Wednesday, 3 August 2011
The Osterman Weekend by Robert Ludlum
Godawful garbage, but not without its quirky charms.
I do have a soft spot for Ludlum - his thrillers are easy to digest, they have a unique feeling of paranoia and hysteria and they always handle the most ridiculous things with the utmost seriousness. But the balance here is far too heavy on the ridiculous.
The main character is a TV executive called Tanner who lives in a upmarket village on the outskirts of New York. He's got a wife and kids, and he's close friends with three other couples - two of which live in the same village; the third couple work in Hollywood. These are the Ostermans, and their visits are known as Osterman Weekends. It's a great pulpy title, if nothing else.
As often happens in Ludlum, our hero is taken to a secret room by a CIA agent and told what's really happening. Turns out some or all of his friends are ruthless, deep cover KGB moles who are due to bring down capitalism in just under a month.
This nefarious plot's quite intruiging actually - the spies gather blackmail info on key people in the US economy, and at the right time each is told to, say, withhold a loan or issue a stock warning or whatever these people do. Recent events have thrown light on the precariousness of our system (though not capitalism itself) so I was hoping this would figure in the story. No - it's just the maguffinest of maguffins.
What it's really about is Tanner trying to figure out which of his friends are spies. The CIA rattle their cages with late night calls and mysterious encounters to make them suspect Tanner. This does make them nervous, but it becomes clear very quickly that none of them are secret agents. It's a case of the reader being a step ahead of the book, which always sucks.
So when the eponymous Osterman Weekend finally arrives, there's no dramatic tension because you're already pretty sure none of these people are in the KGB. Luckily there's some shooting and a dog gets decapitated to keep you interested.
What it felt like was less a spy thriller and more a bad dream. That Ludlum hysterical paranoia is pumped right up, but when you take a step back none of it makes any sense.
Having said all that, I polished it off in two sittings. I didn't feel good about it though. I've got some highbrow fare out the library as penance. I'll see how far I get through Somersault by Kenzaburo Oe.