Soon after turning out the latest James Bond novel, British author William Boyd agreed to write another thriller based on a world famous brand.
The Land Rover.
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Boyd's nearly 17,000-word story, "The Vanishing Game," coming out Wednesday as a free download through Amazon.com, Apple and www.thevanishinggame.com , tells of a 35-year-old British actor named Alec Dunbar and the troubles he encounters when a pretty young woman convinces him to deliver a flask filled with clear liquid from London to Scotland. His transport is a certain four-wheel-drive vehicle.
Boyd, paid in the low six figures for the project, said he signed on because Land Rover made so few requests.
"They said they wanted an adventure and they said, 'Somewhere in this adventure it would be good if a Land Rover appeared.' But it was left entirely to me the extent I concentrated on that or made it fleeing and passing," the 62-year-old Britain-based author said during a recent telephone interview.
"I invented the story, I invented the characters, I invented the locations," said Boyd, whose novels include "The New Confessions" and "Brazzaville Beach."
Boyd's story can be read as a traditional book, or as an interactive narrative through the dedicated website. An audio track features a voiceover and soundtrack music. Photographs and moving images provide a backdrop to the words.
If "The Vanishing Game" itself cannot be called "a Land Rover story," the company provides other reminders. The Land Rover logo appears at the top of the screen and the occasional word or phrase, such as "river" or "cross country," links to a picture of a Land Rover or a real-life story about a Land Rover user.
The literary community has mostly shunned commercial endorsements, although there are precedents for Boyd's book. In 2001, Fay Weldon was commissioned by Bulgari to write "The Bulgari Connection," in which she worked in references to the jewelry company. Julia Alvarez wrote a poem for Absolut vodka and several authors, including Elmore Leonard and Lisa Scottoline, contributed essays for a 1990s Coca-Cola campaign. A recent e-book, Hillary Carlip's "Find Me I'm Yours," was funded in part by the makers of Sweet'N Low.
Scott Turow, whose best-sellers include "Presumed Innocent" and "The Burden of Proof," said he couldn't even "conceive" of working with a sponsor.
"I've declined to do direct endorsements of products a couple of times over the years — e.g. 'I'm Scott Turow and I like using this pen' — so I can't imagine what would persuade me to give up control over my work, even in this small way," Turow wrote in a recent email.
"That said, I don't criticize authors who go this road. It's a tough world out there for most writers, and anything that keeps them afloat is fine with me."
Ken Bracht, communications manager for Land Rover North America, said that Boyd was their preferred author early on, "given his popularity, reputation for adventure type stories" and the attention he was receiving at the time for his Bond novel, "Solo," published in September 2013. Boyd, in turn, said that the Land Rover was an "almost mythic vehicle" when he was growing up in Africa and that he had actually referred to a Land Rover in a novel he had been working on before learning of the current project.
"I have the central character using a Land Rover. It's virtually on page 1," Boyd said.
The author had little trouble devising a story, citing his background not just with the Bond book, but with movie scripts and a television series he has created and is currently writing, "Spy City," set in Berlin in the early 1960s. He said that "The Vanishing Game" was inspired in part by the late John Buchan, the Scottish novelist best known for the thriller "The Thirty-Nine Steps."
"I had already written a Buchanesque novel in 'Waiting for the Sunrise' and liked the idea of a young man in a predicament," he said. "I'm a bit of an old pro now. And when I set my mind to work I came up with this particular story."