Carte Blanche

  • Jeffery Deaver
  • Simon & Schuster
  • 432 pp.

A James Bond reinvented for the modern world of espionage remains faithful to the classic character.

Reviewed by Austin S. Camacho

Jeffrey Deaver accepted one of the greatest literary challenges of the new millennium when he agreed to write a new James Bond novel. The thriller has evolved in the last 60 years, but James Bond is an icon few have the courage to meddle with. With Carte Blanche, Jeffrey Deaver somehow manages to spin a top-notch 21st-century spy thriller while both respecting Bond and reinventing him.

In this book, Bond learns of a terrorist attack scheduled to take place inside of a week that will kill thousands. All his secret organization knows for sure is that British interests will be affected. This propels Bond into a beautiful Fleming-like opening sequence in which Bond is on the scene in time to deal with a Serbian train derailment and avert a major chemical spill. Much of the book takes place in the United Kingdom, where Bond has no jurisdiction, but when the action moves to more exotic locales like the United Arab Emirates, things get hot quickly. The race is on to discover the evil plans of master villain Severan Hydt, and Bond has to battle both foreign and domestic intelligence bureaucracy to do his job.

The good news is that Deaver’s 007 is the best of all possible Bonds. He has dragged the classic character into the modern day (in his 30s, a veteran of Afghanistan, not World War II) and dropped him into today’s more complex espionage world. Deaver provides a glossary of secret organizations, which I had to refer to more than once, as Bond tries to deal with just about every investigative and intelligence team (foreign and domestic) in the hunt for the villain. This may not be the man you expect in every sense — Bond doesn’t smoke, and he works for a secret group you’ve never heard of — but his personality is intact. He’s not as hardened and cold as the Bond in You Only Live Twice, more the serious professional in earlier books like Dr. No.

Deaver has preserved all the important pieces of that complex literary puzzle:

Exotic locations? Well, yeah, Dubai is exotic to me.

Drinking? Bond drinks the precision martinis, but he also invents a new drink that (trust me) is quite tasty.

Detail? I now know more about London streets, Bond’s dietary habits, various weapons and even locomotives than I ever dreamed of.

Driving sequences? Bond’s new Bentley gets lots of exercise, and one of the best driving scenes doesn’t even have Bond at the wheel.

Bond girls? Mary Goodnight returns as Bond’s luscious administrative assistant, and Ophelia Maidenstone fully qualifies to stand beside Honey Rider and Pussy Galore.

Gadgets? Bringing Bond fully into the 21st-century, Q gives 007 the ultimate iPhone (actually the iQphone), with apps that do everything but mix his drinks.

Bond villain? Severan Hydt is as creepy as any bad guy Fleming ever dreamed up. He’s wealthy, repulsive, deranged and obsessed with decay.

In addition to being real Bond, this book is pure Deaver. In my opinion, Jeffrey Deaver is the uncontested master of suspense, and the tension in this book never lets up. There are plenty of ticking clocks and how-can-he-get-out-of this? scenes to keep the reader on the edge of his beach chair. Some of the fight scenes really do echo Fleming’s detached style, but Deaver’s action sequences top the original master. The plot is thick but not too twisty, and there’s even a Flemingesque theme: How far should Britain’s defender go to protect the realm? Above all the action, suspense and just plain fun is the bigger question: What does it really mean to hold the 00 designation and truly have carte blanche? In the end, the answer will satisfy Deaver fans, and Bond fans will not be disappointed. It is hard to imagine any book hitting the stand this year that tops this one.

Austin S. Camacho is the author of five detective novels in the Hannibal Jones series and two thrillers in the Stark & O’Brien series, with the third to be released in October 2011.

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