Twenty years ago, I devoured every Robert Ludlum book that came along. I started with “The Bourne Identity,” went on to “The Matarese Circle,” “The Acquitaine Progression,” “The Holcroft Covenant,” and every other book he had written to that point (including the sub-par ones under the pen-name Jonathan Ryder). Nobody wrote twisty thrillers like Ludlum.
But somewhere along the line, my tastes changed. Maybe the implosion of the Soviet Union did it. Ludlum kept writing, but I stopped reading.
Over the weekend, having just read two Daniel Silva spy thrillers, I was in the mood. I decided to try another Ludlum book. So I went to Hyde’s, the best used bookstore in Fort Wayne, and discovered the Covert One novels. This series is under the Ludlum brand, but written by other people. Hyde’s had five Covert One books. Wanting to start at the beginning, I bought the one with the oldest copyright (2001), “The Cassandra Crossing,” by Philip Shelby.
As it turned out, “The Cassandra Compact” was second in the series; Hyde’s didn’t have “The Hades Project.” But no matter. I dove into this oversized book with big type, and it read like a rocket-fueled rabbit. Nothing artistic about it; even the worst Stephen King book is a verbal treat. But it was wonderful escapist fun.
The protagonist is a guy plainly named Jon Smith. He’s a doctor, and works with a super-secret government agency called Covert One. Every Ludlum book has an agency like that, I think. Or several. Anyway, there’s a dasturdly plot involving smallpox which takes the reader to Italy, Russia, Hawaii, and into outer space. It was kind of a mindless read, but sometimes that’s what I want. So I’ll probably traipse back to Hyde’s and get the next four books in the series.