Jeffery Deaver tells Stephen Jewell why the new Bond carries an iPhone.
Awkwardly credited to Sebastian Faulks "writing as Ian Fleming", the James Bond continuation, Devil May Care, published in 2008, was an exercise in nostalgia set firmly in the 1960s milieu of the original novels.
Boldly declaring that he wanted to write "a typical Jeffery Deaver novel", American crime writer Deaver has taken the opposite approach with the recently published Carte Blanche. Opening in Serbia before taking in London, Dubai and South Africa, he thrusts 007 headlong into the 21st century, reinventing him as an Afghanistan war veteran who is recruited by covert agency the Overseas Development Group.
"It's the job of the writer in commercial fiction at least to do whatever they have to do to make sure people race through the book from the first page to the last," says Deaver.
"Part of doing that is to make the story immediate, so I had to make sure it was emotionally engaging on every level. If I had set it in the Cold War era, it would have involved too many elements of explanation. I'd have had to write rather self-consciously about dress and Bond couldn't have a mobile phone. So I made him a young agent, rebooted him, so to speak and set the book in the present day."
The author of more than 30 books including The Bone Collector and The Sleeping Doll, the North Carolina-based author has only once previously delved into the past in his book Garden Of Beasts. Set against the sinister backdrop of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, it drew him to the attention of the Ian Fleming Estate after it won the Ian Fleming Silver Dagger best adventure/thriller award.
"In my speech, I said that I considered James Bond to be one of my personal heroes," he recalls. "Back in the days before Harry Potter, kids still had their heroes and James Bond, Miss Moneypenny and Felix Leiter were mine. But, more importantly, Ian Fleming was a literary influence on me, who inspired me to write from a very early age."
Born in the Illinois town of Glen Ellyn, the 61-year-old cannot remember which Bond title he discovered first.
"My father commuted to and from Chicago and he would always buy a popular book, read it and bring it home for me," he recalls. "They were sitting around the house and I just ate them up. I went right through them."
Like Faulks and Young Bond author Charlie Higson, Deaver paid no heed to Bond's numerous cinematic incarnations. "I returned exclusively to the original material. I wanted to recreate the excitement I felt at that young age when I was exposed to Bond for the first time. There's definitely a stylistic difference between the films and the books. We think of Bond and his gadgets but in the books there were relatively few gadgets. They were much more human-oriented."
Instead of an eccentric lone boffin, Carte Blanche's Q Branch is headed up by cricket-loving Southeast Asian Sanu Hirani, who creates special apps for Bond's iPhone. "While researching the book, I was struck by how science and technology have always played a big role in espionage," says Deaver. "In the original Bond books, secret messages were conveyed through microdots and there were scramblers that were like very rudimentary encryption machines. The intelligence community has always been on the cutting edge of technology. I wanted my Bond to be very clever and people would think less of him if he didn't avail himself of the latest technology like other spies would."
With its references to Bond's extra-curricular operations during the Afghan campaign, the book's plot inadvertently appears to have been torn directly from the headlines after the recent assassination of Osama bin Laden.
"I'd finished the book long before that happened but it has raised some questions in America about whether it is right to take a life or engage in illegal activities for the greater good," says Deaver, who named the novel after Bond's infamous licence to kill.
"If one has carte blanche, what is the personal responsibility of that agent to say 'no, I'm not going to do that'? Because in doing so, in some circumstances we then become the enemy, so does that mean they've won? Bond has some moral import to him and he wrestles with that. It's a theme that runs throughout the story."
With its global conspiracy involving waste disposal, Carte Blanche ironically reflects concerns with green issues.
"I had a little fun with that," laughs Deaver. "I'm tired of the caricature of the arch-enemy bent on world domination sitting in a pristine control room somewhere, directing his minions. So I created a villain who lectures Bond about the travesty of the environment and how the largest rubbish tip in the world is the north Pacific Ocean. He's at least doing something good although he's also one of the most morally twisted characters I've ever come up with. Some interviewers have asked me what I've got against environmentalism and if I recycle, but my personal views are entirely separate to what appears in the book."
In the morbidly inclined Severan Hydt, Deaver has created one of Bond's most disturbing nemeses. "I've never found a character so obsessed with death and decay. My characters tend to go up against people very much like Hydt, who are darker psychologically and bent on destruction but have some redeeming features about them. The villain I've created is both a nod to Ian Fleming's wonderful villains and also to my readers."
Unlike Faulks, Deaver has no qualms about eventually returning to Bond, although he has a couple of his own novels to complete first. "There are issues that I've intentionally left open."
Jeffery Deaver will speak at Takapuna Paper Plus tomorrow, July 21, at 5.30pm. Tickets $10. Ph. (09) 486 7472