Wednesday, July 29, 2020

BOURNE AGAIN: Stepping into the Shoes of an Icon: Guest Post by Brian Freeman

BOURNE AGAIN: Stepping into the Shoes of an Icon

I first read Robert Ludlum’s THE BOURNE IDENTITY when it was released in 1980. That was forty years ago. I was seventeen years old.

Since then, Jason Bourne’s reputation as an iconic thriller hero has only grown – through three bestsellers by Ludlum, a continuation after Ludlum’s death with eleven more books by Eric Van Lustbader, and a wildly successful movie franchise featuring Matt Damon. (Bonus points as a Bourne aficionado if you also remember the 1988 miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain and Jaclyn Smith.)

So when Putnam Books and the Ludlum estate asked me to bring back Jason Bourne in an all-new re-boot of the series, I knew I had big shoes to fill. I also had to keep a lot of different audiences happy: devotees of Ludlum and his original novels, Eric’s many fans, and the millions of Matt Damon movie lovers. They all had very different ideas of who Bourne is.

My goal was to bring Bourne into the modern era (after 40 years, a Vietnam backstory wouldn’t really work today!) and re-introduce this character in a way that keeps all of his essence as a hero, but gives the series a fresh new start. So THE BOURNE EVOLUTION functions as a stand-alone; you can read this book without having read any of the earlier Bourne books or seen any of the movies. However, my hope is that existing fans of Ludlum and Bourne (and Matt Damon, too!) will also immediately recognize the character they’ve known and loved for years.

In planning the next iteration of Jason Bourne, I started with one question: What is it about Bourne that has made him such an iconic figure in the thriller world? Why has he endured all these years?

Ironically, I think part of Bourne’s appeal is that he’s not a super-hero, not in the Jack Reacher or Mitch Rapp sense. Because of his lost memory, he’s fractured, constantly questioning himself and dealing with uncertainty over his own identity. Is he a killer? Is he a moral man? Can he trust himself? That inner dialogue is a part of Bourne’s day-to-day life, and it’s part of what humanizes him for readers.

Because of that struggle, Bourne’s instinct is to be a loner. The movie versions play up this side of his personality, as most of his fight is simply a desire to be left alone. In Ludlum’s books, Bourne pushes people away because of his fears over who he is. And yet, at heart, his relationships (especially with his lover and then wife Marie St. Jacques) define Bourne and help him rise above his past. He thinks he needs to be alone, but that’s not really what he wants.

So in THE BOURNE EVOLUTION, I was trying to get back to the roots of Jason Bourne in all of his moral and emotional complexity. This book isolates Bourne by making him the target of a manhunt as the suspect in a political assassination. As he looks for a way to escape from this maze, he must embrace the help of a journalist named Abbey Laurent, for whom Bourne feels a deep (but reluctant) attraction. Like Marie St. Jacques, Abbey recognizes that Bourne is something far deeper than a killer, even if that’s all that Bourne sees in himself.

Taking a page from most of the Ludlum books, THE BOURNE EVOLUTION also places Bourne at the center of a far-reaching conspiracy. In this case, the threat is grounded in “ripped from the headlines” data hacking and social media manipulation. In many ways, the current era is the perfect time to re-imagine Bourne, because Ludlum’s plots emerged out of the 1970s as a product of Vietnam and Watergate, when conspiracy theories and distrust in government ran rampant. Sound familiar? The story of THE BOURNE EVOLUTION will feel classically “Ludlum” because of the eerie similarities in the times – and yet it should also feel as if you’re reading today’s newspaper.

As for fans of THE BOURNE IDENTITY, you’ll find fun little echoes of the original novel in this re-boot. Some are “big picture” tributes – Marie St. Jacques from the first Bourne novel was a Canadian economist; Abbey Laurent is a Canadian journalist – but other references are just tiny tips of the hat to the Ludlum classic. One of the main characters in THE BOURNE IDENTITY, for example, is a French general named Villiers. In THE BOURNE EVOLUTION, Bourne and Abbey follow a suspect in the conspiracy to a New York wine bar named – you guessed it – Villiers.

So this July, I hope you’ll welcome Jason Bourne back to the thriller world. For me, it was a real honor (and an exciting creative challenge) to step into the shoes of an author, book, and character I’ve loved since I was a kid.

Brian Freeman ( is a New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty psychological thrillers. His novel SPILLED BLOOD won the award for Best Hardcover Novel in the ITW Thriller Awards. His first Jason Bourne book for the Robert Ludlum estate, THE BOURNE EVOLUTION, was published on July 28.

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