Despite having seen the movie of The Bourne Identity, I could recall very little of it. Therefore reading the book made me feel a little like Jason Bourne: fragments, names, and faces coming back to me at irregular intervals, but with no context in which to place them.
A man is discovered unconscious in the sea at Île de Port Noir, a small island on the coast of France. He has no memory and no name. His face carries signs of plastic surgery, and a tiny microfilm implanted into his thigh bears a number which leads to a bank account in Zurich. At times of extreme duress and danger, he exhibits certain fighting and survival instincts, for which he has no explanation.
After his recovery under the care of the alcoholic British doctor Geoffrey Washburn, he finds the bank in Switzerland, which holds four million dollars in his name, Jason Bourne. He transfers varying sums of money to different banks around the world, and the alarm bells begin to toll.
He has been recognised by someone who thought he was dead, who wants him dead. News of his emergence reaches the ears of the CIA, and of a professional assassin named Carlos. Bourne finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place as he tries to understand his past, which comes back to him intermittently in flashes, remembering a place, a building, a street.
In a desperate bid to escape his pursuers, he kidnaps a woman named Marie St Jacques, a Canadian financial whiz. Together they try to piece together his past, and keep each other alive. Who is he? Who does he work for? Whose side is he on?
From cover to cover Robert Ludlum’s thriller does not let up on suspense, mystery, or pace. Cliffhangers are not solely confined to the end of a chapter, but are scattered throughout at the end of paragraphs.
Not only does Ludlum show a great deal of skill in bringing his complex plot together, but a thorough eye for detail and the occasional glimpse of subtle wit is evident.
While all of the characters are described physically in detail, the impression is given that it is left up to the reader to envisage Bourne for themselves. After all, he has been missing for six months, has had plastic surgery, and there are no photographs of him, he is a “chameleon”.
The plot is set to a background of beautiful European scenery, jungles in the Far East, with the aid of modern technology, financial loopholes and wiring, and all without a mobile phone in sight. What more could one ask for?