Having grown up enjoying James Bond’s adventures as a not-so-guilty pleasure from childhood onward, I quickly snatch up any new Bond novel that is released. I can trace the small handful of authors that have penned 007’s adventures from Fleming forward, and, for the most part, all of these authors have gone to great lengths to stay true to Fleming’s character. This is the second novel in four years to follow Bond’s adventures, the previous by Sebastian Faulks placing Bond in the height of the Cold War with a great depth of character development. That novel was a thoroughly enjoyable and Fleming-like adventure. In fact, Faulkes presented Bond as close to Fleming’s creation as Daniel Craig portrays Bond on the screen…that is to say, very much like Fleming’s Bond.
This is Deaver’s first entry into the pantheon of Bond authors, and the jacket made the book sound exciting and promising, placing Bond in a modern day, post 9-11 world in a rush to stop a terrorist event. The title is acquired from the fact that Bond is, as one of the best-of-the best “00” section agents, given “carte blanche” to complete his mission in any way possible. Deaver explores the political consequences that come with this freedom through the book in realistic and enjoyable detail.
Deaver, in fact, presents a nicely woven adventure, opening in the midst of a massive scale attack on a locomotive that Bond thwarts, and never slowing down through the weighty 400 + pages as Bond attempts to unravel a mysterious event labeled “Incident 20,” which is detected in whispers by British intelligence services, and promises mass casualties when accomplished. Deaver incorporates modern technology into Bond’s world quite well, and those of us who enjoyed Bond’s mid-career movies with all of his gadgetry will be quite enamored by Deaver’s imaginative descriptions, as well as all of the occasions that Bond’s mobile phone has an app for that. Deaver writes action sequences that are full but never over-stated, and does an excellent job of avoiding gratuitous gore or bloodshed in doing so, while never shying away from Bond’s using his well-known “license to kill” (although he never uses that phrase in this novel).
And, I’m sure that Deaver is an excellent thriller writer, with several novels already to his credit. I’m thinking, though, that perhaps he shouldn’t have tried Bond. Or, at least, he should have taken greater care to stay closer to the character.
Firstly, Deaver takes liberties with the setting of Bond’s adventures, placing him with an office known as the ODG, not MI6, where Bond has always been in his previous incarnations. However, since Deaver brought over the other major and necessary characters with Bond (i.e.: M, Bill Tanner, and Moneypenny), I was able to roll with the punches on this. Deaver also makes a quite interpretive dive into Bond’s family history, which, while proving to be an interesting subplot for the story, hung me up at times as being perhaps too great a liberty taken with the character.
Secondly, and most importantly, Deaver overuses a device to frustration in his storytelling. We’re led to a catastrophic event on several occasions in the book, breathlessly realizing that Bond has failed in his task to enormous consequences and loss of life, only to discover in the following chapter that he had actually swooped in and taken everyone to safety moments before the explosion. This was interesting the first time, odd the second, and actually made me want to stop reading after numerous other usages (and I’ve read at least one other review indicating the same frustration). This was complicated by the fact that Bond’s last minute victories were accomplished through forethought that is just simply untenable, as we’re taken back through previous chapters and told that his actions were actually to secret away a device that he would need later, or to obtain information from another character through that conversation that we thought meant something else. This is just unworkable in the reader’s mind, despite the fact that we’re dealing with a larger-than-life character.
And, along the lines of Bond being a larger-than-life character, thirdly: Bond is presented here as a “knight in shining armor” sort of character. This is accurate to a point, as he is driven to prevent an attack and save the lives of thousands of people. However, Fleming’s original cold and calculating Bond who follows orders, manipulates others without hesitation, and doesn’t spare lethal force, is missing here. Deaver tries to present Bond this way at times through various descriptions, but the descriptions are found to be at odds with Bond’s actions and moments of conscience.
Ultimately, Deaver presents a good story idea that is marred by poor execution of plot twists and very unsuccessful attempts to place a modern re-interpretation on a classic character. I’m not opposed to re-interpretations, but they need to be good ones. The book is well structured and well-paced, and the concept of the story is gripping. The book would make an average-quality Hollywood movie that most casual Bond viewers would likely enjoy.
Unfortunately, casual Bond viewers aren’t typically the ones (I don’t think) who read these books. The long-time fans are, and we tend to be purists. As such, we will find ourselves disappointed in Deaver’s offering, which is, in the end, only a mediocre delivery.
If you’re a general thriller, suspense, or espionage fan, this may be a good book for you. If you can remember and name all of Bond’s major arch-nemeses throughout his career, as well as your favorite weapons, then it may be a waste of your time.