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I have to admit that I had never heard of Jeffrey Deaver till this novel was talked about on the various internet forums and sites, he is a well established author whose previous work has included The Bone Collector; the novel was the basis for the film starring Denzel Washington as Lincoln Rhyme. Rhyme was the main character in nine novels by Deaver. As soon as I knew his previous work I was happy that an author of such esteemed calibre had been chosen to bring James Bond to the modern age. In fact given the requirements that the Ian Fleming Foundation wanted for the next novel, the writer has well and truly been pushed in the deep end. You see what was required was to draw a line with the previous incarnation of Bond that was created by Fleming and start fresh. Although there have been other series created by John Gardner, Kingsley Amis and Raymond Benson, these too were not being referenced and Deaver was given free will to create a new Bond, a younger and more modern Bond which discarded the need to set the story in a period piece of the late sixties like the previous novel by Sebastian Faulkes achieved so well.
The plot of the novel is easily an origin story, yet this is dealt with and moved on quite quickly, its also a case that the recruitment of Bond is merged with other happenings in the story as well, however the central focus is to establish what lies behind the company called Green Way International, who are responsible for the demolition of the March Army Base. The company is led by a sinister and extremely dark character called Severan Hydt, Dutch in nationality and a person who literally has built an empire from waste. Bonds investigation begins in the UK, and then takes him global with locations such as Eastern Europe, Dubai and South Africa to move and evolve the story and these places tat have not been used before as well which makes the appeal and the reading very fresh.
Straight away this Bond is different, born in 1979 and a veteran of the Afghanistan war, as well as being younger the background of Bond has been completely wiped and refreshed, for example he has stopped smoking which was a Fleming trait. Bond is a Naval Reserve Officer who has been recruited into a covert operation called the Overseas Development Group. He still has his famous double-o number, but is different to the Bond that has been written about before. This is a totally different approach to Bond as a character and the organisation that he works for, as this organisation works on a pro-active measure to eliminate threats to the country rather than investigate after the event has happened. What is effectively considered to be the pre-title sequence in a Bond movie has Bond preventing an ecological disaster in the Danube, and it's from here that the investigation begins with Bond driving a Bentley which is the preferred model of Flemings Bond, however this one is the new model and described in such detail that even Top Gear would be slobbering at the mouth to get a look in on the vehicle.
That's not to say that the Bond universe has reverted back to what we had before, however the basics are and there have been a few tweaks, but it is presented in a fresh style that captures the readers interest immediately from the first chapter. For example M is male again and has the names of Miles Messervy, the original Fleming name of the head of the ODG that Bond reports to, as he is the one that gives his agents carte blanche to get the job done. Also Moneypenny is also present, although she is older than Bond, which was a surprise for me to learn and as you can imagine this gives Moneypenny the upper hand in any of the conversations between herself and Bond, a total role reversal. Interestingly there is no Q at all as the character of Major Boothroyd hasn't been used as I expected, in this case he has been replaced with a new character - Sanu Hirani. An Asian man whose job it is to modify and develop equipment for field agents, one being the modification of a smart phone app to listen to other peoples conversations. Also making a welcome return is Mary Goodnight whose hasn't been utilised in any Bond novel since Fleming's The Man with the Golden Gun, here she is just 21 years old and really is just a secretary. The novel reflects reality with the characters and even though Hydt is described in some detail describing he preferences regarding death and the fact that he is head of a self built empire, its never actually clear if he is the villain of the piece or not, and I'm not going any further with that specific line as I do not wish to give out spoilers at all. There are a few sub-plots that get absorbed into the novel as the story moves, one being Bond attempting to find out about his Father, this is an interesting and totally original piece of Bond as his Father has never been mentioned at all as much as he does here in the new novel as it is established that his Father was a British spy in the Cols War. This is quite a piece of genius, with shocking conclusion for the younger Bond, as this is something that I believe will be a common story arc throughout the rest of the Deaver novels should he write more... and I sincerely hope he does.
The Bond girls seems a term that is atypically out of place with the book, and here it doesn't even mean a thing, by that I mean that the characters are written in such a positive manner with each being strong within themselves that the label doesn't apply to them at all. Here there are two main female characters - Bhelka Jordaan and Felicity Willing. Jordaan is an ally of Bond when he is in South Africa and is a Police Officer, whilst the other is a spokesperson for a charity that Bond encounters. Both are well defined and fleshed out, as with past attempts of females in a story of this nature I was expecting the characters to play second fiddle, however they don't, and each have a part to play.
This is something that most authors would dream off, being given a blank canvas to create the Bond universe as you wanted, and what Deaver ahs done here is create a world that is shady as well as dark and quite moody. The book is an enjoyable read anyway and I know that Deaver would excel at the creation and execution of the way the novel has been structured and it does work well. His style of writing is not Fleming at all and I think that is a strong point as that means straight away that the style is going to be different and going to be fresh. Although these days homage is something that a writer can achieve easily with selecting a certain style, Deaver has put the espionage back into Bond and this reads on the same level as Len Deighton or John La Carre novel, such is the build up and suspense that Deaver has given. It is also a Bond with his feet on the ground, as you read the novel you naturally build up a picture of Bond and what is happening, some call this a mental storyboard, and to me I immediately thought of Harry Palmer. Don't know why that actually jumped in my head at all, but by the end the novel that is well and truly eliminated with the task that Deaver has well and truly achieved. This story is grounded and believable rather the lets take over the world of the films and yet the novel has respect for Fleming.
Overall this is an enjoyable thriller to read, the pace and the tension is set a high level and is only slowed when the story calls for it to be, the dialogue isn't clunky or comic book at all and the exchanges between characters flow naturally and can easily be considered natural. I went through the entire hardback copy in three days solid and about 8 hours to complete, I felt that this was needed as the momentum and freshness to retain the story was needed and so I blitzed it! It is good to see 007 at probably one of his most vulnerable parts of his new career, if you think that the films showed him as making the right decisions all the time then here shows that he has to judge the situation more carefully and how he proceeds, there is more to Bond's back story told in the book and the fact that we read this is nice considering this has to be told as a foundation and again suspect that this will be built upon as more novels are published. I have to say that I was impressed with the way the book has been designed, a simple smoke design on a pure white background with the words Carte Blanche written over it, very little other than 007 written to confirm it is a James Bond novel which is stylish and yet subtle in nature. A new refreshed incarnation or version of Bond has been created; this is modern and very stylish with a story that befits today's society. Bond has to fit in to do his job as the day that he doesn't means something has gone wrong.
After Devil May Care, this really was the only way that Bond could go as this is effectively a much needed reboot and to be honest the book has rejuvenated my interest in reading the previous works of Deaver as an author as well who has delivered the 37th Bond novel and one of the finest in a long while.