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After eight books (including a change of author) the signs are there that the Bourne series is running out of steam. The previous effort - The Bourne Objective - was distinctly lacklustre; this next instalment is not much better.
The real trouble is that the series is starting to feel very formulaic. The exact details might vary, but an overall trend is emerging: Bourne (or one of his allies) gets into trouble. Bourne (or one of his allies) gets out of trouble, usually through an act of violence and a daring escape that ends up in the death of yet another bad guy. Bourne (or one of his allies) finds some vague clue that takes them onto the next stage; at which point the whole cycle starts over again.
This worked fine for the first few books because each scrape led Bourne to another discovery about his missing past. There was a genuine sense of tension and plot progression that kept you interested. After eight books, it's all starting to feel a bit dull. There's only so many times you can read about Bourne fighting his way out of trouble or being double-crossed by someone he felt he could trust before the constant recycling of ideas becomes crushingly tedious.
Worse still, this plot doesn't feel as though it belongs in a Bourne book. The events of The Bourne Objective follow on immediately from the events of the previous book (and you'd better have read that one fairly recently, because Van Lustbader assumes you will remember every detail of it and only occasionally provides a brief recap). Unfortunately, the plot itself feels alien to Bourne's world. He has come into possession of a ring which (surprise surprise) is being hunted by lots of different groups, all of whom will kill to obtain it. The reason everyone is so desperate to get their hands on it is because they believe it will lead to the legendary secret of King Solomon's treasure and the ancient alchemical secret of how to turn lead into gold.
I mean, come on! That's a plotline that belongs in the over-the-top nonsense of Dan Brown or Chris Kunezski, not the gritty, deadly world of Jason Bourne. Admittedly, there is (an unoriginal) sub-plot which sees Bourne trying to track down his archenemy Arkadin, but even this is getting boring. Bourne and Arkadin have spent the last three books hunting each other down and, even when they succeed, they always manage to avoid killing each other (thereby ensuring that they can start the process of hunting each other once again). It's almost as though Van Lustbader is only capable of coming up with one plotline for Bourne and he just reuses it with every novel, changing the details and the location slightly in the hope that the reader won't notice.
There's another problem which has slowly emerged since Van Lustbader took over the franchise: his apparent need to kill off pretty much every major (and minor) character he comes across. Used sparingly, this can be effective, a shock tactic to lull the reader out of complacency and remind them that in this dangerous world, no-one is safe. However, he overuses it dreadfully and seems to feel a compulsion to kill of several major characters in every book he writes. I think I'm correct in saying that apart from Jason Bourne himself, there is not a single character left from the original Ludlum trilogy. It's as though Van Lustbader wants to take over the Bourne character, but doesn't want to be saddled with another author's creations, so has steadily purged them all.
Whilst the plotting is fairly vapid, there is at least something to be said for the pacing of the book. Like most of the Bourne thrillers, it's pretty well-paced, with sufficient detail to create a convincing and gritty atmosphere. Van Lustbader regularly switches between a cast of characters, gradually manoeuvring them all into place and whilst none of them are as interesting as Bourne himself, it does at least introduce a small degree of variety.
Sadly, like all too many books, the action is rather dragged out and the book is massively over-stretched. Plot developments take an age to resolve; Bourne and his cronies sometimes take a ridiculous amount of time to work out what is going on and at other times seem to pluck conclusions out of thin air, leaving the poor reader bewildered as to how they worked out what to do next. In the paperback version, the book is just shy of 550 pages and I started to lose interest in it long before I get anywhere near that point; persevering purely because I'd got so far through it that I was determined to find out how it all ended.
It's clear that publisher Orion views the Bourne franchise as a bit of a cash cow, knowing that the film trilogy has created a built-in audience that guarantees good sales of the books. It's also obvious that, despite the declining quality of each subsequent book, they are going to continue milking it for all it's worth. The Bourne Objective was only released (in the paperback version) in Spring 2011, but Bourne 9 is already available. Sorry, Orion, but this particular reader has had enough of this watered down version of the character and won't be reading any more of Mr Bourne's adventures until there is evidence of a marked improvement in their quality.
The Bourne Objective
Eric Van Lustbader
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012