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Jeffery Deaver on Bond and beyond

18-Jul-2010 • Literary

Jeffery Deaver is facing off a real-life villain - a nemesis so tenacious that he is seriously testing the patience of one of America's greatest crime thriller writers - reports News Observer.

It's the pool guy, and he's trying to upsell Deaver on an expensive but unnecessary service at the writer's handsome Chapel Hill home.

"Please send the estimate, and we'll go from there," Deaver says politely, closing the door on his unexpected intruder. It's hard to believe that such instinctively gracious host and genuinely nice guy has written some of the most diabolically creative crime novels of the past several decades.

His new novel, "The Burning Wire," is the latest in his enormously popular Lincoln Rhyme series. Now in its ninth installment, the series follows the grim work of quadriplegic forensic specialist Rhyme, who dispatches his team of specialists to track down terrorists and serial killers - and do the footwork he no longer can.

The Rhyme books have been spun off into several film versions over the years, including the high-profile Denzel Washington film, "The Bone Collector." Deaver is a favorite of mystery readers worldwide and is particularly known for his intricate plotting, narrative twists and surprise endings.

But Deaver, 60, received a surprise himself in May when he was chosen to write the next installment of Ian Fleming's classic James Bond novels.

As you might imagine, this is a Relatively Big Deal if you're an author of thrillers and crime novels. The book, which Deaver recently finished outlining, is due to hit shelves next summer.

He moved to Chapel Hill recently after discovering the area during book events and dog shows (he breeds and shows Briards), and finding it an appealing escape from New York and Washington, D.C., where he had been living.

Sitting in the book-lined living room of his Chapel Hill home, Deaver is clearly as avid a reader as he is a writer. Knowledgeable and enthusiastic, he swerves from one esoteric topic to the next.

Pool guy crisis resolved, Deaver talked about daredevil electricians, sleight-of-hand magic, the N.C. State Fair and a certain fellow named Bond - James Bond.

Q: How did the 007 project come about?

What happened was, a book of mine, "Garden of Beasts," was a hit in Europe. It's a historical thriller about a hit man in America given the option to go to Berlin for 1936 Olympics and assassinate the guy that was helping Germany rearm after World War I.

It's actually my favorite book of any I've written, and it won an award in Europe that was sponsored by the Ian Fleming estate. When I accepted the award, I said how it meant a lot to me because I had read all the Bond books when I was young and they were a big influence on me.

I didn't think anything of it beyond that. Then out of the blue, my agent got a call, and - was I interested in writing the next James Bond novel?

Q: Did you have any reservations about taking over such an iconic series?

Well, I almost had to turn it down due to legal issues with my other publishers. And I also didn't want to do a period piece. The Russians never did attack America; the threat of nuclear war didn't happen. It's hard to generate tension with those things anymore. There are new threats other than Cold War threats. But as it turns out my fears were unfounded because they want me to write a book in the modern day.

Q: So it's a contemporary novel?

Yeah, but I have to tell you that there's some stuff I can't tell you. I'm writing the book myself, but I joke that I have a co-author, Mr. Fleming, because his estate is looking over my shoulder. The work that I've done has been preliminarily approved. But I do have to go back and forth with them to get the details straight, which we'll do over the next few months.

But there are certainly some things I can say. The book will be set in mid-2011, which is when the book will be coming out. Bond is a 29- or 30-year-old agent for British security, doing what he did in the original books. And he will be a veteran of the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. You'll see the cast of characters readers are familiar with - Miss Moneypenny and M - but updated for the present day.

Q: And you have the story all mapped out?

Yes, the outline is about 180 pages, and I've finished that.

What I'm doing is taking two templates, or formulas. One is taking the very complicated and edgy character that Fleming created. If people know Bond only from the movies, that's just one interpretation. The character in the books is much more complicated. He's darker. He's a killer. The 00 classification, the license to kill, didn't mean he was allowed to kill someone defending himself. It meant he was sent out on assignment for the express purpose of assassinating someone.

It takes a very special kind of person to do that. Now in fact, he rarely did. In some books, he didn't kill anybody. He took a life if he needed to, regretfully. He didn't enjoy it. Which, I think, makes him all the more human. He's a flawed character. So that's template one. And that will all translate into the modern day very well. It's a post-modern character, really.

The other template is my kind of storytelling - very intricate plotting, very fast paced. The book will take place over only a few days. There will be exotic locations - and that's part of the Bond formula as well, of course. It will have a lot of twists and turns and misdirections, and several big surprise endings.

The writer as illusionist

Q: That's certainly a hallmark of your books, the disciplined disclosure of information and the endgame twists that flip everything upside-down.

That's all part of the outlining process. Another of my books, "The Vanished Man," features an illusionist and sleight-of-hand artist. He used those skills to get close to his victims and vanish afterward.

It was really fun to write, I knew nothing about illusion or magic before that. A reviewer later pointed out that the idea of misdirection is really a theme in all my books. I am, in fact, an illusionist. I make sure the readers are looking at the left hand while the right hand is doing something completely different.

Q: Your latest Lincoln Rhyme book, "The Burning Wire," takes the usual twists and turns, but also introduces a new and scary motif - a villain who uses our omnipresent electrical grid to kill. For those of us with a phobia about that stuff, it's very effective. How did you arrive at this direction for the new book? I actually knew very little about it before I started working on it. A couple things come to mind. I'd gone to the N.C. State Fair and one of the things I found most interesting - aside from the massive turkey wings, which I really enjoyed - was this competition among tradesmen to wire a box in a particular way. They would compete against others for a ribbon, I guess. It was fascinating.

Then, about a year and a half ago, I had a circuit breaker problem, and the electrician came. I watched him pull the panel off, but the lights in the kitchen were still on. I said, "Don't you want to pull the master switch?" He said, "No, I'm wearing rubber-soled shoes. However, if I touch this and this, I'd be dead."

I just got to thinking - that's a scary thought.

Q: The book has a lot of great and frankly terrifying details about how the electrical grid works - or barely works, as the case may be. Was there a lot of research involved?

A great deal of research went in from there. I spend eight months outlining and researching each book. I never start to write a single word until the outline is finished. So it's eight to 10 hours a day, five to six days a week.

Every aspect of the plot is determined. I know the ending. I know when every character is introduced and when they leave - vertically or horizontally. I know when they're killed. I know where the clues are put into the book.

But yes, it was those two ideas - the state fair and the daredevil electrician. I'm always looking for ideas that will scare the hell out of my readers; that's what I want to do.

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