By Eric Van Lustbader

Grand Central Publishing ($27.99)

ISBN-13: 978-0-446-56447-2

Reviewed by Sam Waas

Franchises can be comforting. Harvey House restaurants were among the first, giving traveling businessmen a welcome respite and familiar fare, right there in the train station. This was echoed by Holiday Inn, first motel chain to successfully capitalize on the postwar Americans who took to the new Interstates.

In literature, a franchise can be a mixed bag. Conan Doyle was so tired of Sherlock Holmes that he killed him off, only to reluctantly resurrect him due to public clamor. The James Bond legacy has been thoroughly exploited via countless novels, some good, some hack jobs, as well as a plethora of speculative but profitable 007 movies. In current mysteries, the late Robert Parker created a unique and exciting Spenser, but sadly the last novels had become formulaic and tired. Any franchise can suffer from inattention to its core principles and primary thrust.

Jason Bourne has become a franchise, too. Robert Ludlum wrote the first three excellent spy thrillers, and after his death, the mantle fell to Eric Van Lustbader. IMPERATIVE is his sixth Bourne novel. I've not read the intervening Bourne books, so I can only speak for this latest entry. And speak with considerable reservation.

I didn't much care for THE BOURNE IMPERATIVE. I realize this flies in the face of rave reviews elsewhere, and I freely admit to not having read earlier Lustbader novels, so I can only base my opinion on this latest.

The novel is tedious and overwritten. The narrative is filled with needless detail about each morsel of food served at meals, types of shrubbery seen in passing, interior décor of every room visited, the color, style, and brand name of each item of clothing worn. And yes, I understand that details lend verisimilitude to a scene, but this went overboard. It was padding, pure and simple, and tended to delay the story line unnecessarily.

Moreover, I didn't once believe in the characters, their personalities, motives, or direction. Conversations are forced, dialogue spotty and detached, behavior of the protagonists simply unrealistic. Of course, we're supposed to be dealing with spies and terrorists here, but that doesn't make them less human.

I mean no disrespect to Mr. Lustbader. I'm certain he's an accomplished author. He has dozens of best sellers to his credit, and I'm likely in the extreme minority here, to disparage THE BOURNE IMPERATIVE. The book will doubtless be a huge success and please the many Bourne franchise fans. I've however read better.

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