By Vermillion | Books | November 21, 2011 |
By Vermillion | Books | November 21, 2011 |
Ah yes, Robert Ludlum.
While everybody now knows him as the guy Matt Damon should present his next child to Roots-style, Ludlum, along with Ian Fleming and Tom Clancy (and John Le Carre to a lesser extent), should be considered one of the codifiers of the image of the modern covert operative in fiction. And like them, Ludlum had his own signature style, namely that one guy goes around and beats the crap out of other guys in increasigly verbose titles with the same “The (adjective) (noun)” naming scheme.
I figured, since I am a big fan of the Bourne films, and I wanted to streatch my reading boundaries some, I would tackle a Ludlum novel. It just so happened that I found a nice bundle of them on sale at a local thrift store, and this one was the only one I could put my hands after the ugliness of a few months ago. But enough about me, to the book!
Meet Nick Bryson, near-legendary operative for a super-secret organization only known as the Directorate. Answerable only to the President (presumably), the Directorate has no ties with any other agencies, and as far as anyone is concerned, they do not exist. After a paticularly brutal mussion where is his greviously wounded (seriously, I visibly flinched when I read the part about the knife going…where it went), Nick is forced into retirement.
Five years later, he is now Jonas Barrrett, college professor. Of course, that doesn’t really have any point past this quarter of a chapter, because the CIA comes calling, giving Bryson an excuse to engage in some counter-intel hijinks before they corner him at his home. He is told that the Directorate was not an U.S. agency, but a Russian sleeper group, and that all his mission were actually against American interests. So now Bryson is recruited to use his experience to find out what the Directorate is up to. This leads to a floating weapons bazaar, a worldwide phenomena of coordinated terrorist attacks, and something called “Prometheus.”
If that sounds kinda familiar, you may recognize it as the central conceit of a little show called “Alias.” Quite a few reviews make a big deal about that (even the Wikipedia page does it), but really, there is very little similar between the two. As far as the book itself, it is a pretty fast read for 500 pages. The pacing is nice and crisp, the plot (while not groundbreaking) had enough twists to keep me engaged, and the action was brutal and beleiveable. In other words, what you would expect from the guy who created Jason Bourne.
Bryson is a pretty engaging protagonist. The closest I could come up with for a comparison is probably Michael Westen from “Burn Notice.” He is viciously pragmatic, but still has that streak of honor and loyalty that always gets taken advantage of. Of course, around the tenth time he questions everything he’s ever known and wonders who can he trust, I did kinda want him to shut up with the existential crisis crap. Motherfucker, you are a spy. People lie to you, deal with it, punch them in the face, and move on.
Ted Waller, the head of the Directorate and Bryson’s best friend-turned-enemy(?), is a decent fellow and a manipulative bastard of the highest degree. The book repeatedly shows how Waller’s lessons help Bryson deal with the situation, almost like he trained Bryson specifically for this purpose. For all I know, he did. The other characters are functional to say the least. Elena (Nick’s wife) does her duty as resident hacker type (refreshingly not some Hollywood Hacker type, but a fairly realistic cryptographer), but besides giving Nick something else to moan about, doesn’t have much else to do. [SEMI-SPOILER] And don’t bother getting to attracted to any other characters, because they will die. Usually within 50 pages. And offscreen.[END SEMI-SPOILER] As far as the big reveal of “Prometheus,” it was….kinda underwhelming. I wish I could really discuss it, but spoilers and all that. I may go into more detail on my blog (BLATANT PLUG ALERT), but suffice it to say, the main antagonist (if one could call him that) does have a sympathetic story and motivation. But he ends up more like a Macguffin than an actual character.
In conclusion, I have to say the book was quite entertaining, and while I did get a bit irked at some parts, it wasn’t enough to keep me from reading. I can totally see this getting the film treatment, and if the rest of Ludlum’s work is the same, i am surprised Hollywood hasn’t done more to take advantage.
For more of Vermillion’s reviews and other musings, check out his blog, Vermillion’s Brain.
This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information click here.