The Bourne Retribution by Eric van Lustbader
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A surprisingly agile and flexible tale, spanning the globe – several times. Involving the Mexican drug cartels, the Chinese, the Israelis and, of course, Jason Bourne caught in the middle, just trying to mind his own business, Well, obviously not minding his own business – though he does seem at times to have caught a tiger by the tail and knows he really should let go. Anyway, that’s what I’ve liked about EvL’s Bourne, he’s made Bourne almost self aware. Though, maybe with the films in mind, ‘Bourne’ is never physically described, however there is enough of his mental turmoil is described, or hinted at, to make him an always interesting continuing creation.
‘Retribution,’ is perhaps not quite in ‘can’t put it down’ territory, but it’s not far off. I liked the Chinese element, I thought that worked very well indeed. The Mexican, not quite so. Mexican drug cartels are all a bit ten-a-penny. Yes, they’re nasty, they do unspeakable things, but I’ve got no frame of reference for them, outside films and they’ve been done before. The Mossad angle is always interesting. There’s almost an old-world charm to Mossad. Coming from the ‘Old World’ as they did and all. Ruthless and relentless. Always above all other intelligence agencies. Many stories are going nowhere until the Mossad angle is brought in to solve a loop-hole, or just to be worse, more relentless than anyone else on the scene. Though one has to suspect Mossad and Rebekah in particular, are in the new Bourne tales as a homage to Van Lustbader’s fave rave ‘Ziva,’ the ex-Mossad agent from TV’s ‘Navy CIS.’ The programme which, as everyone but EvL knows, is bollocks. Plot: Someone, Navy-related, dies. No one can figure it out. Gibbs shouts at people. They figure it out. Using programmes on their computers that find everything out, but the like of which you’ve never seen, used or seen being used in real life. Gibbs says nothing more. To anyone. Maybe he says ‘Abby!!’ to get her to find out the un-find-out-able quicker. Gibbs’ lines take half an hour to learn. The whole series. Next week. Gibbs gets angry. People solve even quicker…and so on. Mind-numbing rubbish.
It’s perhaps not quite as break-neck as others have been, but not worse for that. There’s still the feeling that Robert Ludlum himself, would have done it slightly different – not necessarily better, just different. But Bourne is now totally Eric’s and it’s not right to keep comparing back to the books Ludlum worked on. There are some holes, some minor irritations – people still have to ‘punch’ numbers into phones, to indicate or stress the urgency, or their anger. As we all, even international terrorists, assassins and fugitives have touch-screen smartphones, shouldn’t that be ‘tapped’? Doesn’t carry the urgency, the drive, sense of life and death purpose though. But something else than “punched” eh? There are a couple of other irritations along the way. It could be because I read an American version, helicopters are constantly referred to as ‘helo’s. There’s a dotted line under it as I type it here. I’m guessing that is edited/laughed out of the UK version. Then, people still only deal with emotions of 100% or nothing. No one is maybe, slightly, possibly affected by something or someone. Rebekah, for instance, has her affect on Bourne “Without his fully knowing it, Rebekah had pierced his Bourne armor, penetrating to the core of him.” Calling somewhere in your body a ‘core’ only ever appears in US or US-wannabe, novels. Typical American overstatement. Why not ‘had penetrated deeply’? As, I’m sure, a British writer would have put it. And, what must have seemed really good when first typed in – “Such black thoughts were not typical of his psyche, which had been hardened in crucible after crucible until he had been quite nothing could affect him for long, or even at all.” I have no idea what I’m supposed to think about that.
Some of his analogies, similes and/or comparisons can be a bit hit and miss (“Maricruz bit off each word as though it were the head of a fish.”), but he does also show he is a master of the ‘less is more effective’ principle that marks a top-notch thriller writer.
P318/9: “”What? This is my wife we’re talking about. Who would dare – ?”
“He’s waiting for you.” Kai pointed to an enormous armored limousine. “There.”
“I don’t have time for this Kai.”
“Make time, Jidan.””
You will have to at least consider taking a believability pill a couple of times underway. That Bourne can, with make-up no matter how skilfully applied, look Chinese enough (on his father’s side is the excuse) and with no identification other than ‘there’s been a change of plan,’ convince the Chinese ambassador to Mexico, when returning in an official jet to the Party conference, that he is first the new chauffeur, then a bodyguard who needs to be not only on the plane as well, but the ambassador’s bodyguard while attending the aforementioned conference, really is pushing the believability envelope to the limit. Nor does it raise any (Chinese) eyebrows when Bourne as chauffeur, chats, in perfect street Russian, to the agent the plane picks up in Moscow. Still, I’ve read similar in other books. And not all in Bourne books. But then, the Bourne books are more based in reality than your average James Bond film, so that’s ok.
I think, if there is a message amongst the deception, double-crossing and death, it is along the lines of when secret services become too powerful and hide themselves even from their own governments and people, they become corrupt. They believe they can get away with whatever they want to get away with. They deliberately forget whose security they are keeping secure. The People’s, or their own. See the CIA before, during and after Kennedy. Mossad can be compared with the Chinese security agencies. Both believe they are invulnerable and thus are vulnerable to individuals working for their own agenda.
A good one – now for the next…