The Bourne Supremacy

Black background directs focus of The Bourne Supremacy to man, woman in gun scope
Bourne and Marie are targets

The Bourne Supremacy is Robert Ludlum’s sequel to his 1980 bestseller The Bourne Identity.

Here David Webb is pulled from university teaching to return to being Jason Webb, an assassin working for the U.S. government.

The U.S. government secures Webb’s cooperation by kidnapping his wife.

While Webb has been recovering from the physical and mental trauma of his former life, someone in the Far East hired an assassin to impersonate him.

Highly placed American diplomats fear assassinations of highly-placed individuals will trigger an invasion of Hong Kong by mainland China, disrupting economies worldwide.

Most of the novel’s action takes place in Hong Kong’s crowded streets and back alleys, where men change their allegiance for a $20 bill.

Readers need to pay close attention as Ludlum constructs stories within stories.

In the Orient — and in American political life — things are often not what they seem and it’s assumed that every assertion is a lie.

While Ludnum’s characters are not, one hopes, the sort of folk readers rub shoulders with every day, they are believable in their context.

It’s not necessary to read Ludlum’s 1980 and 1986 bestsellers as a set—Ludlum’s too good a writer for that—but doing so gives The Bourne Supremacy greater impact.

The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum
Random House, ©1986. 597 p.
1986 bestseller #4; my grade: B+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Noble House: Snapshot of an era

Cover shows disk that plays a key role in Noble House
Noble House is a BIG novel.

In Noble House, James Clavell updates the story of Straun’s Hong Kong trading company—the Noble House— whose 19th century founding was the topic of his earlier bestseller Tai-Pan.

Ian Dunross becomes tai-pan—head—of the company in 1960 determined to turn it into an international rather than an Asian company.

From the start, he’s hampered by bad decisions of former tai-pans and a century-old rivalry with another trading company run by Quillan Gornt.

Dunross hopes to repair his fortunes by a joint venture with an American company.

Par-Con Industries’ CEO, Lincoln Bartlett, arrives accompanied by his negotiator “Mr. K. C. Tcholok” who turns out to be a very attractive young woman whose expectation of being treated as a professional offends both men and women in Hong Kong.

Clavell keeps at least a half dozen different stories running at the same time, enabling him to show how people in various strata of Hong Kong society live.

Much of Noble House is very much a product of its time. There are many references to spies and scandals of the ’60s, French and American involvement in Vietnam, drug trafficking, and Russian-Chinese rivalries.

At 1,206 pages Noble House is not a novel for weaklings, but it’s well worth reading.

Noble House by James Clavell
A novel of contemporary Hong Kong
Delacorte Press. ©1981. 1206 p.
1981 bestseller #1. My grade: A-

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Honourable Schoolboy

The Honourable Schoolboy is a John Le Carré tale from the dark underside of the West’s Cold War spy operations.

Cover of The Honourable Schoolboy: gold text on black.
Gold text suggests the gold seam of The Honourable Schoolboy 

After his unmasking of British secret service chief Bill Haydon as a 30-year Russian agent, told in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, George Smiley was appointed its caretaker.

Exploring investigations that Haydon surpressed, Smiley sends Jerry Westerby, a.k.a., “the honorable schoolboy,” to Hong Kong where he learns the owner of a trust fund to which the Russians have been covertly a “gold seam” is millionaire Drake Ko.

Ko has never touched the fund, which amounts to a half-million dollars.

Smiley wants to know what the Russian are buying.

To find out, Westerby follows some very unsavory characters in Cambodia, Thailand, and in Saigon as the North Vietnamese Army captures it.

As in the other le Carré novels about the Circus, Schoolboy holds stories nested inside one another like a wedding gift of mixing bowls.

There’s plenty of action, but the toughest work is done men and women poring over documents looking for patterns and anomalies and asking, “Why?”

The novel requires similar close attention from readers just to keep up with the twists of the story.

The Honourable Schoolboy
by John le Carré
Knopf, 1977. 533 p.
1977 bestseller #4. My grade: B+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Missing Tai-Pan would be bad joss

Tai-Pan is the story of six months in the life of Dirk Straun, the Tai-Pan (Chinese for supreme leader) of the European trading community in China in 1841.

The novel is as complicated as Straun himself.


Tai-Pan: A Novel of Hong Kong  by James Clavell

Atheneum, 1966. 590 pp. 1966 bestseller #8. My grade: A.


1966-08_Tai-PanStraun is scrubbed, clean-shaven, and suave in a day when men are dirty, lousy, and smelly.

He’s a devoted family man, with families by a wife in England and two mistresses in China.

A master manipulator, ruthless in pursuit of a dynasty, Straum’s respected even by those who hate him.

Once he’s secured Hong Kong for the English, Straum plans to go home leaving  his son to take over the trading firm.

Hong Kong is the key to the vast Chinese market: The mountainous, malaria-ridden island has the best harbor in the world.

Straun has many enemies, but the Brocks, father and son, are the deadliest.

Tensions between the two families mount as Straun’s son elopes with Brock’s daughter.

Straun usually keeps things under control, but sometimes joss—luck—is against him.

Tai-Pan has dozens of characters to keep straight. Chinese characters speaking pigeon English make it hard to understand the power struggles below the surface.

James Clavell’s writing and the once-again timely topic, however, will repay readers’ efforts.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni