Published by Grand Central Publishing on September 11, 2012
More than ten years after Robert Ludlum's death, the Ludlum Industrial Complex continues to churn out novels featuring his name on the cover, often in a larger font than that given to the actual author. In this case, the largest font is reserved for Jason Bourne's name, although this isn't a Jason Bourne novel. The Janus Reprisal (excuse me, Robert Ludlum'sTM The Janus Reprisal) is part of the Covert One series, allegedly based on Ludlum's ideas (and possibly his notes), although Ludlum himself never authored a Covert One novel. As the ninth Covert One novel, The Janus Reprisal presumably has only a tangential connection to any notion that originated with Ludlum.
The Janus Reprisal is better than many factory-produced novels. Although it makes use of a well-worn plot (terrorists want to acquire a mutated virus so they can become bioterrorists and kill Americans), Jamie Freveletti adds some modest twists to the standard formula.
The story begins with a group of terrorists staging an improbably successful attack on a hotel in The Hague, moving from room to room and shooting the occupants. Coincidentally, Lt. Col. Jon Smith is a hotel guest. Smith is both a physician and an operative of the super-secret spy organization called Covert One. He's attending a meeting of the World Health Organization. Other attendees have stored biological agents in the hotel's safe. The terrorists make off with the biomaterials, and it is up to Smith to track them down.
Meanwhile, an old nemesis of Smith's -- Oman Dattar, a Pakistani unimaginatively nicknamed The Butcher -- escapes from a prison in The Hague, only to find that he's having financial woes. He needs money to pay his assassins, one of whom targets Smith at the hotel during the terrorist attack. The assassin stupidly carries Smith's picture with him, as well as the photos two other people, giving Smith a trail to follow.
Smith is a pleasant departure from other thriller/action heroes in that he doesn't possess superhuman strength or inexhaustible stamina (although he functions surprisingly well after being exposed to mustard gas). Smith is smart but specialized; he doesn't have the encyclopedic knowledge that diminishes the credibility of some thriller heroes. Beyond that, however, Smith is devoid of personality. The Janus Reprisal is all plot; characterization is absent.
Some aspects of the novel are all too familiar: Smith disarming a bomb by following instructions he receives over the telephone; Smith's reliance on a genius computer hacker who is a social misfit; multiple shootouts in which professional killers never manage to disable or kill the hero; a mole in the CIA; a plan to kill everyone in Manhattan; using a woman as bait to flush out the terrorist (which always results in the woman being captured ... don't thriller heroes ever read thrillers?). The action sequence at the end becomes difficult to believe but it's not as outrageous as some other thrillers I've read.
Notwithstanding the story's familiarity, The Janus Reprisal is enjoyable. The workmanlike prose is clean; the pace is quick. Despite being used as bait, the woman who has been targeted by Dakkar is strong and resilient, not the typically helpless female character of old-school thrillers. The plan to wipe out Manhattan has some original elements. The plan is far-fetched, but no more so than is common in modern action-based thrillers. The Janus Reprisal isn't by any reasonable standard a first-rate thriller, but it's a fun time-killer, significantly above the norm for a factory-produced novel.