Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Who Is Writing Robert Ludlum's Books?

Best-selling thriller author Robert Ludlum died in 2001. Several novels have been published under his name since then: The Sigma Protocol, The Janson Directive, The Tristan Betrayal, The Ambler Warning, and the upcoming Bancroft Strategy.

Who wrote all these books? Supposedly Ludlum left some unpublished and/or unfinished manuscripts as well as notes/outlines for future books. We (meaning the book-consuming public) don't really know how much or how little of Ludlum's own writing is contained in these posthumous works (if any) because there is no statement in any of them spelling it out.

On the copyright page of the Ambler Warning is this statement:

Since his death, the Estate of Robert Ludlum has worked with a carefully selected author and editor to prepare and edit this work for publication.

That's it. No one is named. There is an "author" (not Ludlum) who had a hand in the production of the novel: the statement above says so. On the covers of these books, Ludlum is listed as the sole author. Many people probably bought these books thinking Ludlum had written them himself.

Reviewers of these books, on the other hand, know what's going on and state that Ludlum did not write them. But they have received generally warm reviews--sometimes lauded as better than most of the thrillers assuredly penned by Ludlum himself!

The Secret Ludlum Writer

The person writing the Ludlum books must keep his name and role hidden from the public. No doubt that's in his contract. Former ghostwriter Michael Gruber was in a similar situation before finally publishing Tropic of Night under his own name in 2003. Will the Gruber Effect eventually hit the Ludlum author and will he publish under his own name at some point in the future, gaining some publicity and notoriety as the writer of Ludlum's posthumous thrillers? How long can this guy stand it to be in the shadows, and doesn't there come a point in his career where it's in his best interest to drop the veil?

The Ludlum Cottage Industry

Aside from thrillers published solely under Ludlum's name, there is the Covert-One series of books. In addition to Ludlum's name, the real writers are credited on the covers as well: Gayle Lynds, Philip Shelby, Patrick Larkin, and James Cobb.

Eric Van Lustbader has been contracted to continue the "Bourne" series of books and is listed as the author on the covers. If the Estate of Robert Ludlum is willing to give Lustbader (and to continue the practice of crediting the Covert-One authors) writing credit, why not the secret author of the new "Ludlum" books as well? I assume the idea is that these new Bourne books are Lustbader's creations, with no help from any unfinished manuscripts or notes from Ludlum.

The answer can only be money. If a new thriller is marketed as written by Ludlum right there on the cover, that means far higher sales than if the name is John Smith, or some other unknown writer. People will buy the brand name "Ludlum" in far greater numbers than if the truth were told on the front of the dust jacket. The name "Robert Ludlum" has been trademarked. With (presumably) two authors writing "ludlum" books, that means more can be published within a shorter timespan--perhaps a consideration in not having the secret writer pen the Bourne stuff as well.

The Estate of Ludlum feels it owes no obligation or explanation to the public over the authorship of these new novels. But is that the end of it?

We can deduce that the secret writer is not a well-known name, otherwise it would make no sense for him to write in complete anonymity. But the writer had enough credentials to be tapped for the job in the first place. If he is a known mediocrity, that would be cause to continue the gag order. Perhaps a word analysis of the novels, as provided by Amazon's book search feature, can provide some clues.

Will the real author(s) be named at some time in the future--along with the exact contributions of each writer for each book? Yes, but it may take a while. Some day Ludlum's papers may be housed in an academic library and then scholars can sort out who wrote what.

Legal Liability

In 2000, a fan of the books of Lawrence Sanders filed a class-action lawsuit claiming Sanders' estate and the publisher misled fans into believing Sanders was still alive (he died in 1998) by publishing McNally's Dilemma under his name. A settlement was reached and consumers received $13 if they bought the hardcover copy of the book. In that novel, the ghostwriter's name (Vincent Lardo) was listed in small type on the copyright page. In the posthumous Ludlum novels, the name of the "carefully selected author" is not revealed.

In 2001, a reader sued Penguin Putnam after discovering William J. Caunitz wasn't the sole author of the novel Chains of Command. The ghostwriter's name, Christopher Newman, was listed on the copyright page. A New York State appeals court threw out the suit.

Has no one sued Ludlum's estate and St. Martin's Press? No doubt they feel they are on solid legal ground by not naming the ghostwriter in the books, as the others had done.

There is a whiff of an underworld-style operation going on here, isn't there? There is some ugliness in the book publishing world behind the curtain. Obviously, the Estate of Robert Ludlum and St. Martin's Press are engaged in a deception of the book-buying public by placing only Ludlum's name on the covers of these new books, and by refusing to tell us the name of the "other" writer.

It's a fraud, it's a lack of respect for Ludlum's fans, and it has something of the underworld about it. But it's the book publishing business today, isn't it? Ghostwriters keeping big brand names running when otherwise they would stop. Publishers and estates refusing to fess up and give credit where credit is definitely due. Cash is king.

See Also: The Ludlum Betrayal

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  1. I am disgusted that Ludlum is being used oly to make money and fool his followers, I am have not bought one since his dead. I hops somebody sues the ghost writter and his State.

  2. One of the things that I have noticed is the patterns since his death. Sometimes the novel will jump from place to place and person to person and it becomes easy to be lost. Right now I'm reading the Moscow Vector and having a hard time putting it down In this case patrick is named as the author, Quite a legacy forget about the money

  3. I have read many true Ludlum novels, but I just finished The Ambler Warning, published 4 years after his death, and was impressed by the steep improvements in writing skill between the real Ludlum and this anonymous ghost writer. The quality of character development, the use of apt vocabulary and metaphor, the smooth transitions between points of view of different characters--all this points to a richly talented author. Whoever this author is, this person deserves recognition beyond the Ludlum name, because, sincerely, writing as Ludlum actually diminishes the public impression of the quality of this book. This person probably writes other work under a different name as well, hopefully his or her own. I would like to know who it is so I can support the real author.

  4. St martin's press are a nightmare. See the controversy over The Climb by DeWalt. Ill-researched refute of Into Thin Air, full of factual error, and St Martin's deliberately refused to acknowledge the author's shoddy research.


  5. On the cover of my copy of "the Bancroft Strategy" it is not just "Robert Ludlum" it is "Robert Ludlum™" Notice the "TM" meaning, at this point, it is a "Trademark" and thus not the real Robert Ludlum....after researching, i am discouraged to find that it is not a book written by him and maybe just an outline of what he had...

    Might explain why the main characters age on page 20 is revealed as 26 but ten pages later it states that he has been an agent for close to "2 decades"....


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