Updating James Bond to the 1980s was probably a novel idea at the time. But now it doesn’t make so much sense. Like the more recent Carte Blanche, No Deals, Mr. Bond is a decent thriller. Jeffrey Deaver’s Bond will probably be much more dated in 25 years than Gardner’s Bond works are today. Still, I can’t bring myself to approve of updating the literary (hardboiled, Tory pulp hero) Bond to the “present day”—whenever that happens to be.
Posts tagged espionage
It’s been a long time. Too long. Got busy. Florid academic prose intruded. Pushed out the lean, spare hardboiled stuff. And I let it happen. Too much worrying about how to test this or that thesis. Too many redundant office hours and administrative tasks and goddamned e-mails.
But the semester is over. I need a lifeline. I could review books. Probably will. So read the reviews. But that’s not a lifeline. That’s just another task. One I might enjoy a little more. Still. I need a lifeline.
So I reach for the only lifeline I know. A pulpy little paperback. They’re not just there for me, though. I’m there for them. And there have been too many of them piling up. We need to resume our relationship before both of us become useless. So I pick a little gem off the top of the pile. Assignment Helene.
I’m on assignment, then. And free of any other assignments for a while. Sam Durell is serviceable as a hardboiled CIA agent. The plot isn’t much. Our hero, in his ninth adventure out of nearly fifty, needs to solve a murder and stop arms smuggling in a fictional country that bears a striking resemblance to Vietnam. Oddly prescient in 1959. Unremarkable otherwise.
The rest of the cast is predictable. Various shady characters. An alcoholic, a madame, a stuffy bureaucrat, a vainglorious blonde. And Helene. The alluring femme fatale. Durell should watch his back. But he’ll be all right. Helene can’t resist his tough-minded magnanimity. The villains won’t resist his toughness.
It’s the plot of hundreds of books from this period. Some of them approach literature. This one doesn’t. I don’t give a damn right now. It’s what I need. So I follow our square-jawed hero through the yellowing pages. I eye the lithe femme fatale on the pulpy cover.
And that’s all I need. I pull myself back to shore one page at a time. Merry Christmas to me.
With the news that William Boyd is going to be the latest Bond continuation author, I decided it was high time to read the most recent Bond continuation novel: Jeffrey Deaver’s Carte Blanche. Deaver joined the ranks of previous Bond continuation novelists Kingsley Amis, John Gardner, Raymond Benson and Sebastian Faulks.
If we were to compare Deaver to other Bond novelists, he would be in the middle of the pack. If it were not a Bond novel, Carte Blanche would be an adequate thriller novel rather than a disappointment. Deaver is certainly is not as bad as the glorified fanfiction of Raymond Benson. But Deaver should not be compared to these authors. In attempting to reboot the Bond franchise in the 21st century, Deaver can only be compared to Bond’s first appearance in Casino Royale.
The comparison is not flattering to Deaver. Fleming told his tale with verve, style, economy. Deaver’s Bond, by comparison, is a generic action hero in a bloated plot. Deaver’s prose cannot compare to Fleming’s. He tries to cobble together the elements of a Bond novel and translate them to the 21st century. It is not apparent to this reader that he is capable of either—he certainly cannot do both.
One has only to look at the final line of each novel to ascertain the differences. Fleming’s Bond is a hardboiled, brutally efficient Cold Warrior who deserves his double-0 status. ”Yes, dammit, I said ‘was.’ The bitch is dead now.” Deaver isn’t altogether comfortable with this attitude in the War on Terror, and tries to humanize Bond: “And, if he correctly recalled the poem Philly Maidenstone had so elegantly quoted, travelling fast meant travelling alone.”
Casino Royale was published in 1953, and the series has shown enormous longevity. Carte Blanche proved to be a serviceable thriller. But if it had actually been the first Bond novel, as opposed to an aborted reboot, we would not be talking about the franchise nearly sixty years later.
You can thank local thrift shops for this round of literature porn—I certainly do. For a mere $3.00, I came away with a pretty well-rounded selection of crime books. Blye, Private Eye is a non-fiction profile of real-life private detective Irwin Blye by Goodfellas and Casino screenwriter (and Nora Ephron’s husband) Nicholas Pileggi. Eric Ambler and Ross Thomas wrote masterly—though very different—hardboiled espionage thrillers. Ambler is represented via his Hitchcockian final novel, The Care of Time. The Back-Up Men is a more cynical thriller in Thomas’ McCorkle and Padillo series. Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon needs no introduction or commentary. And Scott Phillips’ The Ice Harvest was a critically-lauded debut novel. I found a move tie-in edition. These aren’t really my favorite, but it was selling for less than a dollar. I’ll take it.
As we wait for Skyfall this autumn, let us not forget that everyone’s favorite hardboiled spy continues his adventures in literature as well. William Boyd has been chosen by the Fleming estate to write the latest Bond continuation novel, due in late 2013. (No, not Hopalong Cassidy. That’s an entirely different vein of pulp.)
The most recent Bond continuation novel, Carte Blanche, was written by American thriller (and sometimes noir) novelist Jeffrey Deaver. I haven’t read it yet, but it was not well-received. I intend to read Carte Blanche before I draw my final conclusions, but what I know of the novel suggests that Deaver deserved the abuse. Carte Blanche is set in the current day, a would-be “reboot” of the franchise.
The reboot has thankfully failed. James Bond doesn’t need an iPhone. Boyd’s new novel will be set in the late 1960s. The continuation novel preceding Deaver’s, Sebastian Faulks’ Devil May Care, was also set in the same period. I rather liked Devil May Care, though it was not popular among Ian Fleming fans. The principal cause for disdain was Faulk’s stylistic aping of Fleming; “Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming,” said the book’s jacket.
After the godawful fan fiction of Raymond Benson (really, airport novels would have been a step up for him), I should think fans would like something more similar to Fleming. Instead, they viewed the move as a sign that Faulks (a widely acclaimed novelist) didn’t think Bond worthy of his talent. Methinks the fanboy doth protest too much. Devil May Care was somewhat derivative, but it followed Fleming’s pattern with verve.
Boyd is already insisting that ”there will be a kind of Boydian element in the new novel,” so hopefully this mollifies potential detractors. For my part, I look forward to the new novel. Bond, as I have insisted over and over, is a very Tory pulp hero. The Fleming Bond novels are far more nuanced that most people (familiar only with the sometimes cheesy films) know. But they are still hardboiled. In these duals veins, I was heartened to see Boyd list Bond among great literary characters such as Augie March and Huckleberry Finn—and more importantly, to also include Philip Marlowe on that list.
Here’s some literature porn to end to help you end the week on a high note. This edition is chock-full of hardboiled attitude. We have Michael Z. Lewin’s Indianapolis private dick, Albert Samson. Arthur Lyons and Robert J. Ray each contribute a West Coast seamus: Jacob Asch and Matt Murdock. Private eyes Bertha Cool and Donald Lam are courtesy of A.A. Fair (pen name of Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner). And Philip Atlee’s spy Joe Gall is as hardboiled as any Cold Warrior ever was.
Here’s some literature porn for your viewing pleasure. Books come in faster than I can read them. But I love old books too much to refuse them sanctuary. Here we have a couple of private investigators (Shell Scott and Pete McGrath), courtesy of Richard S. Prather and Michael Brett. Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm provides some hardboiled espionage drama. W.R. Burnett’s High Sierra inspired the Humphrey Bogart/John Huston film noir of the same name. Finally, Erle Stanley Gardner provides some classic (though not hardboiled) Perry Mason pulp.
thelamplightersserenade asked: Do you have recommendations for spy novels? I've read Tinker Tailor and plan to read the rest of the Karla trilogy, I have the IPCRESS Files on my list, and the Company. Do you have any cold war films/novels you can recommend?
John le Carré’s Cold War novels are good (his post-Cold War novels are less so). I would especially recommend The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (and the movie with Richard Burton). I have a number of espionage novels around, I just have yet to read them all. The definitive Cold War neo-noir is probably The Manchurian Candidate, though the novel by Richard Condon is not really noir. The Third Man also deals with international politics, as do a number of other Graham Greene novels.
Eric Ambler wrote some hardboiled spy thrillers. The Fallen Sparrow, by the always excellent Dorothy B. Hughes, has some foreign intrigue in the plot. Richard Hershatter and Andrew Garve wrote pulpy espionage novels, as did Donald Hamilton (Matt Helm doesn’t remotely resemble Dean Martin, by the way).
And let us not forget Ian Fleming’s James Bond. As I have argued previously, I think James Bond is a hardboiled hero. Especially in Casino Royale, which has near-noirish fatalism. In the other novels, the noir elements are perhaps less apparent. But he is a hardboiled, pulpy hero—a Tory Mike Hammer, if you will.