The Bourne Sanction
Jason Bourne is so... six books ago. And yet, a legion of Bourne fans who fell in love with the amnesiac character from Robert Ludlum's original trilogy will fall right in step with the third follow-up penned by Eric Van Lustbader, rabidly devouring the latest tale of the increasingly shallow character of Jason for its action-packed, if slightly disorienting, plotlines. All told, this latest "Bourne again" book is pedantic, if occasionally stimulating.
Lustbader best serves the franchise with the invention of Arkadin, a vicious killer antagonist who might represent Bourne's most difficult challenge: a man molded for undercover warfare just like Bourne. He's the focus for much of the novel, and his initial killing spree of a series of international operatives from a supposedly defunct terrorist group named The Black Legion brings Jason Bourne indirectly out of relative retirement. That's ok with Bourne; he (like us) is somewhat bored of this university-professor cover and is itching to get back into the action. After all, every woman and mentor he's known has pretty much been killed in the line of action over five novels; what's left to protect?
The last remaining mentor, Dominic Spector, pleads with Bourne to chase out the remaining members of the terrorist group in the hopes of ferreting out their imminent US target. Simultaneously, Bourne's friend Moira Trevor requests Bourne's assistance with an LNG terminal being constructed in California - another potential terrorist threat. And as Bourne swings into action on both fronts, an internal war between the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence - with Bourne in the crosshairs - begins to unfold.
It seems every political thriller these days centers on terrorist threats; avid readers of the genre like myself are no doubt getting tired of the repetitive threat level levied by the likes of Lustbader. Nonetheless, the issue is topical, even if Lustbader manages to swing in the legacy of the Third Reich for extra menace. For much of the book, the action is gratifyingly bloody and apprehensive; but it skims over a dearth of character development. Bourne is going nowhere emotionally; and his intellectual processes show a continual turn toward the alarmingly thin. Moreover, as the predictable double-crosses occur, Lustbader can't seem to decide who the real baddies are: terrorists, or incompetent military caricatures high up in the US echelon. Perhaps this is a sarcastic statement on Lustbader's behalf; but it's subjectively ridiculous.