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Bookends: Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Legacy Lingers on January 1, 2014

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Bookends: Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Legacy Lingers on

By Dan Davidson

November 13, 2013

– 836 words –

Bourne Sanction


Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Sanction

By Eric Van Lustbader

Grand Central Publishers

672 pages



There are a couple of different things a publisher can do when a prolific and popular author dies. One of them is to simply keep the author’s characters alive by hiring writers with similar talents to carry on the torch. Sometimes, as with the works of Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time), this is because the writer already has the series finale planned out and simply didn’t live long enough to write it. Brandon Sanderson seems to have done a decent job of wrapping up Jordon’s convoluted plotlines.

Jordan was at least perennial in his output. Fans have been terrified for years that George R.R. Martin, who has had some health issues, and who takes about five years to write additions to his Song of Ice and Fire saga, might not be around long enough to complete it.

Other writers don’t have long story arcs planned out, but still have popular characters that the publishers, and perhaps the families, would like to see continue earning them money. Robert B, Parker died a couple of years ago, but his Spenser and Jesse Stone series have each had a different mystery writer assigned to carry them on. This was tried, with less success, with the creations of Earl Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason) and Rex Stout (Nero Wolfe) when they passed on some years ago, and these once popular characters have faded from sight since then.

V.C. Andrews was the first writer I can recall whose name got turned into a trademark (™) and her gothic horror series have been continued and added to since 1986 by Andrew Neiderman.

Robert Ludlum died 12 years ago and was trademarked shortly after, with as many as nine other writers listed as co-authors on the nearly two dozen books that have been added to his own tally of 22 since then.

Ludlum’s best-known character is Jason Bourne, and the original book was beautifully adapted in a TV mini-series starring Richard Chamblerlain. Intended as a stand-alone novel (as were most of his own books) Ludlum did return to the Bourne identity twice more, examining the life of a man who just wanted to leave all that nasty stuff behind, but found that his past kept coming back to bite him. Both of the sequels take place some years later and explore, to some extent, the life of a middle-aged agent who has lost a step of two in the game.

Those three books (The Bourne Identity, Ultimatum and Supremacy) have almost no connection beyond the basic concept to the very successful Matt Damon trilogy, which established what amounted to a reboot of the character.

Eric Van Lustbader, already successful as a fantasy and thriller writer, was selected to continue the Bourne series, which he did with The Bourne Legacy. Once again the film (starring Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz and Edward Norton) that used this title (and was enjoyable) had nothing at all to do with the book, which dealt with Bourne’s reunion with a son he never knew he had.

Van Lustbader has continued to work with a theme Ludlum established, which is that the central character has a basic personality conflict. On the one hand he is Jason Bourne, trained assassin and agent. On the other he is David Webb, a mild mannered English professor.  The fragility of Bourne/Webber’s self concept and memories is fertile ground for continuing the series, though Van Lustbader seems to have discarded the idea that his man might be getting a little old for this stuff.

He has also added a whole cast of new characters, mostly allies of a sort, to the Bourne universe, and much of the intrigue in this book seems to come from the internecine struggles within the American intelligence community, which is a very dysfunctional family indeed.

In the present book, Webber is encouraged to embrace his Bourneness in order to stop a terrorist plot aimed at the United States. At the same time, half a world away, a man named Leonid Danilovich Arkadin is working with a group called the Black Legion to carry out the plot. Arkadin is very much Bourne’s mirror image, save that his character flaw is a nearly uncontrollable rage. The two men have a lot of parallel experiences in the course of the novel and, not surprisingly, their eventual personal clash nearly overshadows the terrorist attack that they are both – for very different reasons – working to prevent.

But their stories are not the only ones being told here. In fact, my main complaint with the book would be that it has a few too many plots and counterplots crammed into its nearly 700 pages. There’s a lot going on, and a lot of people to keep track of. Ludlum’s books were often long, but they tended to be leaner than this.

Still, the result was a good page turner and kept my interest.






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