I owe a lot of my interest in novels – especially thrillers – to the original Bourne trilogy by Robert Ludlum. The characterisation, the evolution of events, the plotting and interweaving, the layers and the way they were being peeled apart… it was compelling stuff, and many of those words still remain with me years after I’ve read them.
Cain is for Charlie, and Delta is for Cain.
The character of Bourne, undeniably larger than life, was still, in some way, realistic. He was not a superman, or a walking computer – he was flesh and blood, if trained to a superior level of violence. Few people knew of his existence, fewer still the raison d’etre of his existence.
Ludlum did not intend to add to his trilogy, the last of which was published in 1990. And judging by what’s been churned out in his name – in print and from Hollywood – his wishes should have been respected.
First was the movie, which was just a sodding excuse to pimp the legend. A half-assed, half-lame movie that had very little to do with the original was followed by an even lamer sequel that had nothing to do with the original series. The thing that made Ludlum’s Bourne such a huge success was his face-off against Carlos the Jackal, a running theme across those three books; Carlos was the perfect villain, as memorable as any I’ve ever read or seen. There is no good book or movie that doesn’t have a villain(s) doing his/her role justice.
If the movies were bad, the books were worse. From living in obscurity, which was Bourne’s wishes all along (and which are consistent with his character’s arc), the non-Ludlum additions end up making a sort of consultant-semisuperhero of him. For no reason other than “he is dangerous because he knows too much,” there are conspiracies from within the American intelligence wing to do away with him; terrorists who have no credible reason to fight him seek him out. In India, we’d call this a Rajnikanth movie and expect nothing less; in Bourneland, this is the stuff that should have Morris Panov reaching for his syringe or Alexander Conklin beaning you with his cane.
What were they thinking???
Book after book, it kept getting worse. They added characters taken straight out of “101 Cliched Characters A Good Storyteller Must Avoid,” and then they added some more. None of them have the depth or even a sense of identity that makes them memorable or – at the very least – different from the others. You don’t really care about Peter Marks, Soraya Moore or… heck, I can’t even remember any of the others, and that’s while I’m reading the goddamned Bourne Imperative.
Which, by the way, has to be the last in this so-called ‘Bourne’ series by Lustbader that I’ll ever attempt. God, this is awful! All the characters sound the same, mouth philosophical tripe that cannot sound more awkward if Trump was the one saying it, and everyone and his mother’s dog are out to get Bourne. Why? ‘Cos he’s the baddest spy of them all and he knows things that should never be revealed.
If I didn’t know better, I would say this was a joint effort by Rohit Shetty and Sajid Khan. It is that bad.
Sample this. Peter Marks, one of the two Deputy Directors of Treadstone, trails a new employee of his to a country club where he overpowers a traitor’s (said traitor being the CEO of one of the most famous energy companies in the country) bodyguard, impersonates a tennis pro, gets exposed as a fraud by the CEO, manages to convince the CEO that he is a freelancer who’s tired of being a free agent and wants a ‘steady job’, produces a legend out of nowhere, is trusted by the CEO, then is asked to return the next day where he is asked to ‘act tough and execute’ the traitorous employee and handed a gun with a single bullet, at which time he literally ‘acts’ tough and tells the CEO he asked him only to ‘act’, didn’t he?
I kid you not.
Wait, it gets better.
What does the CEO do? Remember, this is a guy no one has been able to outwit – so he laughs at Marks’s wordplay and decides to trust him. Two scenes later, Marks escapes from the house and decides its safe to blow his cover.
Gaggingly plotted, I tell you.
If this had come to me in my capacity as a literary consultant, I would have chucked it out without a second’s remorse. It’s utter bilge, pedantic and childish, and an insult to what I hold to be one of the most (yeah, yeah, you heard it already) exciting stories I’ve ever read.
The problem lies with the Ludlum estate’s selection of Lustbader as the man to carry forward the legacy. Lustbader swims in a different pool altogether and is deeply influenced by his Japanese days. His Ninja was not a bad read because you had different expectations there, but when you attempt to add to a series, your luxuries are limited. If you can’t mimic the style of the original, why hang on to its coattails?
Especially when he doesn’t seem to believe in the same things Ludlum and his Bourne did. Book #4 killed off Panov and Conklin; Marie St Jacques-Webb, such a strong presence in 1-3, is only an afterthought in the subsequent novels, and her absence is made starker by Bourne not even seeming to mourn her at all. Treadstone, which was set up to capture or kill Carlos the Jackal, is your typical blacker-than-black intelligence division. And if this weren’t bad enough, you had the fantasmorphical storyline for the Bourne Legacy where his son – from his life as David Webb, from a Vietnamese wife he has only vague recollections of – first tries to kill him and then works together with him in an “oh, cho chweet,” of epic sentimental crapassery. [Check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bourne_Legacy_(novel) If you don’t believe it could be that bad!]
They – the publishers, the estate and Hollywood – could have chosen from any number of characters to turn into their own, personal wet dream, and it sticks in my craw that they chose Jason Bourne. This rant is my middle-finger to those perverters of the classic, to geniuses who wouldn’t know Cain from Delta, to two-minute plots and an author who just couldn’t seem to be bothered about any of it… as Bourne says in the Bourne Supremacy, they just couldn’t think geometrically enough.
And that’s why, having struggled with Bourne Imperative until I can no longer bear mute witness, I have given up. I cannot read it anymore. Like Poirot and Marple, I wish Ludlum had ended the Bourne Ultimatum with Bourne’s death. Such an end would have been far, far preferable to being stabbed to death in the unmentionables with blunt instruments by a quacking hack who shouldn’t have been allowed anywhere near the franchise in the first place.
Cain is for Charlie, and Delta is for Cain,
And someone should’ve just saved us all this pain!