Mr. Theodore Smoot Smoot, Hoot, Doot, and Froot 934 Madison Avenue New York, New York 10021 Dear Glen Plaid Tad,
Just a note to tell you that the new Bob Ludlum is out and you'll want to get it as soon as you possibly can. Business guys like us would no more leave home without the new Ludlum than we would leave home without our American Express cards; you're going to see mega-copies of this one in airline terminals and on planes as business guys like us wing their ways to the next round of meetings in London, Los Angeles, Dallas, or Cleveland. If you and Muffin haven't gone on vacation yet, be assured that you'll see lots of Parsifals around lots of bright blue resort pools or lying face down on chairs beside palm-lined tennis courts while the pro screams "Where is your backhand? Where is your follow through?" at sweating, slightly overweight business guys like us who have given up their Botany 500s and ties for shirts with alligators on the breasts (at least for the week). To "cut right through it," Tad, Ludlum's Mosaic is essentially what's happening, escape-wise, as the snow finally begins to melt this late winter.
How is it? Need you ask? This guy's a pro. It's like all the others--even the title hasn't changed that much. Just as you've got your Chevy Novas which may vary in color but not in body-style, so you've got your basic Ludlum title, which consists of a noun of at least two syllables (but no more than four) modified by a noun used as an adjective. This always yields up something punchy, as you know; you've had your Holcroft Covenant, your Bourne Identity, your Matarese Circle, and now you got your Parsifal Mosaic. In most or all cases the modifier--Matarese, Parsifal, Osterman, Bourne, whatever--is obscure enough to get sharp, incisive, questioning business guys like us interested right away.
You'll be relieved to know that the plot is pretty much interchangeable with the others, too. Of course, most critics are going to step on it for this reason; these critics claim that too much similarity from book to book is a bad thing literature-wise, if you get my drift. They don't understand that guys like us, who save most or all of our leisure reading for planes, terminals, and those vacation hours around the pool, don't want variety; we want quality control! Ludlum gives it to us! Will readers who have liked Ludlum's previous novels like The Parsifal Mosaic? Tad-baby, does one Reese's Peanut Butter Cup taste like another?
This one starts out with Secret Agent Man Michael Havelock watching as Baader-Meinhof terrorists gun down the great love of his life, one Jenna Karas. Havelock, we learn, has arranged for this ambush, because when he's faced with a choice between his woman and his country, he picks his country so automatically that Ludlum never even goes into the reasons why. It isn't that Ludlum's afraid of slowing down the plot--as you know, Tad-baby, in a Ludlum novel the thick rhetoric and the constant rehashing of what has already happened (when you have to read on the run, you need that constant rehashing) makes plot an expendable item, book-wise--it's just that Ludlum knows most of us guys would never question such a basic decision. After all, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.
After setting up his true love for the Baader-Meinhof guns, Havelock quits the spy business. He's agreed to take up teaching, but he decides to tour a few places in Europe first (by the time we've read 20 pages, we've hit Amsterdam, Paris, Athens and Rome). These are places he has only seen previously while on "company business" (presumably skulking down shadowy sidewalks and drifting past Left Bank--and left wing--bistros while "The Third Man Theme" plays somewhere in the background on a zither).
Bam! Ludlum hit us, Tad, with all the force of an undocumented expense account! Havelock sees Jenna alive and well in the Ostia Railway Station! The man who hired Havelock to teach turns out to have a code name and access to a secret Washington telephone number! The secretary of state doesn't answer his phone! There's a mole in the White House!
Tad-baby, when your flight hits unexpected turbulence while landing in Pittsburgh, your head'll never even come out of this cooker until the minute the stewardess reminds you to check around your seat for any personal articles you may have with you! I guarantee it!
Of course, Ludlum is still doing some pretty bizarre things with the language, and I have to admit that every now and then I raised my eyebrows. For instance, what exactly does he mean when he has Havelock think, "We are fools. Worse, we are stupid"? Or how about this Ludlum truism: "The human ego when tied to opportunity was not affected by the lowliness of a civil service rating." I'm sure it must mean something, Tad-baby, but what?
The guy is great at mixing a metaphor; "nothing's ever replaced the carrot and the whip," Havelock says at one point, apparently preferring the whip to the stick; he's also a master of the sentence which is so opaque that it wakes you up, brings all of your attention to the fore, and sets off that signal (alarm-wise) in your brain that screams "What the hell? What the hell? What the hell?" Examples of these strange, wonderful, and almost Zen-like thoughts: "We've got ... a confluence of beneficial prerogatives." "What I know is still very operative." "I'll get you your cover. But not two men. I think a couple would be better."
Another good thing about Ludlum is that he believes in conservation--if it works once, damn it, use it twice! These literature buffs may believe in conspicious consumption, but guys like us know that idea is old hat, consumer-wise; the way to handle things these days is to "do it till your satisfied" (as my teen-aged son--he's at Yarmouth Academy this year, by the way--likes to say when he's "boogying down" in the rumpus room) or until the damned thing almost makes you want to throw up!
I know you'll like Ludlum's thriftiness. When he talks about the VKR, it's never the "malignant" VKR, the "ominous" VKR, or the "incredibly dangerous" VKR; it's always "the infamous VKR" or "the dreaded Voennaya." Good work, Bob! Similarly, we never have to worry about how Michael Havelock is going to respond to extreme stress; his chest is going to hurt, as in: "The Lancia sedan drew nearer, and sharp bolts of pain shot through Michael's chest as he stared at the windshield." And two pages later: "Havelock stared; the pain in his chest was almost unbelievable." The faceless villains in Washington feeding false information to Havelock's superiors are always called "the liars." It makes it hard to get mixed up!
Oh, everyone goofs up once in a while; I'd be the first to admit I'd be a little puzzled if a junior executive stood up at a board meeting and used a crazed metaphor such as the one contained in this Ludlum sentence: "We need Michael Havelock to help us unravel a melted ball of wax." It makes you stop for a minute, I admit, trying to figure out just how a person would go about doing that --how one would unravel wax in the first place--string, maybe, but wax?
But it's the exception that proves the rule, or so they say, and such stuff is a minor quibble--when you don't have much time to read, you sure don't have time to worry about such minor things as language, plot, character development, style, tone, mood, and coherence. And since Ludlum worries no more about these things in The Parsifal Mosaic than he did in any of his previous books --which is to say, hardly at all--you're in for a whale of a good time! This book will keep you occupied without engaging you or troubling you or removing your mind for more than one second after the bookmark has been placed and the book closed because in the final analysis, what you got here is your basic lots of words on lots of pages! Just the thing to put guys like us to sleep in our Denver hotel room after a busy day conferencing!
Well, got to sign off, Tad; I'm flying to Boston day after tomorrow and Ivy wanted me to run down to the mall and see if B. Dalton has got the new John Saul or maybe even the new Sidney Sheldon. She doesn't like to come with me on these trips, even though Grace is married, Billy's working for E.F. Hutton in San Francisco, and Davey is at school most of the time; says she doesn't like to fly.
But when the house is empty, I guess she likes something to occupy her mind.
Best to Muffin & the kids,
Vested Tweed Reed Reed Smalley Smalley, Halle, and Polly 69 G Street NW Washington, DC 20071