Robert Ludlum

I equate suspense and good theater in a very similar way. I think it's all suspense and what-happens-next. From that point of view, yes, I guess, I am theatrical. -- Robert Ludlum

One comes across Robert Ludlum novels in airport shops, charity shops, jumbles sales, flea markets. Until I came across a BookCrossing book, I had never picked one up, let alone read one.

A BookCrossing book, is a book that is released into the wild for others to pick up and read. Its progress is tracked by a unique Book Crossing ID (BCID).

I was walking home from the local Post Office, it was a lovely warm sunny day at the end of March, and there sitting on a wall was a book asking to be picked up. It was a BookCrossing book, The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. Never one to miss out on a free book, I picked it up and took it home to read.

For those with an open mind, BookCrossing is an excellent idea. I often pick up a book or music, that I am unfamiliar with. One takes a risk, but usually one is rewarded with fresh avenues to explore.

I do this with the music or books I like, I pass on to friends who I think will enjoy what I have enjoyed or found enlightening or interesting. I have also taken this one step further, setting up websites on books, music and writers.

I was aware of The Bourne Identity as a film (I believe there is now a sequel), but I did not know it was a novel too, let alone a novel by Robert Ludlum. A friend once mentioned the film, but it all sounded pretty boring, and the friend he was telling was even less interested. I wanted something to read to while away the hours, and a book drops into my hands!

The following day, a little after midnight, I read until gone 4am in the morning the first hundred or so pages. The Bourne Identity is a fast paced thriller, yes worth reading. I will not say more, so as not to spoil the plot, for those who have neither seen the film nor read the book.

Born in New York City, Robert Ludlum (1927-2001) was a prolific author, several of his books having been made into films. His theme throughout his work was that of the individual against the shadowy forces of the state and powerful corporations, or in other words, well-rooted in reality. He died in Naples in 2001.

Robert Ludlum was a prolific writer, even his death did not seem to put a stop to his prodigious flow. Which begs a number of questions: Did he leave a chest full of manuscripts which a competent editor is putting together or, as has been rumoured, is a competent ghost writer churning out the works under the Ludlum name?

In The Ambler Warning the style is there, the detail is there, albeit a little sharper, but, and it is a big but. The novel is a regurgitation of The Bourne Identity, Hal Ambler is Jason Bourne, Jason Bourne is Hal Ambler. The situations are the same, the characters are the same, they react in the same way, able to improvise using whatever is available. The two men show the same resourcefulness, the ability to quickly adapt to a situation, exploit the situation to their maximum advantage. They are seen by the guardians of the state as rotten apples to be eliminated. Both have a lost past they are trying to recover, a past that may be bad, may be should be left uncovered. Both are inherently 'good' men. Both pick up a girl who is their strength and solace, who helps to keep them going, but at the same time is herself in danger for helping. Their enemies are the same, employ the same tactics, even down to kidnapping the girl and wishing to rape her before disposing of her body, to be rescued just in time by our hero Bourne/Ambler.

Like The Bourne Identity, The Ambler Warning is an exploration of mind, as much as the physical reality. A maze, with no clear path from beginning to end.

Who therefore did write The Ambler Warning? If not Robert Ludlum, it was published some years after his death, then who? If the rumoured ghost writer, this may explain the lack of originality. The ghost writer is following Ludlum so closely there is no room for originality. This is as much a mystery as the mystery itself.

(c) Keith Parkins 2007-2008 -- January 2008 rev 2