The Scorpio Illusion by Robert Ludlum

Title on all-text dust jacket appears to be burningThe worst thing that can be said about a Robert Ludlum novel is that readers must pay close attention.

In The Scorpio Illusion western government leaders aren’t paying attention.

A secret group calling themselves Scorpios are plotting to throw the US, Britain and France into turmoil concurrently, precipitating a public outcry for stability that will catapult them to virtual dictatorship.

The Scorpios are positioned to make it happen. They have money, power, and the protection of the most sophisticated technology and most ruthless assassins that their money can buy.

Meanwhile, a beautiful terrorist intent on revenge for the deaths of her parents and her lover is planning to kill the US President. She and the Scorpios make common cause.

To stop her, the intelligence community calls on a former naval intelligence officer, Tyrell Hawthorne, whose wife was shot as a spy because of a mistake made by inept higher-ups.  As he begins his work, Hawthorne runs into a beautiful woman who comforted him as he grieved; he vows not to lose her again.

Ludlum complies with the requirements of thrillers—sex, romance, blood, explosions—but his real interest is on how decent people can be hoodwinked because of the very traits that make them decent people.

Scorpio Illusion by Robert Ludlum
Bantam. ©1993. 534 p.
1993 bestseller #10; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Bourne Ultimatum: a novel

A conch shell with spike through it superimposed on photo of US capitalThe 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.

It’s that good.

The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum
Random House. ©1990. 611 p.
1990 bestseller #5; my grade: A

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Icarus Agenda

“The Icarus Agenda” dust jacket White House appears target of electrical storm
Is Kendrick White House material?

Robert Ludlum’s The Icarus Agenda is not escape reading.

Ludlum’s tale is a series of inter-connected, world-wide plots further connected by a journal typed into a computer by an unidentified man who records the events for his own mysterious purposes.

In book one of the novel, terrorists have already killed 11 hostages and threaten to kill the other 236 Americans they hold hostage in the US embassy in Masqat, Oman. They demand release of 8,000 terrorists belonging to organizations ranging from the IRA to the PLO.

Evan Kendrick, a newly-elected, “accidental” Colorado congressman, convinces the State Department’s covert operations director to let him try to raise the siege using connections he made—including connections to the Sultan of Oman—while doing construction work in the Middle East.

The man at DoS agrees only because Kendrick’s offer is predicated on his role never being known to any other person.

The hostage incident is over page by 221 of the novel. After that the Ludlum’s story  gets complicated.

Although the novel is action packed, Ludlum’s characters are believably complex characters whose motivations are as complex as their personalities.

This 1988 bestselling political thriller requires—and deserves—readers’ full attention: The plot Kendrick uncovers is altogether too plausible to be dismissed in 2019.

The Icarus Agenda by Robert Ludlum
Random House. ©1988. 677 p.
1988 bestseller #4; my grade: A-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

 

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

The Aquitaine Progression

 “The Aquitaine Progression” dust jacket is black with only small circle in which action is visible.
Converse waits for a cable car

The Aquitaine Progression, like Robert Ludlum’s other thrillers, is an incredibly complex multi-layered story that demands all a reader’s attention.

The main character is Joel Converse, an international lawyer and former Navy pilot. During the Vietnam War, Converse had been imprisoned by the North Vietnamese, escaping to freedom on his third attempt.

The novel’s action is too complicated to relate but the premise at the novel’s core is too believable to be forgotten.

A handful of highly placed military men—in the U.S., France, West Germany, England, Israel, and South Africa are planning to, in effect, take over Europe and Europe’s former colonies in the Americas.

Their plan is to take advantage of peaceful demonstrations to create chaos. The conspirators have trained men ready to attacking both the demonstrators and the demonstrator’s opponents without revealing their own identifies.

In the confusion, the conspirators will assassinate the leaders of the major democracies, expecting that lawlessness they’ve sparked will make people beg for strong military leaders to restore order: The military men have the trained troops and the munitions needed to do that.

Although Ludlum was writing in the ‘80s, it takes little imagination to see how the plot he imagines could play out today.

The Aquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum
Random House. ©1984. 647 p.
1984 bestseller #2; My grade: A

©2019 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Parsifal Mosaic

Robert Ludlum’s The Parsifal Mosaic is aptly named: The novel seems composed of millions of bits of information.

front of “The Parsifal Mosaic” suggests gun pointed toward woman in the dark.
A woman on a beach in moonlight

The central story is rather simple. The White House has been infiltrated by a Russian mole who is not an ordinary KGB mole. This mole works for the VKR, the fanatical wing of the KGB.

This much information is suggested obliquely to Michael Havelock, an ex-field agent for a clandestine branch of the U.S. State Department, by his KGB counterpart, Peytor Rostov.

Rostov knows Havelock was in love with a woman who was murdered, accused of being a Soviet spy.

Rostov also knows the woman never had any KGB affiliation. He can’t understand why the kill was made to look like she did.

Havelock rejects the story until he spots his lover across the platform in a crowded Rome train station.

After that—which all happens in the first 40 pages—Havelock has to find Jenna and learn what happened that night on the beach and who is behind the deceptions.

Ludlum twists and turns and jackknifes his plot. He kept me turning pages, but I’m still not sure I got the entire story straight.

Perhaps The Parsifal Mosaic has just a few too many pieces.

The Parsifal Mosaic by Robert Ludlum
Random House © 1982. 630 p.
1982 bestseller #3. My grade B

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Bourne Identity: Gripping story, forgettable characters

A sea shell pierced by a nail against a black background on the dust jacket of “The Bourne Identity”
The Bourne Identity cover art symbolizes murder attempt at sea

As he did in his previous bestseller, The Matarese Circle, in The Bourne Identity novelist Robert Ludlum tells a story that will keep readers turning pages long past their bedtime.

Bourne is the identity assumed by a man pulled from the Mediterranean “more corpse than man,” unable to remember anything about his past, including why he has a piece of microfilm with a Swiss bank account number implanted in his hip.

In Zurich, the amnesiac takes a woman hostage—every spy story requires the hero have a woman to complicate the plot—and together in Paris they begin to piece together Jason Bourne’s origins in Southeast Asia.

Ludlum is a master storyteller. Plot is his forte. Ludnum gives his characters just enough depth to be recognizable. They learn what’s necessary to advance the plot, but they don’t grow.

A day after closing The Bourne Identity, readers may wonder how Bourne, even before being shot in the head multiple times, could have been expected to remember everything he was required to remember to implement the machination of the West’s intelligence services.

Two days later, readers may even be unable to recall the names of the main characters.

But while they’re reading, they will be totally immersed in this complex, fast-paced thriller.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
R. Marek Publishers, © 1980. 523 p.
1980 bestseller #2. My grade: B+

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Matarese Circle

Robert Ludlum’s The Matarese Circle is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that will hold your attention to the final full stop.

Black background of dust jacket sets off white type and circular blue mark of The Matarese.
The blue mark identifies Matarese members .

The lead characters are an American spy, Brandon Scofield, and his Soviet counterpart, Vasili Taleniekov.

The two are deadly enemies. Scofield holds Taleniekov responsible for his wife’s death; Taleniekov blames Scofield for killing his brother in retaliation.

When the Russian stumbles upon a secret organization that’s financing terrorists around the world, he can’t discern the Matarese’s motive, but he knows the Matarese must be stopped.

To stop them, Taleniekov has to get Scofield to work with him.

Both men are the best in their respective nations’ intelligence communities.

Both are considered mavericks.

Both are tired.

Both are beginning to doubt that their lives’ work has made any difference.

Once they agree to cooperate, the pair go to Corsica where the Matarese is legendary but never spoken of to outsiders and not often mentioned among Corsicans.

Whispers suggest the organization dates from the eleventh century.

Intelligence services know the Matarese provided assassins for hire until the 1930s.

No one knows what they are doing in the 1970s

Ludlum spins a good yarn.

The unlikely collaborators deal the Matarese a death blow.

Or do they?

The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum
R. Marek Publishers, ©1979. 601 p.
1979 bestseller #01 My grade: B+

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Matlock Paper: Thrills at the university level

Silver and black type on front cover tell book author and title
The paper looks innocent enough.

The Matlock Paper is a tense, carefully plotted thriller about Jim Matlock, a young English literature PhD recruited by the Department of Justice to go undercover to find Nimrod, the brains behind an organization running drugs, gambling, and prostitution and in nearly every university in New England.

The DOJ regards Matlock as “flawed but mobile” and susceptible: Matlock’s younger brother died from a heroin overdose and he holds himself responsible.

Organized crime has arranged a conference to negotiate an accommodation with Nimrod, whose extraordinary growth is taking a bite out of crime.

The same night after giving him a crash course in how to go undercover, Matlock’s DOJ contact is killed on the way to his car and someone takes a shot at Matlock.

All that happens in the first 38 pages.

Even though there are dozens of characters to watch, novelist Robert Ludlum makes his characters distinctive so that there’s no trouble remembering who’s who.

Aside from letting Matlock go more than two weeks without ever going to teach a class, Ludlum makes his inventive tale seem plausible.

You won’t gain and wisdom from The Matlock Paper, but you’ll be totally caught up on Matlock’s world for a few hours.

The Matlock Paper by Robert Ludlum
Doubleday, © 1973. 310 p
1973 bestseller #8. My grade: B+

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni