaves the country for missions in Serbia, Dubai, and South Africa, but finds his hands tied by law enforcement chiefs who won’t move without warrants and stick to the rule of law.
What’s missing from the mix? Nothing, except the fantasy elements that came to characterize the films. The sex is limited as well, at least by some standards. But the central villain is as dangerous as any Goldfinger or Blofeld with as twisted a motive as any Bond baddie should have. This 007 is conspicuous for his intelligence, analytical skills, and depth of human understanding. The locations are more than set-pieces for action sequences—each are integral to the storyline from the slums in Africa to the Whitehall offices in London. On top of all this, James Bond finds a personal mystery of his own to solve regarding his very origins.
Without question, Carte Blanche is the finest James Bond novel published since the death of Ian Fleming. The question now is: will Ian Fleming Publications give Jeffrey Deaver a license to continue or will another writer pick up the mantle for this new, improved James Bond?