Robert Ludlum (born 1927) is a prolific author of best-selling spy and thriller novels noted for their complicated plots and high-powered suspense. The diverse settings and time periods are embellished by his protagonists, who are ordinary people either accidentally propelled or manipulated into participating in acts of espionage and political machination.
While some critics find Ludlum's plots formulaic and his prose overwritten, others commend his ability to create plausible situations, evoke foreign milieus, and sustain reader interest.
The Scarlatti Inheritance (1971), The Rhinemann Exchange (1974), and The Holcroft Covenant (1978) are all set in the World War II era and depict the attempts of the Third Reich to gain world dominance. The Scarlatti Inheritance, which takes place during the early years of World War II, details the financial backing of the fledgling Nazi party by a group of Western business executives whose leader is an American expatriate and Nazi sympathizer. A Corrupt military-industrialist faction is central to The Rhinemann Exchange, a tale of international double-dealing during the last year of World War II. The Holcroft Covenant, set in present-day Europe, revolves around the fruition of a scheme devised forty years earlier by German army leaders, who secretly bankrolled a large sum of money to be used by their descendants in reestablishing the Third Reich.
In several of his works, Ludlum unfolds speculative accounts of conspiracy in various facets of American society. In The Osterman Weekend (1972), the CIA enlists the aid of a television reporter to dissolve a conspiracy aimed at economic insurgency in which several of his close friends may be involved. The Matlock Paper (1973) centers on the criminal activities of a group of New England college professors and the reluctance of the school's dean to assist a government bureau in exposing the teachers. In The Chancellor Manuscript (1977), Ludlum alters history in his story of the assassination of J. Edgar Hoover by a group of government officials who seek control of his private files.
International terrorism is a prominent feature in many of Ludlum's novels. In The Matarese Circle (1979), several multinational corporations attempt to undermine governmental restrictions and regulations by using the services of a terrorist group. The Bourne Identity (1980) centers on a Vietnam veteran named David Webb, alias Jason Bourne, who is maneuvered by American intelligence officials into becoming a counter-assassin in an effort to eliminate a notorious terrorist. In The Aquitaine Progression (1983), military leaders from several powerful nations conspire to destabilize and usurp their respective governments. The Bourne Supremacy (1986), a sequel to The Bourne Identity, revolves around a plot to destroy the People's Republic of China with the aid of a terrorist who masquerades as Jason Bourne.
Ludlum has also written novels under pseudonyms: Trevayne (1973) and The Cry of the Halidan (1974) as Jonathan Ryder, and The Road to Gandolfo (1975) as Michael Shepherd. The Osterman Weekend and The Holcroft Covenant have been adapted for film.
Bestsellers 89, Issue 1, Gale, 1989.
Bestsellers 90, Issue 3, Gale, 1990.
Christian Science Monitor, March 31, 1977, p. 31.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 22, 1982, Volume 43, 1988.
Library Journal, October 1, 1974, p. 2504; April 1, 1975, pp. 694-695.
Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1997, p. F17.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, March 11, 1984, p. 3; March 23, 1986, p. 3; March 18, 1990, p. 8. □