The Bourne Ascendancy by Eric Van Lustbader
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I could be wrong, but I think this just might be the best Bourne, at least since Ludlum, erm…”failed to achieve his wellness potential” shall we say. It’s one that I’d certainly read again. Of course, some of the surprise would be missing, knowing what happens, but maybe a second reading would help me appreciate even more, the mastery of (especially) the final phase this book. There’s no way I can give it less than 5 stars. It deserves more, but there you go, them’s the rules.
The action takes place largely in the middle east and the middle eastern area. Bourne has actually been there a while. After finishing up the last story, he has been replacing his funds, by hiring himself out as what is referred to here, as a ‘Blacksmith.’ I’ve never heard of this before, but the book assures us that it is someone who hires themselves out to impersonate people in places where that other person would really rather, for whatever reason, not be. And he’s done really rather nicely, money-wise, thank you very much. So, that is why he finds himself at a top-secret meeting in Doha, impersonating a Syrian minister. He’s also passing on what he has learned at this meeting, to the current love of his life, Sarah, who just so happens to work for and be the daughter of, the head of Mossad. An unfortunate combination, should the Arab leaders who surround him find out, obviously. As the book starts and as Bourne, finds ‘himself’ in the middle of a hail of bullets, you can see the attraction of using a ‘blacksmith’ if maybe not quite see the attraction of being one.
The plot from then one, is…well, it’s complicated. But in essence, Bourne’s old Treadstone colleague Soroya Moore and her husband and child, are kidnapped by Bourne’s (latest) enemy, the terrorist leader, ‘El Ghadan.’ EG, uses Soroya and family, to blackmail Bourne into taking on the task of killing the President of the USA at a forthcoming conference in Singapore. There’s a lot, lot more involved of course. Old enemies and relationships surface, other people have other agendas and Bourne has to try and pick his way through. He doesn’t seem to have a plan, but the genius of his plan is, that he doesn’t seem to have one.
What Bourne really doesn’t have, is trust. That’s what is lacking on both sides. The US Administration, or the ‘dirty’ part of it anyway, who set up a ‘Bourne,’ don’t trust him now he’s not under their control. Don’t trust what they themselves have created. They clearly never expected him to become sentient. And Bourne, after 11 books filled with the US administration trying to kill him, doesn’t trust them. Still, Bourne doesn’t really trust anyone. He’s learned the hard way. He doesn’t trust some, intentionally and because those he has trusted, even if they haven’t subsequently let him down, have more often than not died as a result of contact with and trust from, him. He’s learned not to trust anyone, to spare them from the dangers he faces. “Bitterness squeezed Bourne’s heart. It was a fact, hard but true, that everyone who had ever mattered to him had been either exposed to mortal danger or killed.” In essence, that’s what causes the doubts, regret and any uncertainty, in the post-Treadstone Bourne.
The problem with making these sort of thrillers so up-to-date, is that they’re consequently so quickly out-of-date. However, being set in the Middle East, or having that main plot revolving around their hatred for each other down there – it isn’t going to risk being dated any time soon. ‘Not in your lifetime,’ as Chief Justice Earl Warren once said about something else. EvL though, is probably if not bang up to date on US thinking about the Middle East, at least anticipating, based on past history/fuck ups, future policy – should the lunatics take over the asylum at the next US Election. Think p189 and some in the back corridors of the US administration are thinking ‘intervention in Syria’ “We’re all but out of Iraq and we’ll soon be leaving Afghanistan. We have six hundred and fifty Billion Dollars’ worth of high-tech weaponry at our disposal. It’s high time we used it against a target that truly must be crushed.” Can’t argue with that. Maybe Syria have the WMD?
If I had to criticise one tiny little thing, it would be the name the International Terrorist El Ghadan has chosen for his terrorist group. When translated into English, it is ’The Tomorrow Brigade.’ That is a bit weak, I think. Maybe they should have stuck with referring to it as (whatever is) the Arabic version. Might sound a bit more menacing, a little less, well…like a group of hippies.
But what made the book, what made all the previous pieces fit, was the end. The end third maybe. Multi-layered, complex, surprising, shocking, fitting, satisfying. Thought-provoking. Worth the admission price, for me. I never saw it coming (but then, neither did Bourne, to be fair to me). Why? I’m not Arabic. I didn’t see it coming, but I see how he did it. I was lulled, due to my being European, into thinking ‘this, then this, then that.’ I was wrong. EvL was 100% right. Wow! Cannot wait for the next one! Isn’t that how it should be?
And yes, I did spot that the two US women just so happen to share EvL’s taste in TV shows and music.