THE LUDLUM ULTIMATUM
A Prospective Elegy
Memorably unbelievable twists in the late Ludlum’s plots must include the note on The Sigma Protocol [ordering info—if it looks right; if not, then below], his far-from-farewell novel’s title page: “Final Revision June 4, 2001.” Only Ludlum can die in Naples, Florida, on March 12, 2001, and revise his book three months later. Or did he fake his fatal cardiac arrest so that, like deathproof Jason Bourne (The Bourne Ultimatum, 1990), he could slip into retirement hidden from psychotic terrorists like Carlos the Jackal—and maybe from Kirkus Reviews?
Belted into his Burberry waterproof, fresh batteries in his Toshiba laptop, Ludlum throws us into his phosphoric paranoia. His first paragraphs whirl their blades and off we lift. You are in the Sigma Conspiracy! Somebody is out to destroy you—and not who you think. But sagacious investment banker Ben Hartman, 36, son of multibillionaire Max Hartman, 80, and survivor of his identical twin brother Peter’s death in a plane crash, arrives in Zurich, desperately bored. Stepping out of his hotel for a breather, Ben sees old Princeton drinking buddy Jimmy Cavanaugh pull out a Walther PPK [PPK is right?] and try to shoot him, right on the Bahnhofsträsse [check accent]. “This was madness, absolute madness!” Ben races into a crowd. “Suddenly, barely two feet away, a young woman’s forehead exploded in a mist of red.” More innocents spurt blood and fall dead about him. Apocalyptic carnage. Thank heaven, we’re out of the doldrums. But what held back Ludlum’s first massive bloodletting until page eight? The old ticker slowing down? Too much lithium?
Let’s see: five dead, seven wounded. No, Ben kills Cavanaugh. Six dead. But then Cavanaugh’s body disappears, all blood wiped away! And the cops find Cavanaugh’s gun in Ben’s luggage! And Cavanaugh has no record at Princeton! Jimmy a plant, keeping tabs on Ben? What’s more, Peter’s not dead! Ben’s mind bursts! Now gorgeous Anne Navarro, a Justice Department special investigator, wants to know who’s been knocking off oldsters who are tied together only by their listings in the “Sigma” OSS file. Why does Sigma One kill off these dodderers it calls angeli rebelli? Why is Anne’s new boss Alan Bartlett so sphinxlike? He’s a mole? Is aged Max Hartman tied to Sigma One? My God, Peter, now twice-dead, is shot by an assassin while talking with Ben! Had those dead old guys something to do with a still active SS conspiracy? Why does Sigma One need batches of refugee children? For cellular research on reverse aging? Hair now dark and glossy, is old Max SS? Does Ludlum even know yet? Oh, so many questions! How can a reader sleep?
Never say die, Robert L. The Ludlum Archive lives on, with more promised from the St. Martin’s Supremacy! And all of it revised from the Above?