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The Bourne Imperative by Eric Van Lustbader

Published by Grand Central Publishing on June 5, 2012 

"She took another long drag from her cigarillo, which emitted smoke like a just-fired pistol." If this is the kind of sentence you love to read (and I can't believe it is), The Bourne Imperative is the book for you. It is packed with similar silliness.

Jason Bourne fishes a fellow out of the water who speaks multiple languages but remembers nothing about his life, including his own name. Did Jason Bourne catch another Jason Bourne? That would be quite a coincidence, but so is the fact that Bourne happens to be boating in the same Swedish archipelago where the nameless man is being pursued by rogue Mossad super-agent Rebeka, whose life Bourne saved in The Bourne Dominion. The nameless man knows about some nefarious doings of Mossad in Dahr El Ahmar, but he can't remember what he knows. Bourne's larger concern is super-terrorist Nicodemo who seems to be a clandestine player in Core Energy, a company that is trying to corner the market on rare earths. Rebeka's larger concern should be Ilan Halevy, "the Babylonian," who has been commissioned to kill her (among others) by Mossad. An alliance between yet another rogue Mossad agent and a Minister of the Chinese government adds an additional layer of convolution to this messy plot.

Meanwhile, back at Treadstone, a new boy named Richard Richards is keeping an eye on co-directors Saroya Moore and Peter Marks, reporting directly to the president. A subplot involves Saroya's pregnancy, political reporter Charles Thorne, the senator to whom he is married, and Maceo Encarnacion, the president of a shadowy internet security firm,. Another involves Martha Christiana, whose contract to assassinate Don Fernando is complicated by her deep feelings for him. You need a large scorecard and a fistful of colored markers to keep track of all the betrayals as the various plotlines unfold.

The clutter of characters and the novel's form -- jumping rapidly from scene to scene so the reader can watch as the action progresses on several fronts -- is about all this novel has in common with the original Bourne trilogy. As you might expect given Eric Van Lustbader's production of a new, lengthy Bourne novel every year, The Bourne Imperative has the feel of having been hurriedly written. Van Lustbader takes shortcuts, relying on stock characters and clichéd phrases to prop up the story. The Babylonian is almost a cartoon villain, the Incredible Hulk on steroids. Action/fight scenes, of which there are many, are so unimaginative, and rendered in such bland language, that they create no adrenalin rush. Some of the scenes that take place in Mexico read as if they were belong in a cheesy Mexican soap opera.

Apart from being entirely too dependent upon coincidence, The Bourne Imperative too often asks the reader not just to suspend disbelief, but to believe the impossible. For instance, the latest excuse to kill Bourne concerns "a top secret Mossad camp ... harboring even more top secret research" that Bourne happens to have encountered. We all know that Bourne is an amazing guy, but in this novel he seems to have acquired x-ray vision. How else would he know that there are "experiments going on" inside a building he flew over in a helicopter just by looking at the outside of the building?

To be fair, the story, stripped to its essence, isn't half bad, and the scheme involving the Mossad agent and the Chinese minister includes a clever twist. Still, the plot seems like a patchwork, something cobbled together from bits and pieces torn from a dozen other thrillers. Regrettably, it is built upon the worst excesses of action-based thrillers. The ending is just preposterous. I'm prepared to accept preposterous for the sake of a good thriller, but this one isn't.


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