* Prices may differ from that shown
After two books and over 1,000 pages of text, I did wonder whether a third book in the Bourne series would be one too far. In fact, there's no sign that Ludlum or his character is running out of steam as this is the best Bourne book yet.
Once again, rabid fans of the film will be disappointed since, apart from the title and the main character, the book has absolutely nothing in common with the film of the same name. In this book, Jason Bourne/David Webb is now 50 and happily married with children. He is forced out of hiding when his old enemy Carlos the Jackal once again comes after him.
Despite being the third in the series, the Bourne Ultimatum feels more like a sequel to the first book, since they both deal with a similar subject (the hunt for the Jackal). Yet, Ludlum is too canny an author to repeat himself. Although there are obvious echoes with the first book, the Bourne Ultimatum offers a new spin on the hunt; where Bourne is fighting not just for his own life, but that of his family. Thanks to the recurring themes, readers of the first book will instantly feel familiar with both plot and characters and quickly find themselves immersed in Bourne's shady world.
In many ways, The Bourne Ultimatum is a less complex book than its predecessors. Whilst it still features the same crosses, double-crosses and subterfuge, it essentially boils down to a cat-and-mouse hunt between Bourne and Carlos the Jackal. When I first realised this, I was a little concerned. The complexity of the plot was one of the things which marked out previous books as different from others in the genre. In fact, this slight shift in direction makes The Bourne Ultimatum even stronger. The stripped down narrative contains enough of the complex "spy stuff" to satisfy, but ensures that characters and plot don't get lost in a mass of detail.
As with previous books, Ludlum really rips the pace along to keep the readers' attention. There is scarcely a chapter goes by when Bourne's life is not placed in jeopardy. This could become tiresome - an endless round of danger and escape - but in fact, it ensures the book is never less than gripping. It might be a long book (over 700 pages), but don't let that put you off; it's also an incredibly entertaining one that will grab your attention right to the last page.
Much of this is due to the characters. All the familiar faces return (Bourne, his wife, ex-spook Alex Conklin) which adds to that sense of familiarity. Yet, all have developed considerably over the course of three books and are now very well-defined and nuanced. To all intents and purposes, these are real people who continue to be shaped and developed by their experiences. Each of them is given a heightened role in this book, removing some of the focus off Bourne (although he is still the key character). Once again, this prevents any sense of over-familiarity from setting in and adds a new dimension to the plot.
It also adds a little bit of variety and underlines how much Bourne has changed. He is no longer the self-sufficient, ruthless loner. As his body and mind get older, he increasingly relies on the help and support of his friends and allies. This, in turn, adds to the sense that the characters are developing and not remaining static - just like real life.
Whilst it might be a little hard to believe that a fifty year old man could do some of the things Bourne does, Ludlum makes you believe in the character to the extent that things always seem within the boundaries of the possible. It might stretch credulity at times, but within the confines of Bourne's well-established world, it always seems at least plausible. In any case, the plot races along so fast that you never have chance to get bored or reflect on how unlikely it all is. The Bourne Ultimatum does its job - it keeps you interested and entertained from page one to the very end.
There are a few problems with the plot. Having read a couple of Ludlum books now, it's easy to predict the fate of some of the new characters (outside the established characters anyone who comes into contact with Bourne tends to get killed, which is a bit of a giveaway!) Ludlum does have a habit of introducing new characters for a specific purpose, then killing them off and forgetting about them as soon as they have fulfilled their role. Of course, this is a trick used by many authors, but, as the series progresses, it is becoming more obvious how much Ludlum relies on it.
There's one criticism of Ludlum's writing which still continues. In an already long book (which may be daunting for some readers straight away), he writes in long chapters, with only occasional breaks in the text. This means it's not always an easy book to just pick up and have a quick read. The long sections and the complex nature of the plot does mean you have to be willing to devote a chunk of time to reading it, and it's not necessarily a great one for reading on a bus or a train or in an environment where your concentration is likely to be interrupted.
Despite being that most dangerous of things - the third in a trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum still delivers an atmospheric and fascinating look into the dark world of undercover espionage and international politics. Whilst not as complex as previous entries in the series, it is still a fantastically entertaining read that will have you gripped from the first chapter.
The Bourne Ultimatum
© Copyright SWSt 2010
Having escaped from Paris, Jason Bourne has now retired and living happily once again as David Webb. With two young children and his wife Marie he has put the events of 13 years previous into the past and now he hopes his days of running are over. That is until his old enemy the Jackal manages to track him down and now Webb must once again become Bourne and head back to Paris, where he spared the Jackal's life previously to hunt him down once again. With help from old friends Alex Conklin and Mo Panov, Bourne must finally finish his feud with the Jackal if he is to ever have a normal life once again.
Having read the previous two books in the Bourne saga by Robert Ludlum after thoroughly enjoying the films of the same names I turned to the Bourne Ultimatum. By now of course the films and the books are different in all but name and lead character. I was expecting this one to be as good and addictive as the previous two books in the series but sadly was left feeling a little flat after making my way through some 724 pages to find it to not being quite of the same standard.
It was sadly lacking in the addictive qualities that the first two books had in abundance and that made the length of this book feel something of a chore. While Ludlum's trademark descriptions and characterisation are still there in full force they seem to be heavily diluted in a book that seemed to be about 200 pages too long. The game of cat and mouse between Bourne and the Jackal does work but he gets close and fails one or two times too many and that is perhaps the reason why it doesn't feel as enjoyable or addictive as the previous books.
If you read the books expecting the multimillion selling movies then you'll be disappointed but with the books and movies having different storylines it negates the inevitable comparisons. It means that Ludlum's novels and Paul Greengrass movies can stand apart and both do justice to the same series. Here Ludlum's portrayal of Bourne is fantastic and the characterisation provided over all three books builds up a character that as the reader you will find yourself caring about. He makes you side with Bourne in his attempts to retire and get away from the events of his past.
There are however moments when Ludlum has taken Bourne's background a little too far and repeats events from his past two or three times in the book when perhaps just the one time would have been more than enough. It's a problem that seems to inflict the rest of the characters as well and you find out information about Alex and Marie two or three times that interrupts the flow of the story and after the first time of reading about these events you find yourself starting to lose interest a little.
It's a real shame as it detracts from what, despite being a little on the long side is actually a very enjoyable story. Ok Ludlum could have cut parts out of the story but as this is his third book with Bourne as the lead character you get the feeling that he perhaps doesn't want to lose the character. While there have been another 3 books by other authors since Ludlum's death this was meant to be the last outing for David Webb as Jason Bourne and you get the feeling Ludlum didn't want to let him go easily.
Despite a few slight faults it is a good way to round off the series. It answers the questions that had been left from the first two books and would have been a good place to end the Bourne books. You can forgive Ludlum's attention to detail as that's what makes his books so enjoyable and the same with his characterisation. This is a really good thriller and while it doesn't keep you on the edge of your seat the same as the previous two it is a book that makes you want to keep reading, simply because you want to know what happens to Bourne.
Amazon Marketplace: £0.01