Ovid (publius_ovidius) wrote,

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I have to admit, I do enjoy reading a brain-dead thriller every once in a while. Robert Ludlum, a deceased thriller writer, wrote almost 30 novels and had over 200 million copies of his books in print. Needless to say, while his critics savaged him, he certainly managed to find what appealed to many readers. (And I realize only in retrospect how terrible the "brain-dead thriller" line sounds in this context).

Unfortunately for his fans, the late Ludlum is still churning out novels. You see, he carelessly left several manuscripts unpublished and summaries unfinished at the time of his death. His estate, working with a "carefully selected author", is publishing Ludlum's remaining works. Regrettably, the author appears to have been carefully selected based on price.

His latest novel, The Ambler Warning, once again feature's Ludlum rich ideas, intricate plots, and a lone individual up against shadowy, unknown forces capable of harming the entire world. The basic premise is solid: what does the government do with spies who go crazy? Assuming our government doesn't kill its own people, it can't just put them in a regular psychiatric facility lest they spill dangerous secrets so the book posits a top secret, heavily guarded hospital where they can be safely looked after. The problem is that Hal Ambler, one patient held there, is not crazy and has been involuntarily incarcerated by forces who want to keep him quiet. Naturally he escapes.

The devil, of course, is in the details and the ghostwriter -- what an appropriate term -- doesn't seem terribly interested in said details. Major plot points are glossed over, ridiculously unbelievable things routinely take place and the entire story seems held together by Post-It Notes rather than Super Glue.

In one scene, the hero must escape a building and he heads to the roof, hoping to escape to another roof and avoid his pursuers. Does he? Who knows? All we know is that he heads to the roof and in his next scene, he's made his getaway.

In another scene, Parisian police are yelling at him to stop as he speeds away from a murder in a stolen ambulance with a dead body in the back. His new girlfriend doesn't bat an eyelash and later that evening they make love like nothing's happened. Naturally, there's no mention of how he avoids the police or what happened to the ambulance or the body.

What is frustrating, though, is that the author clearly can write. While we're certainly not talking Faulkner, neither is this writing on par with pulp fiction. There are moments where you can see the author's potential, but they're few and far between. Instead, the book feels rushed. I doubt there were many drafts here. Perhaps, given more time, this could have matured into a solid thriller. Not a great one -- Ludlum was rarely accused of greatness -- but a solid one that could have been pleasant beach material.

I know how books like this get published. Publishing houses see a guaranteed income from a solid name and are willing to hold their noses. There is no way an editor could have read this story and not cringed at how terribly it's been crafted. The ghostwriter, of course, is making money from this. I merely pick up spending money here and there for technical articles. The author is doing something right.
Tags: writing
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