An encrypted text message sends James Bond to Serbia where he diverts what he thinks is a plot to derail a train containing toxic chemicals. He soon learns this is just the tip of the iceberg and follows clues that lead him to a recycling company’s owner with an obsession with death, decay and privacy. Flying all over the world, Bond races against time to save thousands of lives…from what, he himself doesn’t know.
Deaver does a good job of continuing the traditional aspects of the Bond story - fast cars, gorgeous women with odd names, fiendishly clever villains and lots of gadgets (or rather apps - in keeping with modern tradition, Bond has an app for that, no matter how improbable). Also in tradition, Deaver’s globe-trotting Bond makes fantastic leaps of intuition that often have no basis in fact, and still manage to hit the nail on the head each and every time.
What’s commendable is not Deaver’s continuation of the more traditional aspects of Bond, but rather sneaking in some lost bits of Bond’s history – his parents (there’s a mystery there as well, not solved, but enough to keep interest alive for the next book), his upbringing, the path taken to become a 00 agent, why he can never have a normal relationship with a woman and the reason why Bond’s always gallivanting around the world and yet not seen much in action in his own country.
The story's good enough – multiple mysteries with lots of red herrings strewn in, exotic foreign locales (Serbia, Dubai, South Africa) and a doomsday deadline guarantee the reader will keep turning the pages. A prose laden down with acronyms, pages devoted to minutiae of intelligence gathering and analysis, plus inter-department rivalry etc, give a feeling of authenticity but also make for dull reading. What’s not dull is the authentic English feel readers get to experience as Deaver takes the readers soaring through the roads of England along with Bond in one of his fast cars.
As for the characters themselves - well, Bond is at once similar and new. The one striking difference is that this modern-day Bond is more in touch with his own feelings and more so, with that of his female companions – a welcome empathy and still it takes away much of Bond’s roguish charms. Keeping up with this trend, the women in this story are many and varied; all beautiful (of course!) but also intelligent and complex. Severan Hydt certainly makes for a memorable Bond villain – he’s not only physically creepy-looking, also harbors an unhealthy obsession with death and decay that will cause shudders to run down readers’ spines. Yet, he’s a disappointment as he never comes across as either very smart or fiendish. However his henchman, Niall Dunne, is like Bond’s villainous counterpart, for he’s ready with a counter move even before Bond’s made a move. Unfortunately, he’s always in the background, pushing Hydt in this direction or that.
Overall, remove the Bond name and Jeffrey Deaver’s Carte Blanche is one entertaining thriller. But add the name and the high expectations it comes with, and the result is a reasonably good, but certainly not great Bond book.
Note - This book was received for review/feature consideration.
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