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.