The Bourne Ultimatum is Robert Ludlum’s spellbinding end to the contest between good and evil, represented respectively by a man called Jason Bourne and another called Carlos or “the Jackal.”
The only two men who know Jason Bourne’s true identity are summoned by telegram to witness a bizarre killing, which tells them David Webb’s cover is blown.
Unless Carlos is killed, Webb knows his family will never be safe. He decides to lure Carlos into a trap using Medusa, a Mafia-like operation that has grown out of a gang of killers that sprang up in the 1960s to terrorize the North Vietnamese.
Both men are past their prime. Each needs to mentally put himself in the other’s place, figure out what that man will do, and then find a way to thwart the plan with a minimum of physical effort. Webb senses Carlos wants his native Russia to view him as an organizational mastermind, not as just a thug, and uses that insight against him.
What makes this and the earlier “Bourne” novels fascinating is the complexity of his characters. The Bourne Ultimatum is a thriller you can read and reread.
Message from Nam is a surprising departure from Danielle Steel’s typical romances. And it’s also far better than they.
Paxton Andrews, a Georgia teen who idolized her late father and is emotionally estranged from her mother and brother, chooses UC Berkeley for college.
Within months, she falls in love with a law student who has burned his draft card. When drafted, Peter chooses to serve, despite his opposition to America’s involvement in Viet Nam. Five days into his first tour of duty, he’s killed by “friendly fire.”
Paxton drops out of college a few credits short of her journalism degree.
Peter’s father, who owns the San Francisco Morning Sun, agrees to let Paxton go to Saigon as a reporter for six months.
Paxton extends her assignment to seven years, writing her “Message from Nam” until she catches the last helicopter out of Saigon.
The novel has the usual romantic bits, including an ending that feels downright fraudulent, but the bulk of the book is Steel’s retelling of the headline news of 1963 through 1975.
Of all of Steel’s novels I’ve read thus far for GreatPenformances, Message from Nam is the most atypical and the most memorable. It stands out as an historical snapshot.
Like many of his other novels, Sidney Sheldon’s Memories of Midnight reads like the story line for a film. The characters are broadly described, the action is fast-paced, and the plot is connected by linkages readers have to take on faith.
Catherine Douglas awakens one night in a convent remembering her name and nothing else. However, Constantin “Costa” Demiris, a nasty piece of work who is determined to get his revenge on anyone who ever hurt him in any way, remembers Catherine.
Demiris killed her husband and her husband’s lover. Now he hires an assassin to kill Catherine. Meanwhile, Demiris gives her a job in one of his offices and showers her with attention so he can keep an eye on her.
Demiris and his brother-in-law, Spyros Lambrou, hate each other. Lambrou hates Demiris for his treatment of Melina, who is his sister and Demiris’s wife.
There several other dastardly plots, related only because they’re in the same novel. Melina eventually realizes what a crud Demiris is, which precipitates the story’s ending. At the end of Memories of Midnight, there’s a dramatic rescue, a suspense-filled climax, and the villains get their just deserts.
It’s all action-packed, implausible, and bloody.
In short, it’s perfect for Hollywood, but a lousy novel.
Scott Turow’s The Burden of Proof is a novel about the people—lawyers, judges, cops, and clients— who facilitate or impede the administration of justice.
Alejandro “Sandy” Stern arrives home from a business trip to find his wife has committed suicide.
Sandy seems to be the only person shocked.
Sandy’s major client, Dixon Hartness, is the proprietor of a commodities trading firm who is routinely in trouble with federal regulators. He’s in deep trouble now: Federal prosecutors suspect he has been using his insider knowledge and possibly clients’ funds to make a killing in futures trading.
Sandy has reasons to worry. Dixon is not only his sister’s wife, but the employer of his daughter’s husband. And Sandy’s wife wrote Dixon a check for nearly a million dollars just before her suicide.
Sandy solves all the mysteries, not because he’s such a smart lawyer, but because people trust him. Even if Sandy works for disreputable clients, he personally is an honorable man.
I found Burden of Proof impossible to put down. The story’s financial and legal issues are as timely as the morning’s news. Besides that, Turow’s characters are such believable people that you feel you’d recognize them if you met them on the street.
The Burden of Proof by Scott Turow
Farrar Straus Giroux. 1990. 515 p.
1990 bestseller #3; my grade: A
Four Past Midnight is a set of four Stephen King novellas in a single wrapper, each with a different way of scaring readers.
The first novella, “The Langoliers,” takes a science fiction approach. In it, 11 passengers on a flight from L.A. to Boston wake to find they’ve slipped into a people-less world where they are the likely next victims of some unseen menace eating its way across America.
In the “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” a novelist is menaced by someone who claims the novelist stole his story.
“The Library Policeman” turns a child’s fear of what will happen if library books aren’t returned on time into a tale of a real monster who sexually abuses children while maintaining the guise of something other-worldly.
“The Sun Dog” is a tale of technology: A Polaroid camera takes photographs of objects that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
King is at his best in the stories that open with situations that make adult readers uncomfortable. “Secret Window” revolves around a perennial problem for fiction writers: Is their work really original? The “Library” story opens with a man who is picked at the last minute to give a speech to Rotary and has to ask the librarian for help.
In The Plains of Passage, Jean M. Auel picks up her story of Alya and Jondalar’s horseback trip from the Black Sea westward along the Danube, across a glacier, and on to Jondalar’s home into what is today France.
Alya fears Jondalar’s family won’t like her.
He worries he might not be able to father a child by her.
They meet few people on their travels. Those they meet are astonished that they ride horses instead of eating them and severely frightened by Alya’s tame wolf.
The pair win friends by sharing their knowledge. Alya is a medicine woman, animal trainer, inventor of a sewing needle, and discoverer of stones that, when struck, produce sparks for fire.
Jondalar is skilled in working flint for knives and spearheads, and inventor of a spear-throwing device that makes hunting big game easier.
To liven up the book, Auel provides a blow-by-blow description of each time Alya and Jondalar have sex. By comparison to Auel’s description of the sex life of the woolly mammoth, it’s pretty hot stuff.
Most of the book is taken up with descriptions of the geography and plant and animal life along the traveler’s route. It would be more interesting as a National Geographic program.