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Six years after his death, the Ludlum brand is still a best-seller

Six years after his death, the Ludlum brand is still a best-seller
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First Published: Wed, Aug 01 2007. 12 24 AM IST
Updated: Wed, Aug 01 2007. 12 24 AM IST
Paris: Robert Ludlum died six years ago, but that has done nothing to slow the release of books published under the name of the actor-turned-novelist who specialized in thrillers built on a foundation of paranoia.
Twelve Ludlum books have been released since his death, with a 13th due out in September. The business is deployed now as a kind of film studio, presenting books completed by others or new ones written using his name.
Since early 2006 alone, there have been three releases: Robert Ludlum’s The Moscow Vector—the sixth in the ‘Covert-One’ series of paperback originals; The Bancroft Strategy; and Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Betrayal, by Eric Van Lustbader.
Ludlum did not want to be forgotten or leave behind only an enormous backlist that started with The Scarlatti Inheritance in 1971. He had little reason to worry: He is now a brand extended far into his afterlife. “This goes back to 1990 or 1991 when Bob (Robert Ludlum) had a quadruple bypass,” said Henry Morrison, Ludlum’s agent. “One day, we were talking about what would happen when he was gone. He said, ‘I don’t want my name to disappear’.”
His estate has borrowed from, among others, the examples of V.C. Andrews, dead since 1986, but selling well thanks to novels written in her name by an uncredited author; and Ernest Hemingway, whose estates issued several books after his suicide.
“People expect something from a Robert Ludlum book, and if we can publish Ludlum books for the next 50 years and satisfy readers, we will,” said Jeffrey Weiner, the executor of Ludlum’s estate.
Whether it is fair to readers to publish Ludlum books posthumously—in the form of spruced-up old manuscripts or new novels written by others—is not a serious concern for the estate or Grand Central Publishing, the former Warner Books, where the rights to all new novels moved from St. Martin’s Press. “I don’t think anyone objects as long as you maintain the quality of the book,” Morrison said.
Weiner and Morris have executed an aggressive plan that has perpetuated the ‘Covert-One’ series that Ludlum created with the central character of Lieutenant Colonel Jon Smith. He oversaw the first three—two by Gayle Lynds and one by Philip Shelby—before he died, but three more have been published since. A seventh, The Arctic Event by James Cobb, the fifth writer in the series, is due in September.
Two best-sellers by the veteran thriller writer Lustbader have lengthened the troubled double life of Jason Bourne, Ludlum’s CIA-handled assassin who had amnesia when readers first met him, and whose memories have returned in glimmers.
Lustbader’s newest novel bears the title Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Betrayal, in which the agency believes he has gone rogue by killing two of its own, and orders him terminated. The title underscores the franchise and the hope that readers will buy a Ludlumesque book that he did nothing more than inspire.
Lustbader, a friend of Ludlum’s and a client of Morrison’s, was enlisted to refresh the literary Bourne after the success that Matt Damon had in playing the character in the 2002 film The Bourne Identity, very loosely based on Ludlum’s first Bourne novel of the same name. That and the 2004 film The Bourne Supremacy have grossed nearly $500 million (Rs2,025 crore). The third film in the franchise, The Bourne Ultimatum, opens Friday in the US.
The writers met at Morrison’s annual Christmas party in 1980, the year The Bourne Identity and Lustbader’s The Ninja were published. “We talked for hours about characters and story arcs, and how to fashion a book in three acts, where one act outdoes the next one,” Lustbader said.
Lustbader’s The Bourne Legacy (published in 2004 by the St. Martin’s Press) has sold 272,000 hardcover and paperback copies, Nielsen BookScan reported. His The Bourne Betrayal has sold 86,000 copies through 20 July, and is No. 8 on The New York Times hardcover best-seller list.
“I wanted to preserve the essence of Bourne and his sense of honour,” Lustbader said. He refreshed Bourne by killing off characters who were central to Ludlum’s creation and made him ageless, which conforms to the possibility of the Bourne films continuing. James Bond, after all, does not turn into an on-screen geezer. He gets replaced by a younger actor.
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First Published: Wed, Aug 01 2007. 12 24 AM IST