Born May 25, 1927, in New York, NY; died of a heart attack, March 12, 2001, in Naples, FL; son of George Hartford (a businessman) and Margaret (Wadsworth) Ludlum; married Mary Ryducha (an actress), March 31, 1951 (deceased, 1996); married second wife, Karen; children: (from first marriage) Michael, Jonathan, Glynis. Education: Wesleyan University, B.A., 1951. Politics: Independent.
Writer, 1971-2001. Actor on Broadway and on television, 1952-60; North Jersey Playhouse, Fort Lee, NJ, producer, 1957-60; producer in New York, NY, 1960-69; Playhouse-on-the-Mall, Paramus, NJ, producer, 1960-70. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1944-46.
Authors Guild, Authors League of America, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Screen Actors Guild.
New England Professor of Drama Award, 1951; awards and grants from American National Theatre and Academy, 1959, and from Actors' Equity Association and William C. Whitney Foundation, 1960; Scroll of Achievement, American National Theatre and Academy, 1960.
The Scarlatti Inheritance, World Publishing (New York, NY), 1971.
The Osterman Weekend, World Publishing (New York, NY), 1972.
The Matlock Paper, Dial (New York, NY), 1973.
(Under pseudonym Jonathan Ryder) Trevayne, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1973.
(Under pseudonym Jonathan Ryder) The Cry of the Halidon, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1974.
The Rhinemann Exchange, Dial (New York, NY), 1974.
(Under pseudonym Michael Shepherd) The Road to Gandolfo, Dial (New York, NY), 1975, reprinted under name Robert Ludlum, Bantam (New York, NY), 1982.
The Gemini Contenders, Dial (New York, NY), 1976.
The Chancellor Manuscript, Dial (New York, NY), 1977.
The Holcroft Covenant, Richard Marek (New York, NY), 1978.
The Matarese Circle, Richard Marek (New York, NY), 1979.
The Bourne Identity, Richard Marek (New York, NY), 1980.
The Parsifal Mosaic, Random House (New York, NY), 1982.
The Aquitaine Progression, Random House (New York, NY), 1984.
The Bourne Supremacy, Random House (New York, NY), 1986.
The Icarus Agenda, Random House (New York, NY), 1988.
The Bourne Ultimatum, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
The Road to Omaha, Random House (New York, NY), 1992.
The Scorpio Illusion, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
Three Complete Novels: The Ludlum Triad, Wings Books (New York, NY), 1994.
The Apocalypse Watch, Bantam (New York, NY), 1995.
The Matarese Countdown, Bantam (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Gayle Lynds) Robert Ludlum's The Hades Factor (first novel in the "Covert-One" series), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2000.
The Prometheus Deception, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2000.
(With Philip Shelby) The Cassandra Compact (second novel in the "Covert-One" series), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2001.
The Sigma Protocol, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2001.
(With Gayle Lynds) Robert Ludlum's The Paris Option (third novel in the "Covert-One" series), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2002.
The Janson Directive, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2002.
The Tristan Betrayal, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Gayle Lynds) Robert Ludlum's The Altman Code (fourth novel in the "Covert-One" series), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2003.
Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Legacy (written by Eric Van Lustbader), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2004.
The Rhinemann Exchange was adapted as a television miniseries by NBC, 1977; The Osterman Weekend was filmed by EMI, 1980; The Holcroft Covenant, directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Michael Caine, was filmed in 1985; The Bourne Supremacy, read by Michael Prichard, was released on cassette tape by Books on Tape, 1986; an abridged version of The Bourne Identity, read by Darren McGavin, was released on cassette tape by Bantam, 1987, and was adapted for television, c. 1989; The Icarus Agenda, read by Prichard, was released on cassette by Books on Tape, 1988; The Bourne Ultimatum, read by Prichard, was released on cassette by Books on Tape, 1990; The Road to Omaha, read by Joseph Campanella, was released by Random House, 1992; The Scarlatti Inheritance was filmed by Universal Pictures; The Bourne Identity, directed by Doug Liman and starring Matt Damon, was released by Universal Pictures in 2002; The Bourne Supremacy, directed by Paul Greengrass and again starring Matt Damon, was released by Universal Pictures in 2004; The Sigma Protocol has been optioned by Universal Pictures.
"Robert Ludlum," wrote Colin Harrison in the New York Times Magazine, "whose novels have sold 290 million copies (more or less the population of the United States), knew what makes a successful thriller. And that, above all, is velocity." Pages do not simply turn in a Ludlum suspense thriller, they fly by. Translated into thirty-two languages, Ludlum's novels have become popular around the world, their familiar three-word titles easily distinguishable on shelves of bookstores in airport and shopping malls: each begins with the article "The," followed by an exotic proper noun such as "Scarlatti" or "Bourne" or "Rhinemann," and ended with another noun that has the sense of an urgent message or secret contract, such as "Agenda," "Ultimatum," "Deception," or "Protocol." These words conjure up in the minds of a prospective reader a comforting novel of international intrigue and chases that promise to take one's mind off quotidian concerns, to throw the reader into a world where there are no mortgages to be paid, no lawns to be mowed, no blue Mondays beginning another work week. Ludlum's novels are set in a world apart from such petty concerns, where the chase was all; where indeed the fate of the world rests in the balance. In almost two dozen novels, such as The Scarlatti Inheritance, The Bourne Identity, The Chancellor Manuscript, The Icarus Agenda, and the books of the "Covert One" series, Ludlum has posited a world of deception and suspense, a battle of the good guys against the bad guys—and their list is long: greedy multinationals corporations, ultraconservatives, neo-Nazis, international terrorists. And the neatest hat trick of all, when Ludlum died in 2001 at the age of seventy-three, his work did not die with him. Like one of the everlasting heroes of one of his thrillers, he rises from beyond the grave with novels in the works, plotted or outlined and completed by other collaborators. Several years after his death, a handful of such posthumous books have already reached the bestseller lists.
Ludlum "has his share of unkind critics who complain of implausible plots, leaden prose, and, as a caustic reviewer once sneered, an absence of 'redeeming literary values to balance the vulgar sensationalism,'" Susan Baxter and Mark Nichols noted in Maclean's. "But harsh critical words have not prevented Robert Ludlum . . . from becoming one of the most widely read and wealthiest authors in the world." In fact, with sales of his books averaging 5.5 million copies each, Ludlum was "one of the most popular . . . authors [writing] in the English language," Baxter and Nichols concluded. If critics complained of one-dimensional characters and gee-whizz dialogue, very few lodged a protest against his "masterly plotting," as a critic for the Economist observed. "Every article has a surprise," this same contributor noted. "You might sneer at the dialogue, but you wanted to know what happened next."
Writing as a Second Career
Born on May 25, 1927, in New York City, Ludlum spent his childhood in New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York. His father died when he was young, and Ludlum was sent by his mother to private schools in nearby Connecticut. It was there that he discovered a passion for theater, acting in school productions. When he was sixteen, and attending Cheshire Academy, he decided to test his acting skills in New York, where he surprised himself by landing a part in a Broadway show, Junior Miss. The show went on tour to Detroit, Michigan, and while there, he crossed over the border into Canada and attempted to join the Canadian Air Force. Rejected as too young, Ludlum waited until 1945 to join the United States Marine Corps, in which he served in the South Pacific. Throughout his year of service, he kept a journal, filling several hundred pages of a notebook. Released from the service in San Francisco, however, he managed to lose this precious record in one night on shore. After his tour of duty, Ludlum left the military to attend college at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, where he met his future wife, Mary Ryducha. The two were married in 1951, when he graduated from college.
Ludlum returned to the theater, and for the next six years he appeared in numerous Broadway productions and in some two hundred television shows. But he became dissatisfied with the actor's life, which offered little in the way of creative control. As once told a contributor for the Chicago Tribune, as reported in his New York Times obituary, "Usually I got cast as a lawyer or a homicidal killer. But I got bored." He chose instead to become a theater producer. His most notable production, Bill Manhoff's The Owl and the Pussycat, featured then unknown actor Alan Alda, who later gained fame for his role in the television series M*A*S*H. The play was performed at Playhouse-on-the-Mall in Paramus, New Jersey, the country's first theater in a shopping center, which Ludlum opened in 1960. After serving as producer at the Playhouse for ten years, Ludlum ultimately found himself bored and frustrated with the pressures of theater work. He discovered that for a theater to be financially self-sufficient, it had to appeal to an audience base that did not like groundbreaking work. As the New York Times reported in his obituary, Ludlum once complained of the theater, "When you did something exciting and good, you could shoot a moose in the lobby for all the people who ever came." Finally, he gave in to his wife's admonition to try his hand at writing. He was forty-two at the time, and never looked back to the theater, except to do some voice-overs and to portray a successful author for an American Express commercial.
The Scarlatti Inheritance, Ludlum's first novel, was written around an old story idea and outline, drafted years earlier and finally fleshed out when he left the theater. Based on Ludlum's curiosity at the wealth of one group of Germans during that country's economic collapse and skyrocketing inflation following World War I, The Scarlatti Inheritance follows several financiers, including some Americans, who fund Hitler's Third Reich. The book set the pattern for Ludlum's career: the story of espionage and corruption became a best-seller. Criticism of The Scarlatti Inheritance also foreshadowed that of future works. The book was described by Patricia L. Skarda in Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1982 as having a "somewhat erratic pace and occasionally melodramatic characterizations" but was nonetheless "a thrilling, compelling tale"—pronouncements typical of each of Ludlum's novels.
In his next work, The Osterman Weekend, a television reporter is convinced by the CIA that his friends are involved in a conspiracy to control the world economy and agrees to gather evidence against them, but finds himself in over his head when his wife and children are threatened. Though the book's ending was considered disappointing by several reviewers, William B. Hill, writing in Best Sellers, noted, "If the ending is a bit weak, it is chiefly because it lets the rider down off a very high horse."
Skarda pointed out that the story "exposes the inadequacies of American intelligence operations and our deepest fears that our friends cannot be trusted." Government agents again use a civilian as an investigator in a situation beyond his expertise in The Matlock Paper. Professor Matlock is pushed "into an untenable and dangerous situation" while snooping around campus for information on a group of crime bosses, Kelly J. Fitzpatrick related in Best Sellers. "The climax is effective and leaves the reader wondering, 'Can it be so?'" Yet Newgate Callendar countered in the New York Times Book Review, "The basic situation is unreal—indeed, it's unbelievable—but a good writer can make the reader suspend his disbelief, and Ludlum is a good writer."
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Trevayne and The Cry of the Halidon, both written under the pseudonym Jonathan Ryder, feature protagonists who discover they were hired not for their skills, but in hopes that they would be unable to uncover the truth about their employers. Andrew Trevayne, appointed to investigate spending by the U.S. Defense Department, uncovers a company so powerful that even the president of the United States is controlled by it. "There is no doubt that big business exerts an inordinate amount of pressure," Callendar contended in a New York Times Book Review. "But how much pressure? Who is really running the country?" Reviewing The Cry of the Halidon, in which a young geologist is sent to Jamaica to conduct an industrial survey and winds up in the crossfire of British Intelligence, the corporation that hired him, and various underground factions, Callendar disparaged Ludlum's "rather crude and obvious writing style," and commented, "[Ludlum] is not very good at suggesting real characters, and his hero is a cutout composite of a number of sources." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found that, early on in The Cry of the Halidon, "cleverness ceases to look like a virtue and becomes an irritant. If the writing were as rich or subtle as the plot is involved the reader might more happily stay the course . . . , but the writing is in fact rather bare."
Ludlum's final pseudonymous offering (this time writing as Michael Shepherd), The Road to Gandolfo is "a strange, lurching amalgam of thriller and fantasy," Henri C. Veit contended in Library Journal. Involving the pope, the Mafia, and the U.S. Army, the book is intended to be funny, but falls short, Veit continued. A Publishers Weekly reviewer similarly noted that the book "comes crammed with zaniness and playful characters, but, unhappily, neither asset produces comedy or the black humor indictment of the military mind the author intended."
Novels of Paranoia, Not Thrillers
As reported in the New York Times, Ludlum once pointed out that "he wrote novels of paranoia, not thrillers." By this he meant that his plots played on readers' deepest held fears. "His concern with global mischief wasn't just story-telling, he said," the contributor for the Economist noted. "He had a 'certain anger' about the way the world was run. He cared." Thus he focused on events of current interest and concern throughout the three decades of his writing career: the 1970s was a decade of concern about the Cold War and the ever-present fascination with Hitler and his legacy; the 1980s and 1990s saw a turn to concern over big business and wheeling and dealing, cloning, and rampant viruses; by the new millennium international terrorism took center stage. And Ludlum covered all these topics, and more. His theater experience came to the fore in his writing, helping him to establish exotic scenes, instant characterization, and to "unfold complex, churning plots in books that pitted ordinary people against international assassins, communists, and multinational corporations with secret agendas," according to Louis Sahagun writing in the Los Angeles Times.
The Rhinemann Exchange contains "one extremely ingenious plot gimmick," according to Callendar in New York Times Book Review, in which the United States and Germany arrange a trade—industrial diamonds for Germany, a weapons guidance system for the United States. Despite the author's "commonplace and vulgar style apparently much relished by his vast audience," Veit predicted in a Library Journal review that the book would be a success. In a review of the audio version of The Rhinemann Exchange, a Publishers Weekly contributor believed Ludlum fans "will find exactly what they're looking for—in a format already quite familiar." Similarly, a secret with devastating consequences, described by Irma Pascal Heldman in New York Times Book Review as "absolutely within the realms of authenticity and fascinating to contemplate," is the key to The Gemini Contenders. Twin brothers, compelled by their father's deathbed wish to find a hidden vault containing a volatile document, unleash the secret on the world. Despite criticizing the plot, characters, and period detail of The Gemini Contenders, reviewer T. J. Binyon commented in the Times Literary Supplement that Ludlum "has the ability to tell a story in such a way as to keep even the fastidious reader unwillingly absorbed."
In The Chancellor Manuscript Ludlum returned to remaking history as he had in The Scarlatti Inheritance. J. Edgar Hoover's death is found to be an assassination, not the result of natural causes as was previously believed. The murder was carried out to prevent Hoover from releasing his secret files, which, Christian Science Monitor's Barbara Phillips noted, "contain enough damaging information to ruin the lives of every man, woman and child in the nation." A group of prominent citizens join forces to retrieve the files but find half have already been stolen. An unsuspecting decoy is deployed, as in many other Ludlum stories, to lead the group to the thieves. The message of The Chancellor Manuscript is familiar to Ludlum fans, as the book "seems to justify our worst nightmares of what really goes on in the socalled Intelligence Community in Washington," Richard Freedman maintained in the New York Times Book Review. Ludlum also feeds individual paranoia about the powers that be in The Matarese Circle, in which multinational corporations use a terrorist group to undermine government restrictions, and in The Holcroft Covenant, in which ultraconservatives are compared to fascists of the Second World War.
The Bourne Identity, which introduced a trilogy of books, follows Bourne, a spy who awakens in a doctor's office with amnesia; the story is played out as a remarkable number of killers and organizations attempt to finish Bourne off before he realizes his true identity. "Some of Mr. Ludlum's previous novels were so convoluted they should have been packaged with bags of bread crumbs to help readers keep track of the plot lines," Peter Andrews mused in the New York Times Book Review. "But The Bourne Identity is a Ludlum story at its most severely plotted, and for me its most effective." The second volume, The Bourne Supremacy, forces Bourne to face his past when his wife is kidnapped. The final story in the "Bourne" trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum, finds Bourne drawn into one last battle with his archenemy, the Jackal. The Los Angeles Times Book Review's Don G. Campbell praised the third "Bourne" book as an example of "how it should be done," concluding that "in the pulse-tingling style that began so many years ago with The Scarlatti Inheritance, we are caught up irretrievably." A fourth book in the series, Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Legacy, published in 2003, finds Jason Bourne framed for the murder of two of his closest associates and once again the target of an assassination attempt and on the run.
A woman comes back from the dead and a spy in the White House threatens humanity's continued existence in The Parsifal Mosaic. "Certainly, millions of entranced readers tap their feet in time to his fiction, and I'm positive this new adventure will send his legions of fans dancing out into the streets," Evan Hunter remarked in the New York Times Book Review. "Me? I must be tone-deaf." A world takeover is again imminent in The Aquitaine Progression, this time at the hands of five military figures. "Ludlum's hero, Joel Converse, learns of a plot by generals in the United States, Germany, France, Israel and South Africa to spawn violent demonstrations. Once the violence bursts out of hand, the generals plan to step in and take over," Charles P. Wallace wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. The Icarus Agenda features a similar plot. This time, five wealthy, powerful figures arrange the election of the next United States president. "There is a sufficient amount of energy and suspense present in The Icarus Agenda to remind the reader why Mr. Ludlum's novels are best sellers," Julie Johnson commented in the New York Times Book Review. "Ludlum is light-years beyond his literary competition in piling plot twist upon plot twist," Peter L. Robertson commented in the Chicago Tribune Books, "until the mesmerized reader is held captive, willing to accept any wayward, if occasionally implausible, plotting device."
In The Road to Omaha, Ludlum departs from the seriousness of his espionage thrillers with a follow-up to The Road to Gandolfo that continues that novel's farcical tone. The Hawk and Sam, Ludlum's heroes in Gandolfo, return to fight the government for a plot of land legally belonging to an Indian tribe. In a review of the audio version of The Road to Omaha, a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, "Hardcore Ludlum fans may be taken aback at first, but they stand to be won over in the listening."
The Scorpio Illusion returns to more familiar Ludlum territory: terrorism, international intrigue, mayhem, and death. In this novel, Amaya Bajaratt, a beautiful Basque terrorist, ignites a plot to assassinate the leaders of Israel, England, France, and the United States. Supported in her plot by a secret society of assassins known as the Scorpios, Bajaratt ventures to the United States to carry out the prize murder—the assassination of the U.S. president. The killer runs into resistance in the form of Tye Hawthorne, a former Naval intelligence officer, who is the only person capable of stopping the scheme. The Apocalypse Watch, Ludlum's next novel, covers similar serious territory, as a well-funded group of neo-Nazis attempts to create a Fourth Reich and achieve world domination. This intricately plotted novel features Harry Latham, who infiltrates the evil group only to be implanted with a memory chip of false information about prominent supporters of the group. When Harry is killed by the neo-Nazis, his brother Drew must pick up the fight against the group. Aided by the beautiful and mysterious Karin de Vries, Drew dodges assassination attempts and thwarts the neo-Nazis' plot for world-domination.
The key elements of Ludlum's books—corruption in high places, elaborate secret plans, and unsuspecting civilians drawn into the fray—are what kept Ludlum fans waiting for his next offering. His writing, characterized by the liberal use of exclamation points, italics, sentence fragments, and rhetorical questions, has been described by some critics as crude, but others acknowledge that the style is popular with millions of readers and has proven difficult to duplicate, leaving Ludlum with little copycat competition. Still, reviewers often pointed to Ludlum's use of mixed metaphors and illogical statements as serious flaws in his books. Horror novelist Stephen King, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek review of The Parsifal Mosaic for the Washington Post Book World, highlighted some of Ludlum's "strange, wonderful, and almost Zen-like thoughts: 'We've got . . . a confluence of beneficial prerogatives.' 'What I know is still very operative.' 'I'll get you your cover. But not two men. I think a couple would be better.'"
The Final Years
Robert Ludlum's The Hades Factor, cowritten with Gayle Lynds, is the first novel in Ludlum's "Covert-One" series. Lt. Col. Jonathan Smith, a doctor and former spook, is involved in biomedical research concerning deadly viruses. He is warned by an old friend—now an FBI agent—that his life is in danger. Within short order, his fiancée, also a virus researcher, is dead and Smith is forced underground after sidestepping several plots to kill him. The "doomsday" virus, unleashed by a shadowy enemy, kills three people in diverse locations within the United States, and Smith amasses his own secret force of experts in computer hacking and covert operations to stop those who are behind the virus and want to kill him. "The book reads fast," wrote Randy Michael Signor in Book, with "characters [who] are in service to plot, and plot [that] is in service to sales." Ronnie H. Terpening liked the book more, writing in Library Journal that The Hades Factor is "a top-notch international thriller" with "devastating double-crosses, gutwrenching twists, fast-paced action, [and] pressure that ratchets up to an explosive conclusion."
In The Prometheus Deception, evil forces once again attempt to take over the world. Stopping them is Nick Bryson, a retired spy who is shocked to discover that the top-secret agency he worked for—the Directorate—for twenty years was a front for the Russians. The CIA turns to him for help in dismantling the organization, which is planning terrorist attacks on the West in the form of anthrax outbreaks, train derailments, and airplane explosions. Bryson comes to suspect that the attacks are not the work of the Directorate, but rather another shadowy intelligence agency, the Prometheans. As Bryson narrowly escapes many hair-raising situations, he comes to doubt everything the CIA has told him as well. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that Bryson "is a dynamo and lots of fun to watch in action," but lamented that Ludlum's concern that "technology will soon allow for surveillance on a scale that grossly infringes on personal privacy" gets drowned out by the non-stop action of the plot. David Pitt of Booklist commented that The Prometheus Deception "should keep even the most experienced readers guessing." But some reviewers found the book more substantial than that. Michael Lollar of the Commercial Appeal took the book's focus on privacy invasion more seriously. "Ludlum creates a scenario in which seemingly benign mergers and acquisitions mean that a single corporation can delve into every aspect of a person's life," Lollar wrote. "Life insurance, health insurance, medical records, credit records and banking records all are merely subsidiary operations easily retrieved at corporate headquarters." Lollar concluded that by the end of the novel, readers "will be left with the chilling feeling that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you."
In The Cassandra Compact, the second "Covert-One" novel, this time cowritten with Philip Shelby, Lt. Col. Jonathan Smith returns, hot on the heels of a plot to steal the deadly smallpox virus from a decrepit Russian laboratory. In true Ludlum fashion, the conspiracy proves to be worldwide, and Smith chases the virus from Venice back across the Atlantic Ocean, and finally meets up with it in Nevada, after the space shuttle lands with several dead astronauts aboard—all victims of smallpox. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that the plot is not as complex as some of Ludlum's previous novels, but "the cinematic chase through changing landscapes and mounting body count gives the book its rapid pace, while insider politics, tradecraft and technical wizardry lend an extra kick."
Ludlum died in early 2001, but he left behind a finished novel and outlines for many more, which his publisher says will be finished by others and released under Ludlum's name. The Sigma Protocol, finished at the time of his death except for a few final touches, was published posthumously. Anna Navarro is a government agent assigned to a toplevel case concerning a plot to murder the conspirators of a long-ago plan to steal a large amount of gold. Ben Hartman is an unsuspecting businessman who uncovers the truth about his billionaire parents and the death of his twin brother in a plane crash that Ben survived. It is the kind of book "in which the hero is just about to get an explanation for what's happening when the person he's talking to is silenced by an assassin's bullet," commented Chris Barsanti in Book. "It's refreshing to see something different," commented David Pitt of Booklist in regard to The Sigma Protocol, which is nevertheless full of Ludlum's characteristic action and plot twists. Pitt also complimented Ludlum for "developing a smoother style" in his later books, with "characters that felt real and dialogue that didn't sound so obviously contrived."
Further posthumous additions to the Ludlum oeuvre include the third and fourth installments of the "Covert-One" series, as well as a stand-alone titles, The Janson Directive and The Tristan Betrayal. In The Janson Directive Paul Janson has a difficult past which includes a shadowy career in U. S. Consular Operations as well as with the Navy Seals. Now living a quiet life, he has no desire to go back into covert action. Then comes the news that Nobel Peace Prize Winner Peter Novak—a man who once saved Janson's life—has been kidnapped by Muslim terrorists and is set to be executed. Janson quickly assembles a team of former operatives to rescue Novak, but the operation goes bad and Janson finds himself marked for death unless he uncovers the truth behind these events. A critic for Kirkus Reviews called this novel a "marvel of stunning physical detail" with a "hugely prescient" plot. Ludlum died before the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, yet his novel refers to Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda, and Palestinian suicide bombers. A contributor for Publishers Weekly noted that this book was "unadulterated Ludlum," a completed manuscript at the time of the author's death. For the same critic, The Janson Directive was "vintage Ludlum—big, brawny and loaded with surprises." The writer for Kirkus Reviews praised the novel as "Ludlum's best since his masterpiece of paranoia, The Bourne Identity." Ludlum's novel about Bourne was released as a popular movie, starring Matt Dillon, in 2002.
Gayle Lynds, a collaborator on the first title in the series, coauthored the third and fourth books of the "Covert-One" series. Robert Ludlum's The Paris Option was published in 2002 and opens with an explosion in the middle of the night which reduces a large section of the Pasteur Institute in Paris to rubble, killing some of the scientists and injuring others. Examining the remains, however, the body of the world's top computer scientist, Emile Chambord, is found missing. A terrorist group claims responsibility for the bombing, but many in the intelligence community suspect the scientist was kidnapped and the bomb set to divert attention. The scientist may have been close to devising a working molecular computer which, in the wrong hands, could be the most deadly weapon in the world. Jon Smith is called in to settle the affair, searching from Paris to London, Brussels, and Algiers for traces of the scientist and the ambitious forces behind the bombing and theft. He is aided in the hunt by MI5 agent Peter Howells, CIA agent Randi Russell, and the computer whizz Marty Zellerbach. Reviewing the novel in Kirkus Reviews, a critic quipped that Lynds "offers cloth-of-velvet moods and descriptive passages of various European cities, medicating much of Bipolar Bob's [Ludlum's] multidimensional sensibility." Equally critical was a contributor for Publishers Weekly who noted the "over-the-top, almost parodic tone" of the book, and regretfully observed that "Ludlum bequeaths yet another ghostly burlesque of his fabled plotting talents." Reviewing the audiobook in Booklist, however, Candace Smith pointed to the trademark "driving action and lots of plot twists" on offer in the tale. And Jean Palmer, also reviewing the audio versions in Kliatt, had similar praise, calling it "fast-paced, . . . thrilling, [and] funny," and further noting that this is "Ludlum at his best, with little sex and little violence, but mostly smart people outsmarting others."
In Robert Ludlum's The Altman Code, the fourth book in the "Covert-One" series, Smith is investigating a Chinese shipment of weapons-grade chemicals to Iraq. Subplots also help to drive the action, including the nefarious doings of an international concern known as the Altman Group, and the protestations of an American captive in China that he is the father of the president of the United States. Published in 2003, this "latest product from the efficient assembly line of the Ludlum thriller factory has been somewhat overtaken by events," thought a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Reviewing the audiobook of the same title, Whitney Scott noted in Booklist that "series fans will no doubt flock to this title."
If you enjoy the works of Robert Ludlum
If you enjoy the works of Robert Ludlum, you might want to check out the following books:
Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code, 2003.
Clive Cussler, Raise the Titanic, 1976.
Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal, 1971.
Ludlum returns to the well-trodden paths of World War II in 2003's The Tristan Betrayal. In the fall of 1940, the Nazis are at the height of their power; Stephen Metcalfe, the younger son of a prominent American family, is a well-known man about town in occupied Paris. He's also a minor asset in the U.S. secret intelligence forces in Europe. It falls to Metcalfe to carry out a plan that may be the only hope for what remains of the free world: he must travel to wartime Moscow to find, and possibly betray, a former lover—Lana, a ballerina whose own loyalties are in question. But with an SS hitman on his tail, and the corpse count mounting, Metcalfe begins to see that he is only being used by his masters to get to Lana. This seventh posthumous title was panned by some critics. For example, a critic for Kirkus Reviews complained that the book "reads almost like a manly [Barbara] Cartland" novel: "If there is a waist, it will be tiny. If there is a buttock, it will be tight." The same critic noted that the plot involves "layers upon layers of oh-so-reliably nasty Nazis and Bolsheviks." A contributor for Publishers Weekly held similar concerns, mentioning a "bloated plot and an army of cliched characters." This reviewer concluded, that there "are few surprises in this unsatisfying behemoth. Perhaps it is time to let the master rest in peace." However, in a Booklist review, David Pitt found The Tristan Betrayal to be "one of the better novels published under the Ludlum name."
At the time of his death, Ludlum was "probably the world's most read writer," according to the contributor for the Economist. He published over twenty novels in thirty years, writing at a pace of two thousand words a day, usually devoting about three months of research to each title, but did not write his first novel until he was forty. "His apocalyptic messages were a part of the thriller tradition that dates back at least to Sherlock Holmes," the Economist writer continued. Journalist Bob Woodward, writing in the Washington Post Book World, summarized the media's view of Ludlum in a review of The Icarus Agenda: "Ludlum justifiably has a loyal following. Reviews of most of his previous books are critical but conclude, grudgingly, that he had another inevitable bestseller." In a review of The Bourne Identity for Washington Post Book World, Richard Harwood wrote, "Whether reviewers are universally savage or effusive seems irrelevant: the book is bound to be a best seller. The Bourne Identity . . . is already on both the national and Washington Post best-seller lists and the damned thing won't officially be published [for three more days]. So much for the power of the press." Despite reviewers' advice, readers have voiced their approval of Ludlum in sales figures. As Baxter and Nichols noted in Maclean's, "For all his imperfections, Ludlum manages—by pumping suspense into every twist and turn in his tangled plots and by demanding sympathy for well-meaning protagonists afflicted by outrageous adversity—to keep millions of readers frantically turning his pages."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Bestsellers 89, Issue 1, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Bestsellers 90, Issue 3, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 22, 1982; Volume 43, 1988.
Greenberg, Martin H., editor, The Robert Ludlum Companion, Bantam (New York, NY), 1993.
Macdonald, Gina, Robert Ludlum: A Critical Companion, Greenwood Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Best Sellers, April, 1972, William B. Hill, review of The Osterman Weekend, p. 5; April 15, 1973, Kelly J. Fitzpatrick, review of The Matlock Paper, p. 41.
Book, September, 2000, Randy Michael Signor, review of Robert Ludlum's The Hades Factor, p. 75; November-December 2001, Chris Barsanti, review of The Sigma Protocol, p. 69.
Booklist, April 15, 1995, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of The Apocalypse Watch, p. 1452; August 2000, David Pitt, review of The Prometheus Deception, p. 2074; September 15, 2001, David Pitt, review of The Sigma Protocol, p. 164; October 1, 2002, Candace Smith, review of Robert Ludlum's The Paris Option, p. 350; September 15, 2003, Whitney Scott, review of Robert Ludlum's The Altman Code, p. 252; October 1, 2003, David Pitt, review of The Tristan Betrayal, p. 275.
Christian Science Monitor, March 31, 1977, Barbara Phillips, review of The Chancellor Manuscript, p. 31.
Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), October 29, 2000, Michael Lollar, "Big Brother Scenario Relevant in Light of Technology Today," p. H1.
Daily Variety, February 28, 2002, Michael Fleming, "Ludlum Linders at U: Fuqua to Helm Author's Final Book, 'Sigma,'" p. 4.
Entertainment Weekly, June 21, 2002, Owen Gleiberman, review of The Bourne Identity, p. 47; October 31, 2003, Marc Bernardin, review of The Tristan Betrayal, p. 78.
Investor's Business Daily, January 30, 2002, Kerry Jackson, "Robert Ludlum Penned Way to Mastery Power of Words," p. A04.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2001, Donald Newlove, "Bob the Ghost," p. 1141; May 15, 2002, review of Robert Ludlum's The Paris Option, p. 702; August 1, 2002, review of The Janson Directive, p. 1065; October 1, 2003, review of The Tristan Betrayal, p. 1193.
Kliatt, November, 2002, Jean Palmer, review of Robert Ludlum's The Paris Option, p. 48.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Service, February 22, 1995, Fred Tasker, "Robert Ludlum, Bestselling 'Storyteller,' Unfazed by Critics or Fame."
Library Journal, October 1, 1974, Henri C. Veit, review of The Rhinemann Exchange, p. 2504; April 1, 1975, Henri C. Veit, review of The Road to Gandolfo, pp. 694-695; September 1, 2000, Ronnie H. Terpening, review of Robert Ludlum's The Hades Factor, p. 250; October 15, 2001, Ronnie H. Terpening, review of The Sigma Protocol, p. 108; October 15, 2003, Joyce Kessel, review of The Tristan Betrayal, pp. 114-115.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 11, 1984, Charles P. Wallace, review of The Aquitaine Progression, p. 3; March 23, 1986, p. 3; March 18, 1990, Don G. Campbell, review of The Bourne Ultimatum, p. 8.
M2 Best Books, January 16, 2004, "Ludlum to Become Orion's Most Prolific Author, from Beyond the Grave."
Maclean's, April 9, 1984, pp. 50-52.
New Republic, November 25, 1981, p. 38; September 20, 1982, p. 43.
New Statesman, September 16, 2002, Philip Kerr, review of The Bourne Identity, p. 46.
New York, May 9, 1988, pp. 74-75.
New Yorker, June 20, 1988, pp. 90-92; October 2, 2000, James Surowiecki, "The Financial Page: Lessons from Ludlum," p. 62.
New York Review of Books, May 8, 1986, pp. 12-13.
New York Times, March 13, 1978, p. C19.
New York Times Book Review, January 28, 1973, p. 20; May 6, 1973, p. 41; August 4, 1974, p. 26; October 27, 1974, p. 56; March 28, 1976, Irma Pascal, review of The Gemini Contenders, p. 18; March 27, 1977, Richard Freedman, review of The Chancellor Manuscript, p. 8; April 8, 1979, p. 14; March 30, 1980, Peter Andrews, review of The Bourne Identity, p. 7; March 21, 1982, Evan Hunter, review of The Parsifal Mosaic, p. 11; April 22, 1984, p. 14; March 9, 1986, p. 12; March 27, 1988, Julie Johnson, review of The Icarus Agenda, p. 16; June 20, 1993, p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, April 8, 1974, review of The Cry of the Halidon, p. 76; February 10, 1975, review of The Road to Gandolfo, p. 52; March 1, 1991, pp. 49-50; March 2, 1992, review of The Icarus Agenda; April 19, 1993, p. 48; April 17, 1995, a review of The Apocalypse Watch, p. 37; May 29, 1995, p. 37; April 24, 2000, review of Robert Ludlum's The Hades Factor, p. 58; August 28, 2000, review of The Prometheus Deception, p. 50; April 2, 2001, a review of The Cassandra Compact, p. 38; November 12, 2001, Daisy Maryles, "Ludlum's Legacy," p. 16; May 27, 2002, review of Robert Ludlum's The Paris Option, p. 39; August 26, 2002, review of The Janson Directive, p. 39; October 28, 2002, Daisy Maryles, "Ludlum's Legacy," p. 20; May 5, 2003, review of Robert Ludlum's The Altman Code, p. 198; September 29, 2003, review of The Tristan Betrayal, p. 42; November 10, 2003, Daisy Maryles, "Fiction's Foursome," p. 17.
Times Literary Supplement, October 1, 1976, T. J. Binyon, review of The Gemini Contenders, p. 1260.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), February 28, 1988, Peter L. Robinson, review of The Icarus Agenda, p. 7.
Washington Post Book World, March 23, 1980, p. 3; March 7, 1982, Stephen King, review of The Parsifal Mosaic, p. 1; February 21, 1988, p. 1.
LudlumBooks.com,http://www.ludlumbooks.com/ (February 28, 2004).
Economist, March 31, 2001, p. 1.
Guardian, March 14, 2001, John Williams, p. 22.
Independent, March 14, 2001, Jack Adrian, p. S6.
Los Angeles Times, March 13, 2001, Louis Sahagun, "Robert Ludlum; Suspense Novelist Read by Millions," p. B7.
New York Times, March 13, 2001, "Robert Ludlum, Popular Writer of Suspense, Is Dead at 73," p. B8; March 14, 2001, Douglas Martin, "Robert Ludlum, Best-selling Suspense Novelist, Dies at 73," p. B9.
Times (London, England), March 14, 2001, p. 25.
Washington Post, March 13, 2001, "Suspense Novelist Robert Ludlum Dies at 73," p. B7.*
"Ludlum, Robert." Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 59. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/ludlum-robert
"Ludlum, Robert." Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 59. . Retrieved January 21, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/ludlum-robert
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