One of my favorite authors is the late Robert Ludlum. Some may be familiar with his work mainly through the magic of cinema. The machinations of his Jason Bourne character have been the subject of hit movies such as The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum, Jason Bourne, and The Bourne Legacy. Most of the action flicks featured Matt Damon as the title hero, playing a CIA assassin suffering from dissociative amnesia which “occurs when a person blacks out certain information, often associated with a stressful or traumatic event.” (I’m pretty certain you don’t want a CIA assassin to have that.)
While the films were full of action and suspense, there’s only so much story that can be told in two hours. As usual, the plots in the books themselves were even more expansive and tightly-woven than in the movies.
Beginning with his first novel, The Scarlatti Inheritance, back in 1971, Ludlum showed immediately he was the master of intrigue and complicated twists and turns. Reading his books was a worthwhile investment in time and brain power, and all were definite page-turners. Most did not feature Jason Bourne and were stand-alone stories. And all kept you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. My sister likes to tell the story of being on a long car ride with me. We were swapping off driving duties, but I was trying to finish the latest Ludlum. Her two-hour shift ended up being about five hours long because I kept saying, “Just a few more pages.” I couldn’t put it down.
I’m mentioning Ludlum’s work now because it occurred to me the other day as I watched the latest national and international news unfold that perhaps we’re all smack in the middle of a Robert Ludlum-created story. Situations across the globe for the last several years have all the hallmarks of plotlines the author would have crafted.
Start back with the 2016 presidential election. What better way to divide our country than to have two more-polarizing-than-usual candidates face off for the top political prize? Did some sinister foe orchestrate that match-up? The Clinton campaign certainly gave great credence to Russian influence. And the Trump folks were quick to counter with accusations of Hillary’s suspect emails and her family’s ties to international players of dubious repute.
Surely a Ludlum plot would involve the indoctrination of the media by unknown outside forces. There’s little doubt that a vast majority of newspapers, magazines, TV news stations, and other disseminators of current events were not exactly always fair and balanced in their coverage of Trump Administration policies for his four years in office.
Of course, the Covid pandemic is the plot twist no one saw coming. Ludlum would have definitely included the Chinese as possible perpetrators as he introduced that element of the story. After all, what’s a good thriller without international ne’er-do-wells? The secrecy surrounding the whole Wuhan lab and its potential role in being ground zero for the coronavirus practically writes itself. In all probability though, Ludlum would have featured a character with intimate ties to the lab who would have provided key details of just what went on there. And no doubt he would have also used the idea of the virus having come from bats in open market food courts to throw the reader off the real scent.
Perhaps a tangential storyline would have featured drug- and people-smuggling along the southern U.S. border. Ludlum no doubt would have found some way to tie the two together. A conniving coyote character would have been a must-have. Sending thousands and thousands of illegal aliens across Mexico in caravans together with a giant political brouhaha about building or not building a wall surely would have been worth several key chapters.
Ludlum loved to throw the unforeseen into his stories. There are certainly several to choose from what’s happened lately. Real disasters such as an earthquake or Category 5 hurricane, or giant wildfires and torrential rains come to mind.
Ludlum probably would have created an element of tension in the world such as the Taliban re-establishing itself in Afghanistan. And what about a report that there are several massive asteroids headed in the direction of Earth?
Add to that a new Administration that seems to be in a bit of disarray at the moment, and it’s impossible to put a book like that down. As a great fan of Robert Ludlum novels, I’m interested in seeing how this one plays out in the end. At least, I think I am. Maybe I don’t really want to find out. The last chapter might be too frightening.