Tag Archives: Robert Ludlum



Bourne Identity2. THE BOURNE IDENTITY (1980)

TIME PERIOD: Vietnam War era to the late 1970s.

Robert Ludlum’s most popular fictional creation – Jason Bourne (Real name David Webb) – has become as thoroughly overused, distorted and bastardized as James Bond or Sherlock Holmes. Ludlum himself already watered down the character’s original impact with two additional novels putting the amnesiac figure in increasingly ridiculous situations.

Since then other writers have churned out so many silly Bourne stories (ten at last count) to the point where Jason Bourne In Spaaaaace is the only avenue left unexplored. Or maybe a crossover with All My Sins Remembered. The Matt Damon movies use virtually nothing but the Jason Bourne name.

To me the bulk of the appeal of the original novel The Bourne Identity was that a reader only had to suspend disbelief just enough to accept an amnesiac figure surviving the unique set of circumstances presented in that story.  

Bourne Identity 2At the end it was accepted by all characters that David Webb/ Jason Bourne was in no condition to continue his intelligence work. Not only because of his amnesia but because he had found happiness with Marie, which made him lose the near-suicidal edge he had needed to succeed as Bourne.  

In my opinion Ludlum should have done PREQUEL stories of David Webb as Delta in the Vietnam War’s Operation: Medusa or his days pursuing Carlos as Cain/ Jason Bourne PRIOR to his amnesia.    

HERO: Since there are virtually no spoilers left about this character who has had everything but his own comic book series I will go ahead and lay out all the details of the ORIGINAL figure. This is for potential Bourne fans who associate him purely with the silly super-soldier nonsense of the movies and have avoided him because of that.

I think transferring Jason Bourne to more recent time periods robbed the story of a great deal of its unique appeal. Movies CAN work as period pieces. Studios still churn out spy flicks set during World War Two for crying out loud. There’s no reason why they can’t keep the period setting for stories dependent on the Vietnam War or late Cold War events for their full impact. 

So again … HERO: DAVID WEBB, an American scholar who specialized in ancient Vietnamese culture and spoke multiple regional languages. Webb had been serving in various diplomatic posts throughout Indochina and had a Vietnamese wife and children.

Bourne Identity 3When his wife and children were killed during a fly-by strafing from a plane of unknown national origin Webb left diplomatic work and volunteered for the top secret Operation: Medusa. (Ludlum’s fictional version of the real-life Phoenix Project.)

Under the codename Delta (later refined to Delta One), David Webb thrived in that Black Ops program. Delta proved ruthless and bloodthirsty, with his command of local languages and culture making him an irreplaceable asset against the Viet Cong, the North Vietnamese regulars and international mercenaries in the region. 

Operation: Medusa’s operatives served as assassins, torturers, guerillas and saboteurs, often locating POW camps and facilitating escapes. On one particular mission Jason Bourne, a treacherous Medusan from Australia, betrayed Delta and his team. In response Webb killed Bourne on the spot.   Continue reading


Filed under opinion



Holcroft Covenant3. THE HOLCROFT COVENANT (1978)

TIME PERIOD: Late 1970s into the near future of the 1980s.

The crowded sub-genre of espionage tales about fugitive Nazi war criminals working with a younger generation of acolytes to launch a Fourth Reich probably reached its height with this Ludlum novel. Every entertaining element of that sub-genre came into play in The Holcroft Covenant, all of them woven into one epic-length story.

Take The ODESSA File, Marathon Man and The Boys From Brazil and roll them in with the Tom Cruise movie Valkyrie plus the real-life files of Nazi Hunters like Simon Wiesenthal. Now stir in Robert Ludlum’s supreme talent for making implausibly melodramatic espionage plots seem chillingly possible and enjoy!   


HERO: Noel Holcroft, an American architect who is secretly the son of the fictional Heinrich Clausen, a masterful economist whose financial acumen was a cornerstone of Hitler’s Third Reich. Noel’s mother fled Germany when she found she was pregnant and did not want her hated husband Heinrich raising their child. She married an American man who raised Noel with her as if he was his own child.

Holcroft Covenant 2All of that seems like ancient history to thirty-something Noel Holcroft, a successful New Yorker going into business for himself after working as an architect at various prestigious outfits. From out of the blue, representatives from the Grande Banque de Geneve contact Noel about a numbered Swiss Bank Account which his father left to him and the children of two associates.

Holcroft initially wants nothing to do with the bloody, tainted fortune of nearly 900 million dollars but the bankers from Geneva let him read documents from his father. In those aged documents addressed to his then-unborn son, Heinrich Clausen states he regrets being part of Hitler’s organization and – now that he has learned of the ongoing Final Solution at the death-camps – he wants to make amends. The secret account is the tool.

If Noel carries out his father’s wishes, he will inherit two million dollars from the bank account, with the rest going to Holocaust survivors or their families. All of this must be done in secret to prevent the Swiss Bank Account’s funds from being tied up in court for decades by claims against the Nazis from other individuals and nations victimized by the Third Reich.

This story element shows Ludlum at his best: the lure of two million dollars provides the very real incentive to Noel to go along with all the secrecy surrounding this strange Covenant of his father’s. More cynically, readers could say that it actually provides a rationalization for Holcroft to play along.

Our protagonist can assure himself that “Hey, if I don’t go along with this plan then hundreds of millions of dollars will never reach their intended beneficiaries … THAT’s why I’m cooperating, NOT just because of the money coming to ME.” This self-deceiving motive makes Noel Holcroft seem more real than many other Ludlum heroes.

Holcroft Covenant 3VILLAIN: Johann Von Tiebolt, the son of one of Heinrich Clausen’s cohorts in diverting funds to the Geneva Account. Johann is known to the world at large as John Tennyson and is the designated New Fuhrer who will lead the Fourth Reich.

Yes, as would have been suspected by anyone whose mind wasn’t clouded by the possibility of two million dollars and a life of financial independence, the Geneva Account is REALLY intended for a global network of Nazi descendants and new recruits.

Johann Von Tiebolt/ John Tennyson has emerged as the ideal leader of the conspiracy. Blonde, blue-eyed and in excellent physical condition this New Fuhrer poses as a journalist. That cover lets him roam the world secretly committing political assassinations and otherwise furthering the goals of the gestating Fourth Reich.

SYNOPSIS: The 900 million dollars in the Geneva Account will finance the finalization of the decades-long plans the Nazis’ network has been working on. Those plans are for literal world conquest by way of political, financial and media manipulation. Noel’s father was lying to his son when he wrote about his Covenant.  Continue reading


Filed under opinion



Chancellor Manuscript4. THE CHANCELLOR MANUSCRIPT (1977)

TIME PERIOD: From shortly before J Edgar Hoover’s death in 1972 up to early 1973. The novel’s “what if” premise depicts the 77 year old FBI Director’s death as a planned assassination to prevent the Nixon White House from getting hold of Hoover’s legendary files. (That’s NOT a spoiler – all that is made clear in the novel’s opening pages.)

Those files contain so much “raw meat” on powerful U.S. figures that we readers are told that whoever takes hold of said files will be able to rule the U.S. from behind the scenes by blackmailing the rich and the powerful.

The novel’s naïvete shows in that premise. I despise Hoover but I’ve always considered his abuses to be the EPITOME of the behavior of “the intelligence community” (LMAO), not an aberration from it. The accumulation of private information about people carries with it the implicit intent to USE that information against them. Of course, these days Zuckerberg and his fellow Corporate Fascists cheerfully help “the intelligence community” (LMFAO) spy on all of us. 

At any rate this is an escapist novel so the tale gets told in a simplistic “good guys vs bad guys” way, despite Ludlum’s attempts at a more nuanced approach.   

HERO: Peter Chancellor, an up and coming novelist who is part muckraker and part conspiracy hound. His successful espionage novels have not only made him rich but have caused minor public uproars over the kind of governmental abuses we take for granted these days but which were considered shocking in this novel’s time period.  

chancellor manuscript 3Chancellor’s notoriety also means he gets a lot of conspiracy kooks feeding him “tips” about supposedly real intrigues of varying degrees of believability. Hey, there was no Internet yet, so what do you expect?

Peter’s high public profile attracts a mysterious man who tries to convince him the recently deceased FBI Director J Edgar Hoover did not die of natural causes but was instead assassinated. Chancellor doesn’t believe it but considers the idea the perfect springboard for his next novel. 

Before long Peter’s background research makes him a target of so many threats and acts of violence that he wonders if the notion of Hoover being assassinated is as far-fetched as he at first thought.

VILLAINS: Typical of Ludlum’s later novels there are multiple groups of antagonists. The main villains remain a mystery until the end of the story so I won’t spoil the identity of the people who really are behind the successful theft of Hoover’s files.

chancellor manuscript 2Instead, I’ll deal with the secondary but more active villains: a group of high-level conspirators who go by the code name …

INVER BRASS – In this novel they represent the Left-Wing Deep State just like Hoover represented the Right-Wing Deep State. Though they fancy themselves a benevolent group, they’ve become more like oligarchs, begging the question: how are they any better than Hoover himself? This group seems roughly based on the high-placed members of President Franklin Roosevelt’s unofficial “Kitchen Cabinet for Intelligence Affairs” (aka The Room).  

All presidents have had such unofficial advisors who operate out of the spotlight and out of the headlines but Inver Brass and some of its members are modeled very specifically on known FDR associates who belonged to The Room. As you would expect, that makes them VERY old by the time the events in The Chancellor Manuscript take place. 

The members: Continue reading


Filed under opinion



Scarlatti Inheritance big5. THE SCARLATTI INHERITANCE (1971)

TIME PERIOD: Pre-World War One Era on up through the start of the Great Depression with an epilogue set during World War Two.

This was Robert Ludlum’s very first novel and it’s a shame that the planned movie starring Ingrid Bergman never panned out. In my opinion there has never been a very good screen adaptation of a Ludlum novel. Or at least not when it comes to adaptations that are actually like their source material.

The successful Jason Bourne movies bear virtually no resemblance to the trilogy of novels that inspired them. Other films or mini-series’ adapted from Ludlum’s writings have tended to be so far off the mark that some of them qualify as classically bad, for instance The Osterman Weekend.  

HEROINE: (This novel has a female and a male protagonist) Elizabeth Wyckham Scarlatti, an 1890s adventuress from American Old Money who – in her youth – spurned plenty of bloated rich pigs for not being as high-spirited and daring as she was.

Scarlatti InheritanceHer heart and loins are finally stolen away by Italian-American Giovanni Scarlatti, a laborer in her father’s factory. Though he speaks broken English, Scarlatti’s mechanical genius is first-rate. The rebellious Elizabeth combines her own business acumen with Giovanni’s aptitude for inventions and before long the two lovers are married and have taken over the companies run by her father and plenty of his friends. 

The Scarlattis continue to thrive financially through the expected hardball methods and after having three children they change the family name to Scarlett. Eventually Giovanni dies of natural causes and eldest son Roland is killed during World War One.

Making her own version of Sophie’s Choice, Elizabeth allows her brawling, bullying wastrel of a son Ulster to enlist in the Army to romantically take Roland’s place in the World War while keeping third son Chancellor in America with her to prep him to take over Scarlett Industries when she dies.

HERO: Matthew Canfield, an accountant and investigative agent for the American government – specifically Group Twenty, Ludlum’s fictional agency. Group Twenty was operative during the 1920s, when the bulk of this story takes place. Their agents specialized in uncovering financial hanky-panky in that gray area where dishonest business practices and outright criminality mingle.     Continue reading


Filed under opinion



Road to Gandolfo6. THE ROAD TO GANDOLFO (1975)

TIME PERIOD: 1970s, Post-Watergate

I have a feeling many Ludlum fans will be ticked off that I ranked this novel – for which Robert used the pseudonym Michael Shepherd – above the seventh novel on my countdown.  

HERO: Sam Devereaux, a handsome and brilliant lawyer who works for the United States Army and has risen to the rank of Major. Sam has grown to hate Army life and can’t wait to get out.

In his final days before leaving the service he becomes drawn into the schemes of General “Mac” Hawkins, who establishes grounds for continuing to extort cooperation from Sam even after his return to civilian life.  

Road to Gandolfo 2VILLAIN: General MacKenzie Hawkins, living legend and a cross between George Patton and Peter Falk’s manipulative CIA agent in the original version of The In-Laws.

During World War Two, the 19 year old Hawkins was a decorated hero of the Battle of the Bulge and an instant folk hero. After the war Mac went to West Point, where he became an all-star Running Back for the football team.

During the Korean War, Hawkins moved up in the ranks and – shrewdly reading the emerging geo-political landscape – pursued his further career in the Far East. A General by the height of American involvement in the Vietnam War, MacKenzie eventually gravitated to covert operations, specifically Black Ops.

Road to Gandolfo 3Exiled to a diplomatic post over his tendency to make waves the General’s hard-drinking Bad Boy behavior caused an international incident between the U.S. and China.

When Major Sam Devereaux’s combination of legal brilliance and street-savvy saves Hawkins from hard time at Leavenworth or in China the General coldly and calculatingly makes the clearly talented Sam an unwilling accomplice in his plot TO KIDNAP THE POPE FOR FOUR HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS IN RANSOM. Continue reading


Filed under opinion, Pulp Heroes


Robert LudlumBalladeer’s Blog takes a look at the espionage novels of the late Robert Ludlum. I know it’s odd for me to write about a figure as popular as Ludlum but I’m addressing ONLY his novels in terms of my rankings. Even the novels he wrote under other names.

People who know this fun author strictly from the Jason Bourne movies may not be familiar with these works because they are very different in tone and approach from the Matt Damon flicks.

Gemini Contenders7. THE GEMINI CONTENDERS (1976) 

TIME PERIOD: World War Two era through the early 1970s.

I’m sure many Ludlumites will be furious that I have this novel in last place. They’ll likely be even angrier when they see which novel I ranked above it in 6th place.   

HERO: WORLD WAR TWO PORTION – Vittorio Fontini-Cristi, the good-timing playboy scion of the moneyed and blue blooded Fontini-Cristi family in Italy. Vittorio’s father opposed Benito Mussolini so the dictator liquidated the family and confiscated their estate.

Gemini Contenders 2Vittorio was the sole survivor of the family. Sobered up into a more serious worldview over the massacre of his loved ones, Vittorio became a deep cover intelligence agent sabotaging Mussolini’s war effort. His twin sons are the major characters of the 1970s portion.   

VILLAIN: WORLD WAR TWO PORTION – Cardinal Donatti, a religious zealot determined to find and destroy certain ancient documents that were entrusted to the Fontini-Cristi Dynasty.

Those documents, if made public, would supposedly shock the Christian, Jewish and Muslim worlds into potential chaos. If they fall into the wrong hands they could supposedly be used to blackmail the Vatican and other Christian power centers. Continue reading


Filed under opinion, Pulp Heroes


Man called NoonFrontierado is on Friday August 5th!

In the past Balladeer’s Blog has examined some of the big names among the fictional gunslingers of Spaghetti Westerns. I’ve covered the original Django, Sartana, the Holy Ghost, Dynamite Joe, Harmonica and even Tony Anthony’s character the Stranger. Here is a look at the Italo-Western hero Noon. 

The Man Called Noon (1973)

The Story: Long before Robert Ludlum’s amnesiac secret agent Jason Bourne came this film. Based on a Louis L’Amour story The Man Called Noon featured Richard Crenna as the title character, an amnesiac who has incredible abilities with a gun but no knowledge of his past.

Just like Jason Bourne in the later novel, our hero Rubal Noon must piece together who he really is, why he has access to some large sums of money  and why various dangerous factions want him dead. He also struggles to survive while all this chaos closes in on him. Luckily his instinctive skill at killing keeps him alive, albeit increasingly confused.   Continue reading


Filed under FRONTIERADO, Spaghetti Westerns