* Prices may differ from that shown
The Bourne Betrayal is the fifth in the Bourne series of books, and the second written wholly by Eric Van Lustbader (rather than series creator Robert Ludlum). I was pleasantly surprised when I read the first Lustbader effort that it made a decent stab at continuing Bourne's world (a mid-series change of author can often be fatal), but the cracks are starting to show with this fifth instalment.
The book has a fairly decent, if slightly unoriginal plot. Inevitably in this post September 11 world, it involves a terrorist threat from a radical Muslim group who have developed the capability to manufacture a nuclear device. Bourne, of course, must stop them, whilst also freeing his friend Martin Lindros who has been captured by the group.
It's very noticeable from the off that the plot for The Bourne Betrayal is a lot different to the earlier books in the series and lacks originality. The "stop-the-terrorist plot" is a staple of the spy/action genre, whilst the "nuclear capability" angle is merely playing on the fears of your average 21st century American. These are plotlines you can find in dozens of other similar novels. Other elements have been recycled too, with Bourne facing an incredibly clever enemy who is as ruthless, remorseless and resourceful as he is, although this element actually works and recalls the cat-and-mouse game played between Bourne and master assassin Carlos in the first book, recapturing that sense of danger.
Elsewhere, unfortunately, The Bourne Betrayal has fallen into mediocrity. Elements which set the Bourne book aside from other spy thrillers (such as the main character's memory loss) are largely ignored, or only introduced when Lustbader needs them to justify a plot point.
Indeed, Bourne's previous adventures are all but ignored and Lustbader seems intent on creating his own back story for the character, incorporating Ludlum's ideas only when absolutely necessary. The timeline, in particular, doesn't seem to gel with the previous books. In the last Ludlum penned effort, Bourne was in his mid-fifties. As far as I can tell (the chronology is left vague), The Bourne Betrayal takes place after those events, yet Bourne is a much younger man again! Perhaps our amnesiac spy discovered time travel and then forgot he'd done it!
Van Lustbader also seems intent on severing all ties with previous characters created by Ludlum. He signalled this intent in The Bourne Legacy, sidelining Bourne's wife Marie for much of the plot by hiding her away in a safe house. Here, he goes one further, killing her off before the book has even started! The same is also true of other characters - virtually anyone Bourne is close to, or whom he trusts is killed off. Whilst this is done to his sense of isolation and loneliness, it becomes a little tiresome and does make the book rather predictable.
Still, let's not be too negative as this is a competent enough thriller. True, the plot relies a little too much on unlikely coincidence or sudden reversals in attitude to resolve various plot points, and it's certainly far too long. Yet, for the most part, the plot carries you along and the frequent twists (even though fairly obvious) keep the action and intrigue levels high. For the most part, Lustbader has a readable style (although he is rather obsessed with the phrase "shot to death") and whisks the reader along with him. Although the constant twists and turns of the plot and multiple characters can sometimes make it tricky to remember who is currently allied with whom, you never feel totally confused. At the very least, you always have a rough idea of what is going on, and everything becomes clear in the end!
In some ways, The Bourne Betrayal is an improvement over The Bourne Legacy (Lustbader's first stab at the character). The earlier book didn't quite feel like a proper Bourne book, since Bourne was less isolated as a character and was working with a government organisation. The Bourne Betrayal cuts those ties so that whilst Bourne is still working with elements of the government, he is also working to his own agenda. This reinforces the central concept of Bourne as a loner, a wildcard who works outside the system, using it only when he needs to.
There are some annoying stereotypes which grate badly for a book written in the 21st century. This is particularly true of Tyrone, a black gang member who pops up to help Bourne and his friends whenever the plot needs him to (and otherwise disappears for long stretches). Tyrone talks in false-ghetto language which is so stereotypical, it borders on the offensive (as well as being slightly incomprehensible). Other characters have also lost some of the more nuanced characteristics that made the previous books so strong, and there's a slightly unpleasant tinge of xenophobia in the air. All the Arab characters, for example, are terrorists or duplicitous in some way. In fairness, you could argue the same is true for many non-Arab characters, and that such people are the product of the world in which Bourne moves, but it is still a little worrying that a major American author continues to write in this way.
This book has been slammed on Amazon and other sites, although I think some of that criticism is a little unfair. It's certainly not a patch on the first three Bourne books, but it's perhaps not as bad as some people have tried to make out. It's a competent spy thriller; it's just that when set against the benchmark of earlier books (particularly those penned solely by Ludlum) it's a little disappointing.
The Bourne Betrayal
Eric Van Lustbader
(c) Copyright SWSt 2011