Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Bourne Legacy, by Eric Van Lustbader

(pb; 2004: fourth book in the Jason Bourne series)


Five years has passed since the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, and David Webb, also known as Jason Bourne, has settled comfortably into his life as a college professor, husband to Marie, and father to his children (Alison, five, and Jamie, ten).

Webb's relatively quiet life is once again shattered when two close friends are murdered, and he becomes the prime suspect in that case. Of course, this is not a simple case of murder, but the off-shoot action of a complex, long-planned terrorist event, led in part by Stepan Spalko, a terrorist fronting as a human-rights CEO, and Hasan Arsenov, an ambitious Chechen freedom fighter. Then there's Khan, a mysterious assassin, who has a personal interest in killing Webb/Bourne.

From the get-go, Lustbader makes it apparent that this fourth entry in the Bourne series is different from the first three books. Webb/Bourne's awkward moral wranglings, which dominated Ludlum's trilogy, are given short shrift, acknowledged via a slick-prosed line or two; major characters from the trilogy are offed (killed) almost immediately, and Webb/Bourne's current family (Marie, Jamie, Alison) are barely mentioned or agonized over, as they were in the first three books. Also, there's a more palpable anti-American, post-9/11 sentiment on the part of many of the players here, not all of them “bad guys.”

Lustbader keeps it exciting and focused, though – that hasn't changed. There's plenty of links to Webb/Bourne's past. Arthur Conklin, Bourne's CIA handler/friend, lives on the Manassas, Virginia estate that one Ultimatum character (now dead) once owned; there's also a church shoot-out, reminiscent of a Bourne/Carlos confrontation in Ultimatum.

Of course, there's the slick, cinematic violence that Ludlum was known for. Lustbader, a master of action sequences, doesn't disappoint in this area, either. The thrills come fresh, hard and fast, while expanding on Webb/Bourne's past, particularly his first family (Dao, his wife; Alyssa, his daughter; Joshua, his son), who were killed in Cambodia, during the Vietnam War.

The ending, once again, ties together the novel's loose ends, while leaving room for future Bourne novels. Hopefully, though, this is the last novel, as Webb/Bourne is in his mid- to late fifties – a fact that Lustbader acknowledges, thereby maintaining the plausibility of the character and the story. To go any further would court implausibility.

Good, action-packed sequel that lives up to its predecessors, followed by The Bourne Betrayal.

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