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The Sigma Protocol by Robert Ludlum




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Bad Business

Although Robert Ludlum died in March, 2001, he left three books unpublished, and St. Martin’s Press has recently released the first of them, The Sigma Protocol. Ludlum followers will not be disappointed. He masters short chapters that intensify with action and emotion. The fifty chapters in this 530 page book are rich with descriptive language, and action that moves around the globe. I gave up counting how many times protagonist Ben Hartman narrowly escaped murder.

Here’s an excerpt that illustrates Ludlum’s fine use of descriptive language along with tongue-in-cheek bows to other characters:

“The pub, called the Albion, was located on Garrick Street, at the edge of Covent Garden. It had low ceilings, rough-hewn wooden tables, and sawdust floors, the sort of place that had twenty real ales on tap and served bangers and mash, kidney pudding, and spotted dick, and was jammed at lunchtime with a stylist crowds of bankers and advertising executives.
Jean-Luc Passard, a junior security officer for the Corporation, entered the pub and saw at once why the Englishman had chosen this place to meet. It was so dense with people that the two of them would certainly go unnoticed.
The Englishman was sitting alone in a booth. He was as described: a nondescript man of about forty, with bristly, prematurely gray hair. On closer inspection, his face was smooth, almost tight, as if from surgery. He wore a blue blazer and white turtleneck. His shoulders were broad, his waist narrow; he looked, even at a distance, physically imposing. Yet you would not pick him out in a lineup.
Passard sat down at the booth, put out his hand. ‘I’m Jean-Luc.’
 ‘Trevor Griffiths,’ the Englishman said. He shook hands with barely any pressure at all, the greeting of a man who did not care what you thought of him. His hand was large, smooth, and dry.”

Executives will bristle at the way companies are depicted as uncaring and evil. One premise Ludlum lays out is that a board of directors has set itself in charge of western history itself. Ludlum keeps us guessing who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, as the action unfolds. There are plenty of surprises, but in the end, “the hero knew what he had to do, and he wasn’t afraid to fight,” as Neil Young would sing it. Enjoy new Ludlum as the first of the final three arrives with The Sigma Protocol.

Steve Hopkins, December 5, 2001


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