It’s hard to believe that a quarter-century has passed since Robert Ludlum introduced Jason Bourne in THE BOURNE IDENTITY. New attention has been focused on the series for two reasons. The first is the film relaunch, which has created a new popular awareness of the already iconic character. The second is the assumption of Ludlum’s mantle by Eric Van Lustbader for the purpose of carrying on, as well as broadening, the legacy of the Bourne mythos. This is a risky undertaking, given that any author charged with doing so must keep the character’s fan base happy on the one hand while moving the character forward on the other. Lustbader demonstrates in THE BOURNE DECEPTION, his latest offering in the series, that he is more than capable of doing both.
Lustbader has chosen a risky and exciting path in approaching Bourne, resulting in a landscape where, truly, one never knows what is going to happen next. He has been slowly and methodically killing off members of Bourne’s supporting cast and replacing them with creations of his own. Indeed, the only character who seems to be safe is Bourne himself, and there is a point early in THE BOURNE DECEPTION when it appears that even Bourne would not make it to the end of his own book. Luckily, the title accurately reflects what lies within.
The story opens with a meeting between two unlikely subjects, with the purpose being a quid pro quo involving Bourne’s death. And, indeed, Bourne is the target of an assassination attempt in Bali that is almost successful. While Bourne slowly recuperates, he undertakes a journey to try to determine who he is --- or, more accurately, the essence of his David Webb persona --- as well as who was behind the attempt to take him off the board. The answer to the latter question is a surprising one, given that it is Leonid Arkidin, an adversary whom Bourne had believed to be dead. But Bourne’s quest regarding his own identity is quickly terminated and, indeed, bookends the beginning and end of the tale.
Actually, that is inaccurate. Lustbader gives his readers many bangs for their time and bucks, and his practice of spinning out a number of exciting tales to a converging conclusion is well demonstrated here, as he aims plot lines originating in the past and present and set in exotic geographical locales toward a climax where the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
Indeed, the primary plot begins with a devastating surface-to-air missile attack against an American passenger jet flying over Egypt, which appears to be the work of Iranian terrorists. What is obvious is not always accurate, however, and Bourne and his allies, both official and unofficial, soon learn that the action is part of a plot instigated by a powerful organization with ties that reach to the highest levels of the United States government, and that regard Bourne as a major threat as well. Bourne, caught between two groups of deadly enemies, soon finds that his legendary recuperative powers may be put to the final test, even as the fate of the world hangs in the balance as it stands on the brink of a manufactured war.
Lustbader, who has been writing action thrillers since the beginning of the modern era of the genre, loads these pages with enough mayhem to keep even the most jaded video game addict turning the pages. Indeed, he possesses the ability to keep the reader engrossed even when Bourne, one of fiction’s more interesting characters, is off the page for extended periods. As Lustbader continues his process of incrementally reworking Bourne and his universe, THE BOURNE DECEPTION demonstrates that the journey along the way will continue to be an exciting one.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010