The Ludlum legacy

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The Ludlum legacy

‘The Ares Decision’is a fast-paced thriller that serves Ludlum’s legacy well, writes sudarshan purohit

Robert Ludlum passed away in 2001. Books credited to him, however, have been released regularly since then. These have fallen into one of several series featuring recurring characters — the most popular being the Bourne series starring Jason Bourne. Another one is Covert-One — featuring a government agency so secret that not even the CIA is aware of it.

The concept was co-created by Ludlum, and the instalments have been written by various thriller writers. ‘The Ares Decision’ is the eighth in the series, written by Kyle Mills, himself a rising star in the thriller genre.

Covert-One is meant to be a techno-thriller series of the ‘Ludlumesque’ type. And what’s that, you ask? Pretty much all of his books feature a man out of his depth, caught up in increasingly bizarre conspiracies. The bad guys are governments and straitlaced thinking rather than truly evil men, and often the seeds of the conspiracy lie within shadowy organisations in ‘good’ countries — American, British, and so on. The heroes rise up to superhuman limits to conquer all.

The Covert-One series partly satisfies these parameters. The recurring hero is Jon Smith, a doctor and medical researcher. Accompanying him is Peter Howell, a sort of retired James Bond who provides the muscle, and Randi Russell, who starts off being a CIA operative and comes to Covert-One’s notice during the course of the series.

This is a rather high-powered team by Ludlum standards, but they have their setbacks and problems along the way. Since our protagonist is a medical researcher, the core plots of most of the books are necessarily related to the same domain — bio-terrorism, viruses, contagions, and so on.

‘The Ares Decision’ starts off with a commando force airdropped into Uganda to assassinate a rebel militia leader. As they approach the enemy home base, they are set upon and wiped out by a gang of bloodthirsty villagers. All signs point to some unknown parasitic infection (or is it black magic?) that gives the villagers their supernatural strength and speed. Jon Smith is recruited to probe the infection. With the tacit support of the current Ugandan government, he and Peter infiltrate into Uganda and try to make their way into the rebel camp.

In the meantime, some factions within the Iranian government are planning to get their hands on the parasite in order to attack the US. And in true Ludlum style, we also have a group within the CIA that wants the Iranians to win this round, so they have a pretext to wipe out that country. The CIA group, therefore, wants Jon Smith to fail. They send an assassin after the Covert-One party, and also anonymously help out the Iranians. Randi Russell is assigned to this trail, which inevitably crosses Jon and Peter.

As the story develops, we have good guys and bad guys from every country that is involved: The US, Iran, Uganda. Sometimes the lines separating the two are thin, but the good guys are marked by a practical approach as opposed to the blind ideology of the other side.

The action moves swimmingly, action or suspense scenes following one another like clockwork. This book belongs to the subgenre called techno-thrillers, thus the story needs to be near-future plausible. The biological background here is as well researched as the weaponry that the various characters use.

The details of the parasite have been worked out well, and mesh convincingly with the action plot. As is usual with Ludlum novels, the heroes don’t hesitate to use unsavoury means to achieve their target — buying black market guns, putting guns to villains’ heads — but they never put innocents in harm’s way.

Credit must go to Mills for making this a novel that stands on its own, rather than as a product of an assembly line process. Rather than wanting to read the next Covert-One book, I found myself wanting to read the other Kyle Mills books. Overall, this is a fast-paced thriller that serves Ludlum’s legacy well. Worth a read.

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