Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Martinis: Shaken, Not Stirred. Galahads: Bloodied, Not Pampered.

I hadn't read Jeffrey Deaver prior to picking up Carte Blanche, the latest James Bond thriller commissioned by the Ian Fleming Estate. If this book is indicative of Deaver's craft, my ignorance was bliss.

Deaver takes a “Road Runner” approach to Ian Fleming's hero: the wily villain paints an elaborate and seemingly foolproof scheme to corner our hero, only to discover at the moment of execution that the tables have been utterly reversed. The appeal of this uniquely American variety of the thriller genre depends entirely on whether the reader's sympathies lie with the coyote or the bird. Those of us who want to see the bird roasting on a spit should steer clear of this book.

More grievous is Deaver's penchant for post-climax foreplay: explaining, after the fireworks have gone off, exactly how this impossible feat was accomplished. If this is how Deaver wrote his other books, then his appointment by the Ian Fleming Estate is absolutely baffling.

The front cover blurb for the paperback enthusiastically claims that Deaver, “brilliantly captures Fleming's style.” He does no such thing. Fleming restricts his narrative perspective to James Bond's POV, pitting Bond against the villain in an early and victorious face-off, before the villain gains the upper hand, and slowly feeds our hero through the shredder, feet-first. Oh, and some women get bedded. The main thing is, Bond gets the living shit kicked out of him, a scenario Fleming seemed to relish, as he excelled at repainting it with heartfelt variety.

That was Fleming's “style.” Deaver flits from brain to brain as he sets the mouse-trap. Through it all, Bond doesn't suffer so much as jet-lag.

I picked up Carte Blanche because the Fleming Estate's earlier choice — Sebastian Faulks — was spot-on, and did, in fact, “brilliantly capture Fleming's style.” Here's hoping there is a return to form with their next appointment.

Those of us who prefer our Galahads well-bloodied can't do much better than Philip Kerr's Nazi-era Berlin gumshoe, Bernie Gunther. I've read all the books, but the litany of torment is so extensive I've lost track of what happened when. Has Gunther survived the deaths of two wives, or only one? Certainly a veritable harem of girlfriends awaits him in Purgatory. Not that he's troubled by such a prospect. Surviving the rise and fall of Nazi Germany, including a short stay in Dachau and the sordid indignities of Russian and American occupation, has been Hell enough for our Bernie. Somewhere in this Grand Guignol he also lost a finger — painful at the time, but quite trifling in the larger scheme of things.

That Gunther made it to his 60s is nearly miraculous, never mind that he's retained his ability to walk, and a willingness to do so directly into yet another stinking cesspool of corruption and carnage. After bearing witness to variegated German collusion with government atrocities, first at home and then abroad in South America, in this latest adventure Bernie is nearly done in by the collusion between the Jewish Mafia and the Cuban regime. And Kerr, ever the resourceful psych-thrill-meister, has teasingly unveiled new motivations for the reader to buy into.

But then I easily surrender my disbelief around Bernie Gunther. His happiness is never that happy. At best, it's fleeting; at worst, it turns around to deliver a lifelong hang-over of regret. Through it all, the poor bastard retains a moral equilibrium of sorts, even as he gets battered into near-submission. It's enough to keep me hoping he'll live into his 80s, to absorb the outrages of the Nixon-Brezhnev era.


Cowtown Pattie said...

Sounds like something up my alley!
(Kerr's not Deaver's).

I am always suspicious when a book is touted as "capturing the style" any of my beloved authors. I am usually disappointed.

Whisky Prajer said...

CP - if you give Kerr a try, I'd recommend the original trilogy, which was more carefully attended to, compared to the later additions. I like the later books, mostly because I loved the first three.

Whisky Prajer said...

Hey, here are two more Kerr/WP entries.