Eric Van Lustbader may be known for carrying on Robert Ludlum’s legacy, but his career did not begin with Jason Bourne, nor will it end there. His own series character, ATF agent Jack McClure, is back in Lustbader’s latest gut wrenching political thriller, BELOVED ENEMY.
Typical of the author’s work, this book sets the hook quickly. McClure meets with the Secretary of Homeland Security in the dead of night. Soon after, the Secretary is found dead. The President is stunned when McClure – a trusted friend – surfaces as the prime suspect.
We’ve come to know Jack McClure pretty well in four previous novels. Like Jason Bourne, McClure has a strong sense of loyalty and heroism, and what Lustbader calls a deep and abiding sorrow that neither of them can quite shake. But I didn’t realize how much he has in common with his creator.
“Jack is dyslexic, just like me, only more so,” Lustbader says. “It wasn’t until later in life that I realized I was dyslexic. That was an astonishing journey for me, and I’ve tried to mirror that in Jack’s journey of self-discovery, which, like all such journeys, is as painful as it is elating. No matter the pain, however, it’s the journey we must all take, the journey the hero inside all of us dictates we face and go through.”
McClure’s journey has left him a changed man in some ways. In this book Alli, his surrogate daughter, is gone, and McClure must wrestle with tough questions concerning his old love.
“His on again off again nemesis, Annika Dementieva, has come to the fore,” Lustbader says. “The question Jack needs to answer in this novel is, ‘Can you love the woman who wants to defeat you?’ Or to put it in more universal terms: Is love powerful enough to overcome greed, thirst for power, innate training, and fear?”
Lustbader has returned to Jack McClure not just because fans love the character, but also because he had a specific, intensely personal, story to tell with this series.
“I wanted to delineate, for myself as well as for my readers, my ripening relationship with my goddaughter, Jessie. She’s now 26. We met when she was two, and I fell in love with her the moment I clapped eyes on her.”
Reflecting all that in fiction, Jack McClure has lost his own daughter, which resulted in his marriage falling apart. Jack then becomes a father figure to the president’s daughter.
According to Lustbader, “In FIRST DAUGHTER and the following three novels, ending with FATHER NIGHT, I wrote about Jack and Alli’s deepening relationship and the traumas that bring them even closer together. FATHER NIGHT brings Alli’s story arc to a close. Why did this happen? Because Jessie got married, moved to Geneva, and is now her own woman. So, too, now, is Alli.”
So McClure had to deal with Alli growing up and moving away. It is, as Lustbader says, the natural order of things, and proved to be the natural conclusion of their personal story arcs.
Of course, the novel is not just about the characters’ personal journey. The reason McClure comes under suspicion is that someone in the intelligence community has gone rogue and is reporting to a vicious terrorist known as The Syrian. McClure must find the mole, which means that ultimately he will have to confront The Syrian. And that means confronting The Syrian’s lover, Annika, who McClure once loved. This is how McClure finds himself facing his beloved enemy. Bringing all of Jack McClure’s life issues to resolution, Lustbader says he is ready to close out the series with BELOVED ENEMY.
“I’m very proud of this book, the questions it seeks to answer, and the ways it provides those difficult answers,” Lustbader says.
While this may be the closing chapter in the Jack McClure saga, one should not get the false impression that Lustbader is running out of things to say. He makes it clear that, for him, there are endless stories to tell.
“And do you know why?” he asks. “Because my stories are about people, not plots. To me, plot is secondary, always in the service of the characters swept along in its tidal flow. Unless or until I get tired of people, there’s no chance of my feeling my writing’s gone stale.”
Thrillers are about the societies and threats of the time, and the world has changed a lot since Lustbader penned THE SUNSET WARRIOR in 1977. He continues to succeed because, as he says, what readers want and expect from a novelist has NOT changed.
“Readers of all ages, in all ages, read to be entertained, first, and to learn something about their world, second. The world is a very different place from the one I grew up in, but the concepts of Good and Evil never change, just the faces behind them.”
As evidence that he is indeed keeping up with the times, Lustbader is the first to successfully write fiction on Twitter. Told in mini-scenes of 140 characters they normally take two weeks, six days a week, to complete.
He has also revealed that the future will include bringing back Nicholas Linnear – star of his breakout novel THE NINJA – in an entirely new setting, with a filled out background that answers some vital questions about him.
“It’s a nifty update to a hero thirty years old who is still as vital in today’s world as he was in the world that existed in 1980.”
But we’ll have to wait a while for that one. In the meantime, we will be satisfied, and thrilled, with the conclusion of the Jack McClure saga. For some, BELOVED ENEMY will be saying goodbye to an old friend, but for all, another memorable adventure from a master craftsman of fiction.
Eric Van Lustbader is the author of many NEW YORK TIMES bestselling thrillers, including FIRST DAUGHTER, LAST SNOW, and BLOOD TRUST. Lustbader was chosen by Robert Ludlum’s estate to continue the Jason Bourne series, and his Bourne novels include THE BOURNE LEGACY and THE BOURNE BETRAYAL. He and his wife live in New York City and on the South Fork of Long Island.
To learn more about Eric, please visit his website.