Review: The Janson Directive by Robert Ludlum

The Janson Directive by Robert Ludlum is the 1st book in the thrilling Janson series, recently re-released in paperback and available now!

This book is a beast—it’s terrific, powerful, superbly written, and has a lot of pages. Robert Ludlum is a master storyteller. He is at the very top of his game with this breathless, seamless rollercoaster of a tale.

More demons exist for Paul Janson than any one person has a right to claim. So many, he could lend some out to the inhabitants of a small island and still have some to spare, to beat himself with, whenever he so wished.

But, demons don’t work in numbers, they work in strength. One demon can drive you into an emotional wasteland faster than fifty different ones amassed over a lifetime. We all have them, just not in the same numbers or strength. I am actually surprised we have any, as Janson seems to have grabbed the lot—doubts about his past actions, doubts about his power, doubts about his strength, and how all three have affected other people he has come into contact in his life.

It’d be bad enough if he only owned a small corner shop in Idaho, but he doesn’t. He is an operative, and a very special one—an extremely skilled agent who honed his particular approach to his work in the jungles of Vietnam, which keep returning to haunt him, both in spiritual and human form.

Most of his problem solving, on the behest of his faceless political masters, does not involve the sending of lawyers’ letters, but the dispatch of cold, hard lead from the end of a gun. The only qualifying factor appears to be that you must be at the end of his rifle scope. The rest is history, so they say.

He is so good that agents learning their trade study him, discuss him, and write papers on him (though I don’t imagine those being available to the general public). He is a kind of rock god in the world of espionage and counter-insurgency, which is all proper and correct until it appears he has gone rogue.

Now, it is time to cancel him out. A directive is issued to terminate him—which is easier said than done. Janson, weary of the killing and toxicity of his questionable trade, would probably stay still long enough for the assassins-for-hire to do their job, but he doesn’t. He has too many questions that need answering.

Everything comes back to Peter Novak—a multi-billionaire who heads up the Liberty Foundation, the aim of which is simple enough, world peace. Janson owes him big time, so when Novak’s people come asking for help, Janson does not hesitate; he loads his weapons, calls his colleagues, and gets ready for work.

What he sees unfold in front of him is a triple dose of treachery and subterfuge that leaves him going from country to country, trying to find the solution to the problem that begins, and appears to end, with Peter Novak. America, England, the Netherlands, Hungary, and more—the list seems endless, and each scenario draws the reader deeper into Janson’s world, where nothing is what it seems.

Along the way, he partners with a young operative who has, initially, been sent to take him out, and even she is an entity he cannot entirely trust. The Janson Directive is non-stop action from page one.

A muted explosion came from behind him: Janson tensed until he realized that it was the tire of an SUV ten feet away, abruptly deflating as a bullet struck it. There was another gunman stalking him, it appeared, and the direction of the impact plus the geometry of the building told him approximately where he was situated.

Still in the rollover prone firing position, Janson pivoted thirty degrees and saw Sandor Lakatos himself, holding a gleaming, nickel-plated Glock 9mm. The preening peacock, he thought to himself. The shiny surface reflected the light of the parking lot halogens, making him an easier target. Janson aligned the gun’s small sights along the man’s torso and he felt his gun buck as he squeezed off another two shots.

I get the feeling that Robert Ludlum leaves no stone unturned in his research, and his attention to detail is stunning—in particular, the technical details of the weapons used. It is this reason that I felt a bit let down when I discovered the inaccuracy of Janson hopping into a London black cab and paying with not one, but two one hundred-pound notes, one after the other. One hundred-pound notes were withdrawn from circulation in England in 1939 and have never been re-introduced.

Northern Ireland has one, known affectionately as the “Big Note,” and Scotland, which has a separate legal and monetary system from England, also has one. If anyone got into a London cab and tried to pay with a Scottish or Northern Irish one hundred-pound note, the response would not be “Where to Guv?”

I know this because my father, who had a monumental sense of humor, used to give my sister and I each a hundred-pound note every Christmas. He collected them, specially, from the Bank of Scotland’s headquarters at The Mound in Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. We had a competition to see who could pass it on to a vendor the quickest. I won—although it took me three years. I once tried it on a cab driver…I can’t repeat what he said, mainly because, well travelled though I am, the profanities were new to me and, comprehensively, unrepeatable.

The story has a climax and twist that I did not see coming. But then, what did I expect from the author who has produced the quality of books that Robert Ludlum has created in his time.

If Mr. Ludlum is ever in London at the same time as me, he should let me know. I would be delighted to buy him lunch and a cab home for writing The Janson Directive, which is impossible to put down. I will bring the one hundred-pound notes—and American Express, just in case….


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Dirk Robertson is a Scots thriller writer, currently in Virginia where he is promoting literacy and art projects for young gang members. When not writing, tweeting, or blogging on the Mystery Writers of America website, he designs and knits clothes and handbags from recycled rubbish.

Read all Dirk Robertson’s posts for Criminal Element.


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