Title: The Bourne Ultimatum
Author: Robert Ludlum
Ludlum, Robert (1990). The Bourne Ultimatum. New York: Random House
PS3562.U26 B685 1990
Date Updated: January 6, 2017
This is another in Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series. I’ve read them all, including the more recent ones written by Eric Van Lustbader. Ludlum’s are the best, with action perfectly described, along with great plots. This review lists most of them up to the more recent books.
This review is adapted from Deist Brawler. Brawler says: “I saw The Bourne Identity in theatres with my dad. He’d already read the original trilogy and was excited that they turned it into a movie. During the movie he turned to me and said, ‘This is nothing like the book, but I like it.’”
Being poor I was looking through my parents’ books to find something to read; lo and behold, I came across the original trilogy. I set those to the side and kept looking, when I came across The Bourne Legacy. Then Betrayal and The Borne Sanction popped up…then I got Deception. My intent was to read the entire series and then write a review not of just the individual books, but the series as a whole. Why? Basically all of the stories are the same, Jason Bourne gets caught up in some crazy government plot, beats the crap out of some dudes, kills some other dudes, and in turn gets the crap beat out of him. In the end though, he’s going to save the USA. However, Bourne is like Rambo on steroids. I think, if he got in a fight with Rambo, Rambo would be dead in a second. He would step up to Bourne, fists raised, ready to fight, and he wouldn’t even get to swing before he was dropped to the ground. And to think, they were both born in the jungles of Vietnam.
Robert Ludlum created the original trilogy. Without doubt, Ludlum is the master of action stories. Jason Bourne is really named David Webb. Once an intellectual, his Thai wife and two children are murdered by a strafing plane in Cambodia. Enraged and without hope he goes to Vietnam where he joins a group of misfits and outlaws known as Medusa. [Although, this is gradually revealed through the book. You don’t know it until you’re deep into the story.] Through them he learns most of his skills, quickly becoming the best with the code name DELTA ONE. With the war ending Bourne is recruited to join Treadstone (which you should know from the movies…if you’ve seen them). His job there is to become the world’s number one assassin (at least on paper and in minds) so he can hunt down and kill the real number one assassin, Carlos the Jackal. This is where he, essentially, becomes Jason Bourne.
The Bourne Identity is basically what you see in the movie…with a few minor details. Bourne has amnesia. He’s trying to find out who he is, while an assassin (Carlos) and the CIA are trying to kill him. Carlos, because he thinks Bourne is after him. The CIA, because they think Bourne has gone rogue. In the film, Marie is a poor German woman trying to make her way through life. In the book, Marie is an intelligent economist who works for the Canadian government. She helps Bourne; the CIA acknowledges they made a huge mistake; and she steals several million from them; they give them a home and Bourne returns to being David Webb…a college professor.
The Bourne Supremacy. Marie is kidnapped. The kidnappers tell Bourne that in order to get Marie back, he must go to China and kill an assassin who is claiming to be Jason Bourne. Along the way, we discover that it’s not just kidnappers, it’s the American government that took Marie. The assassin he’s after is/was actually trained by another former member of Medusa, and the conspiracy is a lot larger than anyone imagined. How so? One man is trying to take over China.
The Bourne Ultimatum. Bourne is now a father. Marie and he have had a boy and a girl (parallels to his original wife and children). Carlos the Jackal comes after Bourne. In response, Bourne sends Marie and the children to the Caribbean with her brother. There’s a side story of a new Medusa? You can probably get the idea of what happens from there.
Ludlum’s Bourne is a rather complex character. Far from the young and energetic Matt Damon from the movies, he’s more Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 4. Bourne is old. In Ultimatum he is 51. As such, he doesn’t beat his enemies by being necessarily faster, or stronger, he beats them by being better. Another thing to note of Ludlum’s Bourne is that he, in essence, has a split personality,that alter ego being David Webb. Throughout the books, Bourne almost has waves of sympathy, of guilt, of remorse. These come from Webb, and Bourne is constantly having to shut Webb out. [This reminds me of Caliban in The Tempest. A character used, and two personalities in one.] Marie is also much stronger than she was portrayed in the films. She fights, she gets dirty, and she’s generally smarter than any of the other people around her…including Bourne. Ludlum also likes recurring characters such as Alex Conklin and Morris Panov. His books also take place in the 80s. Now, we get to Lustbader.
The Bourne Legacy. So how does Lustbader enter the Bourne world? He’s put Jason back to being David, working at the university again as a professor. He’s still got Marie there with the kids. Then…boom…he not only gets rid of Marie and the kids (figuratively), but he kills off Conklin and Panov. What Lustbader does in the first two books is kill off everyone that meant anything in the original trilogy. In essence, he wants to start from scratch. Legacy is about an assassin who wants Bourne dead. Through the course of the story, Bourne finds out about another terrorist plot that he has to stop and eventually gets the other assassin to help him do it. The key? The other assassin ends up being his son Joshua (the one who died). Joshua is good too…better than Bourne.
The Bourne Betrayal. Marie is dead. The only other remnant from the original trilogy, Martin Lindros, is kidnapped. Was Marie killed by some nefarious means? No, she got pneumonia.This book once again deals with terrorists. It’s also where Lustbader starts tossing around the word “chameleon.” Bourne before was always able to blend into situations. Ludlum would mention it using clothes, the way he walked, talked, and moved, etc. Lustbader goes beyond that by using prosthetics, makeup, etc. Now Bourne (and other characters) can mimic literal people. Change their appearance to look exactly like someone else, alter their voice so they sound like them too. This is what happens here. Two terrorists brothers want Bourne dead because he killed their sister (at least so they think) a long time ago. That’s their main driving motivation. The other is to take down the government from the inside. What better way to do that than to become someone important, thus, one brother becomes Martin Lindros. There’s also a little subplot wherein Bourne is brainwashed…it doesn’t last long…and I think Lustbader pulled it out of thin air. Along the way, we are introduced to several new characters, including Bourne’s new love interest, a woman named Moira who works in private security; Moore, a woman who is half Egyptian; and a protege of Lindros, Tyrone Elkins!. Although he’s a ghetto black guy that befriends Moore, technically he’s almost like a replacement for a character that was continued from Ludlum’s Bourne.
The Bourne Sanction. University professor, etc., going after terrorists, assassin hunting him down. So how is this assassin, Arkadin, different from all of the others? Well, he was Treadstone’s first attempt. That’s right. Treadstone’s real goal was to create the perfect killing machine. When Arkadin ran away from them, they grabbed Bourne. So how do they meet? While Arkadin is going one way, trying to track down some people, Bourne is going the other way, trying to track down some people. New people? Well, Moore is now head of Typhoon. Hart, a woman, former private security, who is now head of CI. Kendall, LaValle, Halliday are a bunch of government wonks with ties to NSA that want CI eliminated. Indeed, Tyrone is tortured by Kendall and LaValle, as Moore attempts to provide proof to have them taken out.
The Bourne Deception. Guess. No, really, guess. Terrorists.. Only this time, they’re Americans! There is so much going on in this book…I wouldn’t even really know where to begin. Arkadin almost kills Bourne, then Bourne goes after him. In the meantime, Arkadin has taken over a terrorist cell that he’s training for…something. The NSA is trying to swallow up all intelligence agencies, deriving much of their intel from a private company named Black River. Black River, in the meantime, is trying to start an international war, because an international war means more money. It’s just…confusing.
Lustbader’s Bourne is the movie Bourne. Not only does he eliminate everyone from Ludlum’s world (with the exception of Bourne himself), but he does so in two books. Never again is Bourne’s age mentioned, nor is it a factor. We’ve stepped out of the 80s and moved into modern times. After the death of Marie in Betrayal we don’t even really hear of his children anymore, as if they don’t even matter. David Webb? Other than initial introductions of him in the beginning of each book, he doesn’t really exist anymore either. That dual personality? Nope. Only Jason Bourne exists now. Lustbader kills characters off with reckless abandon, almost as if as soon as he gets bored with them, he just blows them up. I’m also getting the impression that he doesn’t even like Bourne. More and more, his novels are focusing on other characters, other aspects…more on political intrigue. Jason is almost an afterthought to keep the fist fighting and gunplay in the novels. I mean really, how many times can another assassin go after Bourne? Are there even that many high caliber assassins in the world? You would think that after a dude kills a gajillion of them people would quit sending them. Even his new love story between Bourne and Moira is…dull. He’s good at writing action [contra – I think he is lousy at writing action], but he’s not good at developing personalities [contra – I think he’s good at it.]
Ludlum took 10 years to write the Bourne Trilogy. Lustbader put out his first Jason Bourne book in 2004. Some 14 years after Ultimatum. His next one came out in 2007 and since then, he has popped out a Bourne book every year. Lustbader is much better with action and pacing than Ludlum was [contra: I disagree on both counts], but Ludlum has the story. I think the main problem is that Lustbader is trying to do too much in each novel. Rather than focus on one storyline, or even two, he seems to be trying to fit in as many different plots as he can. In many ways it just becomes confusing, in others it’s boring. My advice to him would be to keep a core group of characters. Quit killing people off in every book and introducing more. Stop with the endless roundabout of lies. He mentions that Bourne has a son, Joshua, an assassin, and three books later he hasn’t even mentioned him again. I honestly wish the two of them could have worked on a book together, let Lustbader handle the action and Ludlum stick to the story.