Robert Ludlum Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Each of Robert Ludlum’s novels typically features a middle-class American in his mid-thirties, well educated and often financially secure, who can be said to represent a type of twentieth century Everyman. This individual unwittingly and unwillingly faces a Dantesque midlife crisis, becoming involved in events that transcend his own experiences and demand that he respond and react to a life-threatening, often world-threatening challenge as the result of an all-encompassing conspiracy. The particular conspiracy faced by a Ludlum protagonist can be perpetrated by executives of international corporations, members of organized crime, fascists, communists, Middle Eastern terrorists, or religious fanatics, but it always threatens to destroy the ideals and institutions of a way of life.

Ludlum’s heroes battle against power, particularly absolute power; monopolistic institutions, whether political, ideological, economic, or criminal, threaten the acceptable status quo that his heroes strive to maintain. In Ludlum’s fast-paced writing, with its convoluted plots and its international settings, the confrontation between good and evil is complex but ultimately clear-cut, and the conclusion generally manifests itself in graphic violence. Power and evil, however, are not always permanently defeated; like the phoenix, they rise from the ashes only to be faced again by the hero.

Ludlum himself acquired a phoenix-like quality, publishing for years after his death. A planned mass-market series called Covert-One allowed Ludlum to collaborate with several top-flight suspense writers, such as Philip Shelby and Gayle Linds. Ludlum’s name is featured prominently on the covers, but the credit for authorship is somewhat fudged. The Lazarus Vendetta (2004) gives Ludlum credit only for “creating” the series. Eric van Lustbader, a popular author of thrillers, was commissioned by the publisher to produce The Bourne Legacy (2005) and The Bourne Betrayal (2007). A number of novels appeared, begining with The Janson Directive (2002), that may have been cobbled from Ludlum’s notes but clearly were the work of ghostwriters.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Robert Ludlum’s literary work consisted exclusively of long fiction.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The best-selling fiction writer of his day, Robert Ludlum won few critical awards for his writing. He was acknowledged for the sales success of his titles, having more than 290 million copies of his works in print, translated into thirty-two languages. The only awards or other official acclaim that Ludlum received came from his first career as a producer of stage plays. In this area, he won the New England Professor of Drama Award in 1951 and awards and grants from the American National Theatre and Academy in 1959 and from the Actor’s Equity Association and William C. Whitney Foundation in 1960. Also in 1960, he was awarded the Scroll of Achievement by the American National Theatre and Academy.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Baxter, Susan, and Mark Nichols. “Robert Ludlum and the Realm of Evil.” Maclean’s 97 (April 9, 1983): 50. An insightful discussion of Ludlum’s works and of the author’s portrayal of evil.

Donaldson-Evans, Lance K. “Conspiracy, Betrayal, and the Popularity of a Genre: Ludlum, Forsyth, Gerard de Villiers, and the Spy Novel Format.” Clues: A Journal of Detection 4 (Fall/Winter, 1983): 92. An analysis of the work of Ludlum and several of his contemporaries.

Fordham, Alice. “You Write It—We’ll Fill in the Words.” The Times, April 7, 2007, p. 6. Fordham discusses the big business of publishing thrillers. She notes that more than a dozen Ludlum novels have been published since his death and he remains on the best-seller lists as ghostwriters continue to produce works under his name.

Greenberg, Martin H., ed. The Robert Ludlum Companion. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.

“Ludlum, Robert.” In Mystery and Suspense Writers: The Literature of Crime, Detection, and Espionage, edited by Robin W. Winks and Maureen Corrigan. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1998.

MacDonald, Gina. Robert Ludlum: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. A full-length study of Ludlum’s novels, including a biographical introduction.

Priestman, Martin. The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Devotes a full chapter to the thriller genre. Priestman argues that there is no expectation of literary or intellectual skill involved in writing a thriller. Rather, the genre has its roots in Victorian melodrama and derives its attraction from the steady delivery of adrenalin.

Weeks, Linton. “The Plot Thickens—Name Brand Authors Hire Writers to Flesh Out Their Bare-Bones Stories.” The Washington Post, July 24, 2002, p. C01. Weeks describes how Tom Clancy and other writers are creating series that are written by ghostwriters. Gale Lynds, Ludlum’s collaborator on the Cover-One series, describes how Ludlum would supply the plot, character, and a general idea, and she would fill in the gaps. Notes Ludlum’s publisher’s intent to have ghostwriters complete several of Ludlum’s story ideas after his death.

Zaleski, Jeff. Review of The Sigma Protocol, by Robert Ludlum. Publishers Weekly 248, no. 39 (September 24, 2001): 63. In this favorable review of the first novel released after Ludlum’s death, Zaleski praises Ludlum’s writing style and his ability to handle multiple plotlines.