The Prometheus Deception

August 3rd, 2007

Robert Ludlum, author of the Jason Bourne trilogy (of Bourne Identity fame) authors this spy novel in 2000. It seems to have been, although I was not aware, his last novel, at least the last one published in his lifetime.

I don't read much of these stories, but I do like them. Ludlum bears resemblance to Frederick Forsyth, of whom I've read two books in the past, but his style is different. Forsyth is more meticulous, Ludlum prefers to be direct. He will describe a hand-to-hand combat scene in great detail, greater in fact than I care to witness. For precisely where the punches land isn't awfully interesting. But unlike Forsyth, the plot is more to do with intelligence and espionage, which is an angle I generally enjoy.

The Prometheus Deception is an elegantly crafted story, but may I suggest it could use a better ending. Nick Bryson narrates an intricate conspiracy on several levels, whose unraveling is both timely and interesting. He is the classic retired-spy-brought-back character, and basically indestructible. The scenes are described well, with good pacing and lots of suspense. Ludlum is good at setting the scene so that you know that potentially there is a lot you don't know, but all the same there is always one thing you know exists that you strive to discover, which imbues the plot with urgent purpose.

The Bryson character is sharp in combat and sensual perception, he can detect the slightest sound, sense subtle movement and so on, playing on the old super-attune-to-his-senses idea. What does seem strange at times is that despite this, he isn't all that bright about the greater pictures and the powers that be. The structure of power in the story is very complex, and Bryson is not the kind to question or doubt what he supposedly knows, where you would expect him to. At times this is almost a little embarrassing, how far he is led astray before he stumbles upon the truth. This is basically his only weakness, but it's not altogether convincing. Ted Waller, his mentor, plays the classic role of the-one-who-always-is-a-step-ahead, whose maneuvering is not explained to the reader.

The plot is very contentious, and the expediency with which Ludlum introduces new foes, and their relative positioning is well crafted. Ted Waller is Bryson's boss, and in many ways they're on the same side, but in many ways they are also enemies. It is enjoyable how characters are not created as traffic cones around which the main character must swerve; their interests migrate, which evolves their relationship to Bryson.

The ending is a problem. Ludlum's plot ascends a steep hill to what appears to be a powerful climax. But somewhere before the end he falters and the pattern of the plot shifts uncharacteristically into what appears to be trouble at tying it all together. What I mentioned as a clear intention in every scene is now missing, and after London, Bryson and Elena (his long lost wife) reunited do a lot of brainstorming, traveling from place to place, picking up tidbits of information that lead them to the final scene. This seems too random in an otherwise watertight story.

As for the final plot resolution, it doesn't quite come. It isn't actually said how "power would be shifted" at all. All we know is that all or virtually all the high rollers of the conspiracy die in a giant fire, but just what they were about to do isn't at all said. Nor is the purpose very clear at all. Right at the end, I'm not even sure what Bryson is fighting against, nor am I convinced of his values. The conspiracy is a plot to abolish national intelligence agencies and deliver all power to an international agency with infinitely superior surveillance power, centered around the single company that provides all this equipment. But is that really so much worse than a CIA acting in national rather than personal/corporate interests? I don't see how. A big stain on an otherwise slick story.

Of course, the valor of a story like this isn't in how it ends, but in how it moves. And with that I'm very satisfied. Ludlum also amuses me in how he insists on using real technical terms. Most authors conceal supposed hi-tec in empty phrases and foggy terminology, but Ludlum actually uses the real words. All the stuff about weapons I wouldn't know, but most of the computer terminology is correct. One head scratcher is his insistence on mentioning software all the time, where software rarely is presented as exciting technology in stories like this. He slips when he says that Elena had brought along specially written software "just for this occasion", written in supposedly a few hours.

Anyway, it's a good story. :)

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3 Responses to "The Prometheus Deception"

  1. John says:

    "...It seems to have been...his last novel, at least the last one published in his lifetime."

    Frankly, he's been more prolific than ever now that he's dead.

  2. [...] « The Prometheus Deception [...]

  3. [...] on the heels of the Prometheus Deception comes another Ludlum novel. This one has a rather different ring to it, it’s also an [...]