Monday, July 16, 2007

"The Bourne Identity" by Robert Ludlum (Thriller, mild spoilers)

I'm sure plenty of people have heard of this one, what with the well-known series of films based on Ludlum's "Bourne" books. Actually, there are two movie versions of "The Bourne Identity," there was a 1988 TV-movie starring Richard Chamberlain, which I haven't seen. I've seen the newer films with Matt Damon, based on this novel and "The Bourne Supremacy," with "The Bourne Ultimatum" coming to theatres soon...

But enough about movies, let's talk about what the book's like.

A man without a memory - seriously, suffering from bad amnesia - tries to figure out who he is and why he has a piece of microfilm implanted under his skin. But nothing is simple or easy - the information on the microfilm turns out to be the first step that leads to another clue, and another...

Jason Bourne - he learns that is his name, or so it seems at first - ends up running frantically around Europe, trying to piece his life together and find out who he is - or was. Unfortunately, some of the answers turn out to be decidedly unpleasant.

He gradually uncovers details of a plot connected to a man named Carlos - an assassin. Not just any assassin - he has a reputation for being the best. Or, at least, the best until Jason Bourne showed up. It seems that Bourne was Carlos's competitor, and that is something that decidedly pissed Carlos off.

Of course, this competition might lead Carlos to let himself be drawn out, into a confrontation. Which raises another question - what if it was all a ruse, Bourne simply an agent planted in place to help Carlos be found by someone who wants him.

So is Bourne a killer? Or just a pawn in a bigger game?

As I've said many times about Ludlum's novels, this is typical of his style, which doesn't seem to vary much between books. Then again, why the heck would it? When your novels are big-time bestsellers, you must be doing something right. Why mess with a successful formula, right? So we have lots of chases, fight scenes, murders, frantic confrontations...everyone is constantly running away from someone else or trying to catch someone, or running for their life, and everyone plays elaborate, complex games of trying to outguess their opponents.

And the story does not end with everything neatly tied up. Certainly the story is left open for more to happen, so I'm not surprised that Ludlum wrote sequels, which I'll have to try reading someday.

One thing I thought was strange at first was the fact that Ludlum used this character, a man who's lost his memory. It seemed like the other ideas in the story would have allowed for plenty of plot possibilities, the part about Bourne's amnesia almost seemed like an unnecessary complication. But, as the novel progresses, it does start to make more sense why Ludlum would have employed this idea here. I don't want to spoil the story, though, so I don't want to say too much more about it.

Some of the dialogue seems a little melodramatic at times, but not too much. And that's more during scenes between Bourne and Marie St. Jacques, a woman who ends up staying with Bourne for much of the story.

Mostly, this is another Ludlum thriller - complex plot full of twists, and lots of frantic action, with characters constantly thinking on the run as they try to resolve their various conflicts. You definitely can't complain that Ludlum is boring; if you want excitement, this ought to do the trick.