Eric Van Lustbader on Robert Ludlum, creator of the Bourne series: Right away we formed a mutual admiration society.

by |August 9, 2016

When I read The Bourne Identity I never for a moment suspected that I would meet the author Robert Ludlum in person. But in the summer of 1980, while Identity was on the New York Times best-seller list, along with my own novel, The Ninja, that is precisely what happened. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship.

Bob and I shared the same agent, and in those days he threw several parties a year – get-togethers for all his authors. At this particular one, my agent met me at the door and told me Robert Ludlum wanted to meet me. I was stunned. Bob had a reputation for being something of a curmudgeon. He wasn’t a social kind of fellow. In fact, there he was sitting by himself in a back corner of the living room, nursing a scotch. According to my agent, Bob had read The Ninja, loved it, and wanted to meet me.

He was a big, barrel-chested man with a large, weather-beaten face and a stentorian voice honed on the stages of regional playhouses. Right away we formed a mutual admiration society. We loved each other’s books, saw in each other’s characters traits that we ourselves shared. We spoke of how much of ourselves we put into our characters – for Bob, Jason Bourne more than his other protagonists. We spoke of character arcs, how to construct a modern-day thriller. We were the last people to leave the party.

Years later, in 2003, a year after Bob died, I was asked by the executor of his estate if I would write a Jason Bourne novel. Bob had never meant Bourne to be a recurring character. By the second book, Bourne was married to Marie, had kids, and was significantly older than he was when Bob first introduced him. These are not ideal factors for a series character, proof that Bob never saw him in that light. However, the tremendous success of The Bourne Identity film, starring Matt Damon, had led, inevitably to the decision to make another one. Why not pick Bourne up, put a book out along with the film?

It was a brilliant idea, I saw that straightaway. But I wasn’t a ghost writer; I had my own highly successful career. I agreed to write the book as long as I could do it in my style and have my name on it. Agreed.

But I was looking to the future and changes had to be made. A series character can’t be tied down to a family, so it was agreed that Marie would die in a skiing accident between books one and two. The kids were shipped off to her grandparents’ ranch in Canada. Without changing his innate nature, which was sacred, I reworked Bourne so he would be familiar not only to old readers but to the millions of new ones who would come to the books after having seen the films.

Explore the Jason Bourne series

Hard to believe that I’ve been writing Jason Bourne adventures for 14 years. It’s always been fun, right from the beginning. I knew Bourne inside and out, I knew what was in Bob’s heart, I knew what he wanted for his beloved character, and, I believe, that’s precisely what I’ve accomplished.

The Bourne Enigma, the tenth and latest novel (in the series that I have written), was particularly interesting to write. Early on I had perceived Putin’s desire to take control of Syria as a feint to keep the West from concentrating on Russia’s foray into Ukraine. Sure enough, I’ve been proven correct. As a result, The Bourne Enigma reads like a current history of that area of the world.

It’s tremendously satisfying to me when my novels so accurately reflect the world around us. Despite his heightened abilities, Jason Bourne is flawed, incomplete, one might say, and in this way he stands in for us all. His journey is, in a sense, our own journey.

The Bourne Enigma by Eric van Lustbader

The Bourne Enigma

Jason Bourne : Book 13

by Eric van Lustbader

Jason Bourne is in Moscow to attend the wedding of his old friend and fellow spymaster General Boris Karpov. But amid the celebrations, the General has an important message to deliver to Bourne - 'a lifeline,' he says, 'for the end of the world'.

Before Bourne can decipher this enigmatic warning, Karpov's wedding ends in chaos and bloodshed. Bourne discovers that the Russian has betrayed the Kremlin to forewarn him of the crippling disaster about to engulf the world. Bourne has just four days to discover the nature of the catastrophe and halt it.

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