Relicensed To Kill
Jeffrey Deaver tries to modernize James Bond.
There is a ritual towards the end of most James Bond adventures when the villain gloats over 007's impending death. "Well, Mr Bond," says his canasta-playing foe Auric Goldfinger in the novel Goldfinger, after having drugged Bond, trussed him up and whisked him away on a hijacked aircraft bound for the Soviet bloc. "So Fate wished us to play the game out. But this time, Mr Bond, there cannot possibly be a card up your sleeve. Ha!"
Goldfinger, of course, is wrong. Bond always has a card up his sleeve. He never dies. His creator, Ian Fleming, tired of what he called "Bonds and blondes and bombs", tried to kill him off in the fifth Bond novel, From Russia With Love, published in 1957, which concludes with Smersh agent Rosa Klebb kicking Bond in the right calf with her deadly poisoned-stiletto boot. "Bond pivoted slowly on his heel and crashed headlong to the wine-red floor" are the final words.
It was to prove a brief exit, however. Spurred by Hollywood interest in adapting 007 for the screen, Fleming revived him in Doctor No the following year. In 1962 the novel was adapted into the first Bond movie starring Sean Connery. The spy was transformed into an international film action hero, a cold war fantasy of suavely lethal British power who gripped popular imagination at precisely the moment Britain lost the last significant remnants of its empire. Similarly, Bond's new lease of life in cinemas in the 1960s came at a time when Fleming was nearing the end of his.
Fleming died of a heart attack in 1964, aged 56. Almost 50 years later Bond is still going strong, not just in multiplexes—the 23rd Bond film, as yet unnamed, is being made with Daniel Craig reprising the role of 007, directed by Sam Mendes—but also as a literary character. There have been 23 official Bond novels written since Fleming's death, produced by five different authors. The latest is Carte Blanche, by the American suspense writer Jeffery Deaver. It comes after Sebastian Faulks's Devil May Care, whose publication in 2008 coincided with the centenary of Fleming's birth.
Faulks's addition to the Bond oeuvre is set in the 1960s and follows in the footsteps of You Only Live Twice, the last novel Fleming published before his death. Written by an author known for literary rather than genre fiction, it was an impeccably observed and often very funny pastiche of Fleming's style, from a gourmandising interest in fine food and wine to the bizarrely grotesque baddie that Bond is sent to hunt down. "'His left hand,' said M, sitting down again, and staring Bond squarely in the eye. 'It's a monkey's paw.' 'What?' 'An extremely rare congenital deformity.'" Even the six weeks Faulks took to dash off Devil May Care had the authentic tang of Fleming, who each year would repair for two months to his Jamaican villa to compose a new book.
Rather than write a period piece like Faulks, Deaver has updated Bond to a present day of satellite surveillance and the war on terror. 007's favourite gadget is a mobile phone that "resembled an iPhone" and comes packed with snazzy Q-designed apps for spycraft. He is described as roughly 30 years old, which gives him a birth date of around 1980. It is disconcerting to realise that, according to Carte Blanche's chronology, this new Bond must have been a contemporary of Prince William's at Eton.
Deaver's novel signals a new phase in Bond's post-Fleming life. Commissioned by Fleming's estate—the UK-based Ian Fleming Publications—the Illinois-born 61-year-old is a successful thriller writer with a mass market readership of his own. He specialises in serial killer mysteries, often featuring detective Lincoln Rhyme, a brilliant New York City Police Department (NYPD) criminologist who was left quadriplegic after an accident but still solves crimes through his genius for forensics. The first Rhyme book, The Bone Collector, was turned into a 1999 film starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
Bond is not the only literary character to enjoy an active life after his creator's death. 007's mini-me Jason Bourne has thrived since Robert Ludlum died in 2001, appearing in a series of novels written by veteran thriller writer Eric Van Lustbader. (The latest, The Bourne Dominion, has been provocatively published at the same time as Carte Blanche.) Later this year Sherlock Holmes, who has appeared in countless tributes and adaptations since Arthur Conan Doyle's death in 1930, is due to make his first authorised modern appearance in a new novel, The House of Silk, written by the British children's novelist Anthony Horowitz.
Ludovic Hunter-Tilney is the FT's pop critic.
Photograph of Sean Connery as James Bond by AFP/Getty Images.