Easy to snort, of course, but here it is in the promotional blurb - Bourne was translated into 28 languages, and it would take both a righteous and a foolish man to change a winning formula in pursuit of literary respectability.:P So The Last Testament, which has gone straight to bargain paperback and has every intention of matching the success of its predecessor, is written just like the film script it soon hopes to be. Solidly researched, unpretentious and immensely diverting it is also shallow, formulaic and far-fetched. Written with self-belief and gusto, it is a pacy read, constructed with a crisp control of tension and narrative drive. Bourne has studied enough of these things to get the form right - that annoying and flattering trick of keeping the reader occasionally behind and then ahead of the story, the compelling kick at chapters' close, the taut interlock of strands as the novel develops. It's the sort of book many people who write fiction think they could have written but couldn't be bothered or wouldn't have done so well; it adds little to our interpretation of the world, but it's a pleasant enough way to pass the time; 98 per cent of your brain can do other things while you read it, such as cast it - Kate Winslet in the lead role, a sweating Nicolas Cage somewhere in the depths.:P
The plot, which moves back and forth between 2003 and the almost-present, and between Washington DC, London and the Middle East, concerns the quest for and meaning of an old stone tablet that may or may not reveal the solution to the clash of civilisations. The quest is led by Maggie Costello, a vaguely discontented marriage-guidance counsellor living in Washington with a dull husband and a big secret. In her former life as a mediator in international affairs, she made a terrible but unexplained error, but now the CIA has come calling with a way to save her reputation. A simple task: rescue the failing peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians amid a stew of extremism and land grabs.
People immediately start dying around her, all of them historians and archaeologists who know too much, and Costello's task widens as she becomes a detective, one step ahead of the Americans, who like to believe they're masterminding events beyond their control.
Bourne hasn't had to look far for his research - it's all there in the papers every morning with Hamas and the crumbling Middle East peace talks - but real-life situations aren't enough for the conspiratorial beachbuster. So some of his key plot turns are preposterous, not least a foray into the virtual computer world of Second Life. The italicised opening of each chapter with a date and exact time (Washington, Sunday, 10.43am) smacks of parody, reminiscent of that terrible film cliche of a typewriter battering out a location on the screen.(very predictable :-S) The repeated play on people's names - anagrams, translations - is pure sub-Da Vinci, although I did like the mad nod to Richard and Judy by using their initials to signify 'Refugees and Jerusalem'.
Costello is the only character who breathes off the page. I would have liked to have seen more of crooked London antiques dealer Henry Blyth-Pullen, and a little more humour in the dialogue would have elevated the scenes from the humdrum. The ending is soft, not-so-hilarious and unsatisfying, and predictably so; Bourne has mastered the form, but ultimately has little to reveal. The message, such as it is, appears to be "love thy neighbour"(really??? oh yeah.. uhh :( ). A not-so-bad summer fodder, as opposed to The Da Vinci Code which I felt was poorly written, badly plotted and was extremely overhyped. So, overall, a good holiday page turner, but not too taxing on the brain. I'm not sorry to have read it, but I'm relieved I won't now have to sit through the movie. :P
stars : *** (3)