Thursday, September 01, 2011

I hope you like meta

Title: The Chancellor Manuscript
Author: Robert Ludlum
Bookmark: The UP bookmark has gotten a lot of action this month.

Typical Ludlum hoopla (this was also in my Discovered Crate of Unread Books). Except... nested inside itself, which was the only new twist.

Peter Chancellor starts as a grad student, ready to deliver his doctoral thesis, which is rejected as ridiculous and speculative. He is advised by a professor to re-write it as historical fiction, because ridiculous speculation is welcome in fiction. What he doesn't know is that the same professor is a member of that most treasured hallmark of the Ludlum novel: the secret cabal who deftly manipulates the country.

The same cabal (known as Inver Brass in this incarnation) enters Peter's life again years later, after his fiancee is killed in a car accident which almost kills him as well. After orchestrating the assassination of J. Edgar Hoover and attempting to steal his secret files, they discover that half of the files have already been stolen. Oops. Their brilliant plan is to manipulate Peter Chancellor into writing a new novel about the assassination (which the entire world thinks was a normal heart attack), knowing that his penchant for extensive, thorough research may unearth who has the rest of the files so that the entire set can be destroyed, freeing the company from the yoke of blackmail and corruption which Hoover had applied.

It works a little too well. Chancellor's manuscript begins to parallel, even to presage, his own life. At one point he meets an FBI agent who is eerily like a character he had created. Soon, he has to navigate conspiracies within conspiracies (some of them complete fabrications, told to him to misdirect or refine the aim of his investigation) while lots of people try to kill him or mess with his head, and he has no idea who he can trust.

As far-fetched and surreal as it often is, it's still a very entertaining read, and goes quickly, but it must be said: as good as Ludlum may be with suspense, he is terrible at romance. Chancellor beds three women in the course of the book. The first is married to the producer of a film based on one of his books, the second is a lesbian, and the third is his Primary Love Interest. The third is actually the most tiresome. Not as a character, but as a subplot. Listening to the two of them express their devotion to each other always sounds hammy and over-played, but it's obvious that he was trying for deep sincerity. As someone who's read way too much Ludlum... he should have stuck with the spycraft. At least when that's unbelievable and over-wrought, the only people who can tell are forbidden to do so.

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posted by reyn at 11:47 AM


Blogger Elizabeth said...

Uh oh, sounds like Ludlum is a writer I should stay away from ... I adore a good, believable romance in my books! I don't think I'd have any patience for a cheater who beds a lesbian.

9/02/2011 7:59 AM  

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