Do you expect me to talk? No, Mr Bond, I expect you to revitalise the high street book trade by winning a deadly publishing battle with your greatest espionage rival.
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James Bond and Jason Bourne go head-to-head today with the launch of new novels that extend the narrative of the famous spies, who have long outlived their literary creators.
Carte Blanche is the 25th Bond book published since the death of Ian Fleming in 1964. In a "reboot" of the franchise by the American thriller writer Jeffrey Deaver, Bond is reinvented as an Afghanistan veteran, thrust into a post-9/11 world where "the other side doesn't play by the rules anymore".
Carte Blanche hits stores alongside The Bourne Dominion, the latest instalment in the adventures of the amnesiac assassin Jason Bourne. It is the sixth novel written by Eric Van Lustbader, since the death of Robert Ludlum, the Bourne creator, in 2001.
"Continuations" of a best-selling series, authorised by the estates of the original authors, are giving publishers a much-needed boost at a time when high street chains like Waterstones are struggling to meet the challenge from online retailers.
Hodder & Stoughton, UK publisher of Carte Blanche, took delivery of the first copies of the book at St Pancras International yesterday from a team of abseiling Royal Marines Commandos.
Millions of copies will be dispatched to 20 countries. An initial UK print run of 230,000 copies has been ordered for the book, which is predicted to beat the sales of Devil May Care, the previous Bond "continuation" by Sebastian Faulks, which became Penguin's fastest-selling hardbook novel in 2008.
Waterstone's is selling a signed, numbered and slipcased limited edition of Carte Blanche for £100. But Bond completists will want the Special Edition produced by Bentley, to mark 007's choice of the marque's Continental GT as his new favoured wheels. The 500 copies, set in a metal case, cost £1,000 each.
Lustbader's Bourne novels, which pick up where Ludlum's trilogy left off, have sent sales of the series to an estimated 80 million copies. The publisher, Orion, is hoping that shoppers driven to bookstores by Bond will also leave with a new Bourne. "If the publishers get it right, they can create a franchise which operates in tandem with the new films and renews itself every two years," said Neill Denny, editor-in-chief of The Bookseller. "These are massive worldwide brands."
However, Denny warned that the spy genre may never match its Cold War heights. "How do you reinvent the spy story in a world where drone pilots fight wars from the Nevada desert? It's not as romantic as Bond saving the world from a global holocaust."
Faulks retained Fleming's period setting for his novel but Deaver opted for a contemporary storyline. He said: "When we sat down with the Fleming estate we decided it would be best to have Bond track down a modern villain. That would have more emotional impact for the modern reader."
The next blockbuster in the "continuations" industry arrives in September, when Orion publishes a new full-length Sherlock Holmes novel, written by Anthony Horowitz, who was commissioned by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate. The new novels inevitably lend themselves to screen adaptations. Mr Deaver said: "I do write cinematically. It's a very visual book with sharp dialogue in exotic locations. I hope the Bond studio will have a serious look at it." Hence the contemporary setting. (The studios ignored Faulks's book, partly because of the period setting.)
But who will win the battle between Bond and Bourne? "I don't see it as a competition," said Deaver. "I hope folks can still afford two books, or go to the library and read them."
Denny believes Carte Blanche will have a head start with fans of the Fleming originals. "Deaver may be a better Bond choice than Faulks," he said. "He fits the plot-driven ethos of the Bond books whereas Faulks's approach is more literary."Reuse content