By Robert Ludlum
New York: Bantam Books, 1997
ISBN # # 0-553-10667-8
487 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
July 2009

I used to read Robert Ludlumís novels with some regularity many years ago. I enjoyed the escapism and plain fun. But at some point they just got to be so formulaic that I gave up. I do note that I did once again got hooked on one in 2002 and I have comments on that book The Sigma Protocol in these pages of reviews. There I explain a good deal of why I gave up on Ludlum.

Now, 7 years later Iíve returned to another volume, The Matarese Countdown. I enjoyed the book, but found the same sort of repetition of form. I am greatly reminded of the series of dance movies with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and the musicals with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Each of those sets, like the Ludlum novels, has a formula. For Fred and Ginger, there is some untruth which Fred canít bring himself to tell Ginger and that leads to all sorts of crazy comic situations and near catastrophes for their relationship, but it always ends well and they are usually getting married in the last scene.

Mickey and Judy were normally playing teens, and there was some good deed they wanted to do but they didnít have any money. So, eventually Mickey would call a meeting of all their teen-friends and end up saying: ďI know what we could do, we could put on a showÖĒ and they do, get the needed monies and do their good deeds while we are treated to lots of great dances and songs along the way.

In Ludlum there is always a gigantic world-level plot of some very rich, knowledgeable and ruthless group that plans to somehow nearly destroy human life as we know it. A super CIA spy gets put on the case and the race with the clock is on as the bad guys have some timetable to destroy our world.

In all three sets there are few surprises, and after a few movies in the case of the first two sets and few novels in Ludlumís case, one has a good idea of what will happen and one can be fairly sure that in the first case you will see good dancing and that Fred will finally tell Ginger the truth and they will marry; Judy and Mickey will put on a show, and a good one, the good deed will be done. With Ludlum, the icky guys will all die, their terrible plot will fail, the super spy will survive a zillion attempts on his life, and goodness will triumph.

And in all three cases the viewer or reader will generally have a good time. Albeit, there wonít be much real doubt, little challenge or real surprise, just good fun, in the Ludlum case, accompanied by hundreds of deaths and lots of blood, but again, itís all so fun.

I donít mean to be sarcastic. I think its true, and I continue to watch the dumb movies, and was once again lured into the formula of another Ludlum novel. I do get a bit frustrated with myself in the Ludlum case since reading a 400 + page book takes so much longer than watching a late night movie re-run.

The Matarese Countdown is no different. It wonít help to detail the characters or plot; it hasnít changed. One thing did change and it was a welcome one. The cast of the super good guys was expanded. Ludlum seems to becoming socially conscious in his old age. We have two super spies, oneís a guy in his 70s and then the youngster. And there is a super woman spy and a super upcoming hero black guy. Ludlumís covering his politically correct bases these days.

No matter. The Matarese Countdown is lots of fun.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett