I remember vividly the first time I read one of Robert Ludlum’s novels. I was in high school and had stumbled upon The Bourne Identity. The book oscillated between a plot moving at a frenetic pace and a series of flashbacks allowing you to slow down and get a deeper sense of who Bourne was, and why he did what he did. I came to appreciate the flashbacks almost more than the forward plot. The Bourne Identity wasn’t the only one of Ludlum’s novel to employ this technique. It was something that kept me coming back to him throughout my teenage years.
So it was with a sense of nostalgia and optimism that I recently started one of his later works, The Scorpio Illusion. At first, the plot is pure Ludlum. Our hero, Tyrell Hawthorne, is a former intelligence officer whose wife was murdered, a victim of “the games spies play.” Now he has been called out of retirement as supposedly the only man alive who can track down a deadly terrorist. Amaya Bajaratt is beautiful (of course) and deadly; worse still she has set in motion a horrifying conspiracy that no one can seem to stop. The life of the U.S. president and various world leaders hang in the balance as Hawthorne follows Amaya’s trail to uncover the secret group, The Scorpios, that exists to help her.
Sounds like a great spy-thriller-beach-read, right? Unfortunately, Ludlum seems to have rushed through this book. Gone are all of the character building flashbacks and carefully revealed details that allow the reader to lose himself in the world of espionage. He fell victim to one a genre writer’s worst enemies. He expected his readers to fill in the blanks themselves.
One of the joys of reading genre fiction is allowing yourself to fall into the world the author creates. Yes, it is usually a very familiar place, especially if you have read much of a particular author. But an escape into that well crafted world is exactly what the reader is looking for.
The Scorpio Illusion is simply not one of Ludlum’s best. While the plot moved along at his usual breakneck speed, the characters were so utterly flat I had a hard time getting invested in any of it. Most of the dialogue sounded like it was taken from a 1970’s cop show, complete with all the requisite stereotypes these shows made famous.
While I still think most of Ludlam’s work sets the standard for the spy/thriller genre, I would not recommend reading this book if you are new to Ludlam. His earlier work was much better.