My family used to always talk about author Robert Ludlum when I was growing up. My mom and Uncle Bob would speak of convoluted plots, spy thriller tension and a plethora of characters that a reader would have to take notes on in order to keep track of all the development. I had never read a Ludlum novel. I figured I had better join the family club. I was at a friend’s house and saw a copy of “The Prometheus Deception” on the shelf. There was some downtime so I started to read.
Oddly enough, “Prometheus” was the final Ludlum book before he passed away in 2001 (a series of posthumous books were published thereafter) so I was starting at the end of a career rather than the beginning.
The story seemed to have some promise at the beginning. An agent, Nicholas Bryson, of a super secret government (or are they?) organization called the Directorate is under deep cover in Tunisia attempting to stop a Hezbollah operation from overthrowing the government. During battle, the terrorists discover that their weapons are defective and the leader of the terrorist group, Abu, stabs Bryson in the abdomen. He is helicoptered out. The action picks up next with Bryson walking into the Directorate headquarters (top secret, I might add again) and meeting with his boss/mentor Ted Waller.
Long story short, Waller fires Bryson as he believes Bryson’s cover is blown because of the Hezbollah operation going south. It is arranged for Bryson to become a professor of Byzantine history and for 5 years, he is a popular one in Pennslyvania under an alias. Recap: Bryson is outed from an organization he long served and, the fact should be mentioned, his wife Elena had left him. She had seemingly disappeared without any correspondence upon Bryson returning from one of his missions. Needless to say, things are not going well for our protagonist.
As Bryson is walking to his car after class one day, he notices some awkwardly dressed guys in suits who seem out of place. They proceed to attack him, seem like they want to kill him but he overpowers them and goes back to his house. A limo pulls up and a politician-looking character walks up to Bryson’s house, is invited in and proceeds to have a conversation with him. By the way, this apparently is a guy with the CIA (Harry Dunne) and the guys attacking Bryson were his men. He explains to Bryson that he had secretly been working for the Russians through the Directorate while believing he was serving American interests. Maybe because the Cold War was still happening in the year 2000, I have no idea.
Anyways, this sets up the rather cliché spy drama theme regarding the protagonist not knowing what the truth is about his life’s work and even himself. As one knows, this theme has been drudged up countless times and has been served better elsewhere than in this novel.
Too bad because during some sections, “The Prometheus Deception” are a page turner. The eeriness of Ludlum having written this book in 2000 (before 9/11) is also fascinating because the plot evolves into a grand political conspiracy that directly threatens individual privacy. True life revelations that would unfold after 9/11, with Edward Snowden’s info dump and the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, one could consider Ludlum to have had premonitions or just logically thinking through where the new dotcom/tech bubble would eventually lead us.
A shadowy player eventually turns up in the book who sounds a lot like Bill Gates. He is the head of a massive computer company in Seattle and the description of his lake mansion sounds similar to Gates’ home in Medina. The player, Gregson Manning, is a huge supporter of the treaty of surveillance (viewed as the threat to individual privacy) and the book even gives him a decent reason to be. Where his allegiance lies, I won’t say.
While the themes are strong, I just wished the story were stronger. We are treated to the usual spy story gimmicks: chases and explosions on ships, cat-and-mouse chases in Europe (Spain), helicopters shooting out bridges and dropping vehicles into the water, double-crossing, double-dealing and people who aren’t what they seem. Ludlum seems to have thrown every element of any spy story ever assembled into this novel and made his hero like James Bond. Or, as is probably more apropos, Jason Bourne.
When the ending comes, the whole story becomes insanely ridiculous to the point where some of the character’s actions throughout the novel make no sense. The proceedings become so wildly unbelievable that many will probably regret having taken the time to dig into the novel at all.
Like I said, its too bad because of the recommendations I have gotten on Ludlum. In fairness, I probably should have started close to the beginning of his career rather than the novel immediately preceding his death. I certainly hope his other stories are better than this one.