Spies to battle it out at the local bookstore

By Adam Sherwin

Do you expect me to talk? No, Mr Bond, I expect you to revitalise the book trade by winning a deadly publishing battle with your greatest espionage rival.

James Bond and Jason Bourne are going head-to-head with the release of new novels that extend the narratives of the famous spies, who have outlived their literary creators.

Carte Blanche is the 25th Bond book published since the death of Ian Fleming in 1964. American thriller writer Jeffrey Deaver is reinventing Bond as an Afghanistan veteran, thrust into a post-9/11 world where "the other side doesn't play by the rules anymore".

Carte Blanche hits stores alongside The Bourne Dominion, the latest instalment in the adventures of the amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne. It is the sixth novel written by Eric Van Lustbader, since the death of Robert Ludlum, the Bourne creator, in 2001.

Continuations of best-selling series, authorised by the estates of the original authors, are giving publishers a much-needed boost at a time when main street chains are struggling to meet the challenge from online retailers.

Hodder & Stoughton, British publisher of Carte Blanche, took delivery of the first copies of the book at St Pancras International yesterday from a team of abseiling Royal Marines Commandos.

Millions of copies will be dispatched to 20 countries. An initial British print run of 230,000 copies has been ordered for the book, which is predicted to beat the sales of Devil May Care, the previous Bond book by Sebastian Faulks, which became Penguin's fastest-selling hardback novel in 2008.

Lustbader's Bourne novels, which pick up where Ludlum's trilogy left off, have sent sales of the series to an estimated 80 million copies. The publisher, Orion, is hoping that shoppers driven to bookstores by Bond will also leave with a new Bourne.

"If the publishers get it right, they can create a franchise which operates in tandem with the new films and renews itself every two years," said Neill Denny, editor-in-chief of The Bookseller.

However, Denny warned that the spy genre may never match its Cold War heights.

"How do you reinvent the spy story in a world where drone pilots fight wars from the Nevada desert? It's not as romantic as Bond saving the world from a global holocaust."

But who will win the battle between Bond and Bourne?

"I don't see it as a competition," said Deaver. "I hope folks can still afford two books, or go to the library and read them."

Denny believes Carte Blanche will have a head start with fans of the Fleming originals.

"Deaver may be a better Bond choice than Faulks," he said. "He fits the plot-driven ethos of the Bond books whereas Faulks's approach is more literary."

- Independent

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