With Carte Blanche, Jeffery Deaver tells a Bond tale
He had chosen the elegant restaurant carefully, remembering other evenings in Rome all those years ago. Nestling at the foot of Mont Blanc near the ski resort of Courmayeur, the Michelin-starred restaurant served legendary truffles, and this was the start of the season. The chef's signature dish was chicken simmered slowly with shavings of truffle tucked under the skin.
The man was clearly a connoisseur, but something was bothering him as he twisted his distinctive titanium ring absent-mindedly. Looking across the table at his beautiful guest, he was wondering if it was indeed a chance meeting at the film festival or if the name of the famed dish - "chicken in mourning" - was portentous. He looked up at the waiter.
"The name is Deaver, Jeffery Deaver."
And there the similarities with the best-selling author's latest character, James Bond, end. I hope he will forgive the irresistible urge to launch into fiction.
Deaver does indeed love fine dining and beautiful women and he drives a fast car - a Porsche 911. He even wears an unusual titanium ring that he bought himself. The above is based loosely on his description of a very expensive and enjoyable evening with an old friend that he bumped into while on a book tour in Italy. The rest is my imagination. Hopefully, you get the feeling that something bad is about to happen. That, says Deaver, is Ian Fleming's secret. While readers of detective stories are always wondering what just happened, Fleming fans are used to his habit of building up suspense in every paragraph so that you always wonder what's next.
Deaver, who has written more than 28 thrillers, including The Bone Collector and Garden of Beasts, which won the UK-based CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award for best thriller in 2004, was in Dubai this week to unveil Project X, the novel commissioned by Ian Fleming Publications, that we now know is called Carte Blanche.
Fleming himself wrote only 14 novels, but since he died in 1964 the family-owned company has invited a succession of high-profile writers, including Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, Raymond Benson and Sebastian Faulks to add to the legend. Deaver decided to set part of the book in Dubai after attending the Emirates Airline Literary Festival there last year. He firmly believes that had Fleming lived he would have done the same.
"Ian Fleming loved his exotic locales and situated Bond around the world. I love doing the same. I travel a great deal. Last year I was in the air roughly 80,000 miles on a book tour, and I have been in many, many places. There are not as many exotic locations as there used to be in the 1950s. I call it the great interneting of the world or the homogenising of the world.
"When I thought about setting a scene in the new book I instantly considered Dubai. And the reason for this was that not only is it an incredibly fun, wonderful and exhilarating place to visit, but it retains at its heart an exotic core that permeates every aspect of life here - business, culture and day-to-day life."
Bond spends a number of thrilling hours in Dubai meeting up with an old friend and tracking a very disturbing villain.
Deaver says he was drawn particularly to the juxtaposition of the ancient culture and modern skylines and liked the areas around Port Saeed and Deira because they have "soul".
In appearance, Deaver is scholarly rather than physically robust like his hero. Sitting in a quiet corner of the Intercontinental Hotel in Festival City, which also makes an appearance in Carte Blanche, he speaks in precise tones with clear enunciation, using complete sentences with the occasional dramatic pause for emphasis, in the manner of a good university professor trying to make a point to a class of teenaged students.
The storyline itself is still under wraps and will not be revealed until publication day on May 26, but we already know that it is set in the present day and Bond has served with the army in Afghanistan and has already earned his double O status as a Secret Service operative.
Deaver will speak only in general terms about the challenges he faced in writing a novel around such a well-established character. He draws the distinction between the books and the films, however, and says firmly that like Fleming, he had a distinct type in mind for Bond and it wasn't any of the stars, including Sean Connery and Daniel Craig, who have played 007 on screen.
It was the American bandleader, composer and singer Hoagy Carmichael, whose lean, rugged features and serious demeanour appealed to Fleming.
"My theory is that books and movies are two entirely different things. A director who is going to adapt a film can only take the bare bones of the story. They coexist quite well, but they really are apples and oranges.
"Fleming wrote about the cities that James Bond would travel to with brilliant imagery. We could smell the streets; we could taste the food. We could feel the exotic nature of those cities. He wrote with a journalist's wit of wry delivery and conversational style. He created characters who were fully realised, multidimensional. He gave us the essential hero of our time, a man who was courageous, brilliant, clever, and he was also a hero who would do anything he needed for his cause.
"And then he also gave us the girls. But, interestingly, we hear the phrase Bond girls, and I suspect that maybe that's an aspect more of the films than of the novels because the women Ian Fleming introduced us to were resourceful, clever, professional and on more than one occasion rather dangerous."
Deaver, who is divorced with no children, says he was "absolutely chuffed" to have been asked to write a Bond novel and says he takes a very practical approach to all his writing.
He gives a fascinating insight into his life as a writer and says he works for about 12 to 14 hours a day in his book-lined study where one complete wall is a cork board on which he charts every scene in his novels. He uses two computers, one permanently switched to the internet for research purposes and the other for writing.
"I outline my books over a period of about eight months. It's done in the chronology of the book taking place only over a few days but it has every scene in it. It's the action of the book. I rarely start at the beginning. If I start with anything, it's the general concept of the twist at the end and then I may jump to the beginning scene and then the middle. I can write the book in any order because the outline is finished by then, but when I'm doing the outline I jump all over the place and throw a lot of stuff out that doesn't work. Mood has nothing to do with it. It's like an airline pilot. He can't say 'I'm not in the mood to fly today, sorry.' If you want your pay cheque you have to fly.
"I have never looked at myself as an artist, I'm a craftsman. I think that the people who refer to themselves as artists have rather 'more show than go'. Rolling up your sleeves in a workmanlike manner is to me perhaps the more professional approach."
He says he was given a free hand - or carte blanche - to write the book, and although there were challenges, they were no more insurmountable than, say, writing his Kathryn Dance detective thrillers from a woman's perspective. What was more important was trying to please both his own fans and Bond fans worldwide.
"My theory about writing is that I write for the reader. I don't write for myself. It's very important that somebody comes away after reading one of my books feeling that they've got their money's worth. I wasn't really intimidated it just added a different challenge."
The reason for the title Carte Blanche will become clear when the book is released, he says, and it may be that the 2011 Bond will have more of a moral compass.
"I like my titles to work on multiple levels. An operative like James Bond has to have a certain carte blanche to operate, but the question then becomes one of judgement - do you cross lines that perhaps should not be crossed? I explore those issues in the book, and I like doing that. Part of the non-stop suspense in the novel is the looming question of what is acceptable in matters of national and international security."
There was always the assumption by the Fleming estate that Deaver's fast-paced literary style would complement the James Bond persona. He was given some "helpful guidelines" but was left very much to his own devices. "It was always that I would write my type of book - a very fast-paced thriller that takes place over a short period with lots of twists and turns and big surprise endings, which I have done. But the hero who would be in that book would be the James Bond that everyone knows from the prior books, not the movies."
He admits wryly that his extensive travel combined with a 14-hour writing day leaves little time for a private life, although he loves to entertain his friends at his homes in North Carolina and outside Washington, DC.
Deaver's fascination with the Bond novels dates back to childhood when he devoured, at the age of eight or nine, the early books set in Jamaica. He thinks Dr No might have been the first one he read. He has read all the books several times and then reread them all after he signed the agreement to write the new one.
"My parents had a curious rule when I was growing up. I wasn't allowed to see certain movies, but I could read anything I could put my hands on. This was a bit ironic growing up in the mid-west in the 1950s when the movies were nothing like the movies you see nowadays, tame to put it mildly, but their philosophy was very good because it instilled in me a love of reading from a very young age. And curiously, because I found the books around the house, I became enamoured of British writers, the books of authors like CS Lewis, Tolkein, Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle.
"At eight or nine I stumbled across Ian Fleming, who changed my life - certainly as a reader because his books set the standard for crime and espionage fiction. His books taught me how to write thriller fiction. On every page and in every scene this is the definition of suspense and this is what I feel suspense should do whether it's a golf game or a round of bridge at a gentlemen's club in Pall Mall or a car chase, Ian Fleming kept the question going 'what is going to happen next?'"
Deaver, who has sold more than 20 million books worldwide, is now busy finishing his latest Kathryn Dance thriller, due to be published in 2012. Before turning to full-time writing he worked both as a journalist and as a lawyer and began writing suspense novels on the long commute from his home to Wall Street.
He is perhaps best known for his Lincoln Rhyme books featuring the brilliant quadriplegic detective. Deaver says he wanted to create a unique character who solved crimes solely by virtue of brain power.
"I think an aspect of giving fans what would be enjoyable is varying the main course from time to time, and that involved my looking at characters who were unique. I decided I wanted to do a brilliant mind-orientated detective but one who was pure mind because we hadn't seen that ever."
The first Lincoln Rhyme book The Bone Collector was made into a film starring Angelina Jolie and Denzel Washington and Deaver is hoping that a film will be made of Carte Blanche with some scenes set in Dubai. He has already had preliminary talks with a representative of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice-President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who has shown interest. And more meetings are planned.
Carte Blanche is almost ready for printing. Deaver says he has "three or four more days of edits, but at some point they will wrest it from my hands and take it off to the printers".
I toyed with the idea of grabbing the hardback book he was holding and running off with it to discover the secrets of the plot, but he saw the direction of my glance and took evasive action worthy of 007 himself.
Actually he opened it up with a smile and it was completely blank.
Carte Blanche by Jeffery Deaver will be published in the UK on May 26 by Hodder & Stoughton. The Emirates Airline Festival for Literature will take place from March 8-12 featuring more than 120 authors from around the world. Tickets are on sale from all Magrudy's outlets or from the festival's official website www.emirateslitfest.com.
Updated: January 23, 2011 04:00 AM