Jeffery Deaver's 007 is young and modern, writes Nicky Pellegrino.
As a writer, I'd be daunted at the prospect of adopting another author's icon character but it doesn't sound like Jeffery Deaver had a moment's doubt about his ability to take on James Bond and win.
"I know how to put a novel together," points out the US thriller writer, who recently released his best-selling 007 adventure, Carte Blanche (Hodder, $39.99).
But why would you even bother with Bond when you're a huge success and have fans in 150 countries? Wouldn't Deaver have been better off focusing instead on his own regular characters, Kathryn Dance and Lincoln Ryan?
"I was so influenced by Ian Fleming's original Bond books," the author explains over the phone from his base in North Carolina.
"I read my first one aged 8 and loved the knight errant aspect of him. It was exciting stuff for a young boy and later I used Fleming's approach to craft the characters in my own writing."
Fleming died 47 years ago, and since then there have been numerous continuation books penned by other authors. When the Fleming estate approached Deaver to write the latest one, he was quick to agree, although he says there were some important issues to be dealt with upfront.
"Had I been asked to do what Sebastian Faulks did [in Devil May Care] and write a Fleming set in the 1960s I wouldn't have taken on the project.
"I wanted to make it my kind of novel - a thriller set in the present and over a few days with twists and turns and interesting information, since I like to educate people as well as give them an adventure story."
Deaver was conscious that although his own fans expect a certain kind of book from him, Bond aficionados would be looking for a character they recognised. "So I had to walk a fine line," he says. The resulting novel, Carte Blanche, is thoroughly modern in its themes.
It presents 007 as a young agent, part of a new, top-secret special operations force called O Branch, and trying to foil a mysterious plan for a mass killing. Bond's mission takes him from Serbia to Cape Town and, rather than the Cold War villains of yesteryear, he is pitted against a creepy refuse and recycling kingpin.
"What a kick it was writing it," says Deaver. "I liked working with the character a lot.
"Bond is so versatile. He's edgy, dark and haunted, he does a job that can take him anywhere at a moment's notice.
"And while he's witty and out-thinks a lot of people, he's also flawed - drinking too much, driving too fast, having inappropriate relationships."
To prepare, Deaver reread the original Fleming novels, which he says are tame by today's standards. "The language is subdued, the romance happens off-screen and the violence is minimal," he explains. "That's the kind of spirit I wanted to get into. My aim was to recapture the excitement and joy I felt when I first read the books myself."
He avoided watching any of the movies again because their vision of Bond is so varied.
For that reason he is also sparing with physical descriptions of 007 in Carte Blanche. "So anyone who has Daniel Craig in mind as Bond or Sean Connery can see their classic image of him in my story," he says.
Fleming's estate had complete right of veto over every aspect of the book which may easily have presented difficulties.
"I don't play well with others and I don't like people looking over my shoulder," admits Deaver.
Fortunately, having approved his detailed outline and biography of Bond at the very beginning, the estate (which is made up mostly of nieces and nephews of the late author) had only minor changes to the finished manuscript.
So would Deaver be prepared to tackle Bond a second time? He says his own characters are demanding his attention right now, but doesn't discount the possibility.
"I enjoyed it more than I thought," he admits. "And I've left open several arcs of the story that I could return to."
* Readers are invited to meet Jeffery Deaver and hear him speak about Carte Blanche at 5.30pm on July 21 at Takapuna Paperplus, 20 Hurstmere Rd, Takapuna, Auckland. Tickets $10. RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org or call (09) 486 7472.