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Robert Ludlum wrote some cracking spy books, but just as good as the stories are the titles he came up with. The Osterman Weekend left me with no clue as to what the plot would be about, so, intrigued, I bought a copy in a sale for 49p from The Works bookshop. I didn't see the price as a gamble or an indicator that the book might not be any good, I've read quite a few Ludlum books so knew I was in for a good read. Spookily, I also read the Osterman Weekend in a weekend; at 250 pages it's not a time consuming epic.
What's it about?
John Tanner, a director of news from the well to do sleepy suburb of Saddle Valley, New Jersey, is approached by a member of the CIA and becomes part of a trap to catch members of Omega - a group of Soviet sleeping cells made up of fanatics who intend to cause economic chaos by threats and bribes of American powerhouses who's practices would still come out a murky grey if put through a boil wash.
The members of Omega all happen to be Tanner's friends, all married couples who are due to spend the coming weekend at Tanner's house. One of the couples is the Ostermans, hence the title of the book.
Tanner is coerced by the CIA representative into allowing the weekend to go ahead as planned so that the CIA can intercept them, but he must not do or say anything that would cause suspicion. The CIA man, Fassett, intends to use the gathering as a trap to bring in all the Omega members who he suspects are very close to putting their plan of economic chaos into action.
The springing of the trap involves a week of misinformation and seeds of doubt sewn into the minds of the couples - the Tremaynes, the Cardones and the Ostermans. The other couples are led to believe that the Ostermans are not to be trusted, neither is Tanner. The plot climaxes when the 'Osterman Weekend' finally happens at Tanner's house.
As spy stories go, the Osterman Weekend has most of the required elements - furtive phone calls, Swiss bank accounts, subversive dissidents, concealed pistols and electronic bugging devices etc. I was satisfied on that front.
What it doesn't have is the mind blowing awesomeness of the Jason Bourne saga, so if you've read those previous to the Osterman Weekend then you may, like me, be a little disappointed with the quality. Just to make myself clear, the Osterman Weekend isn't part of the Bourne series, but in comparison to the high standard Ludlum reaches in those books, the Osterman Weekend isn't as satisfying to read.
That said though, it's still a good old fashioned spy story and I enjoyed it enough to award 4 out of 5 stars.
Robert Ludlum is probably best known for writing the novels which the Bourne film series were based on. He did, however write many other novels in his life. About 18 months ago I got his full set of novels in a special deal from my book club and so I, now having read all my other books I had, started to work my way through these.
The Osterman weekend is fairly short and so would be good for a quick holiday read or to take with you if travelling for a period of time on public transport etc. Whilst the writing style is of a good standard and is not heavy going I did find it perhaps a little simplistic at times and as if the author only had half his mind on the task of writing the novel. Whilst the main plot does work well and the plot is built up as the story goes on it is hardly what I would call suspense building and at times parts of the story are very predictable.
The chapters are fairly short and so there are plenty of places where you can put the book down to do something else. The book is also split into three 'parts' which go from the weekend before the main plot comes to it's climax two the big 'Osterman weekend' This in a way does help break the story up and keeps the reader focussed but I do ask myself 'was it really necessary'
Brief Main Plot:
John Tanner a news and documentary 'editor' has been requested to attend a meeting about the most recent documentary his station put out. Some people high up in exalted positions are not happy about it. However, when he gets there the meeting is not what he expected.....
Firstly it is with someone else, someone he has never met before.....
Second just why is this stranger so interested in him and more so his friends......
Third why is he being asked to risk his life, and those of his family for someone he has never met before....
Fourth just who or what is 'omega'
What I thought of it:
Well this isn't the best novel I have ever read but that is not to say it is badly written, it isn't. The plot does work and there are a few major twists within it. Some I have to say are obvious some do tend to jump out at you shrieking 'surprise'. The story focuses on just the main plot and very little else is within the pages.
The lack of any real major sub plot is also in a way good as it does not distract the reader from what is going on in the main story but this has left little in the book of building a character background for the majority of the characters in the novel. In this book I feel that character description is particularly poor and only the main two or three characters are really given any form of background or information. Apart from that we are only told that say 'X' is the wife of 'Y' or 'A' was at school with 'B'.
For me there are far too many minor characters which may be mentioned only once every 70 or so pages, some only mentioned once then never spoken of again. This does make me wonder just how necessary these 'extras' are. Perhaps some could have been lost altogether whilst others could just as easily have been amalgamated into a smaller number to give the character more substance. At times I did find myself having to go back through the pages of the book as I was thinking 'who is s/he again?' This is something that does irritate me when reading and with better character development it would have not been a problem.
Ludlum does, however, do a good job in his description of the climax of the main plot and the few hours leading up to this. Although this only makes up about 30-40 pages (depending on the edition you have) at the end of the book it is here where the book becomes unputdownable. Ludlum does do a good job at building the suspense in these last few pages, but there is precious little of this in the rest of the novel. It is like his writing style changes towards the end in a way it is as if he is saying 'you thought the end would be dull, didn't you'. There is at times a bit too much coincidence within the book some of this does lead you to think along a different line to what is really going on but once or twice it so obvious that this is what the author was trying to do that it is easy to dismiss it.
In all this was an enjoyable read even with the coincidences mounting up. Even so the odd use of a red herring does at times throw you off the sent of what is really going on. Ludlum is a good authour and this is only the second one of his books I have read so I can't really say how it measures up to all of his others but I will be reading more of them in the future.