This book rates four "action" stars. Reading The Prometheus Deception is like walking into a Schwarzenegger movie. Action, action, action, is what it's about.
If you like action movies or action novels, then Ludlum's tales are for you. Exposition is kept to a minimum. The unwritten rule here: if someone isn't being chased by others (with AK47s, preferably) or about to be blown up, or having his eye gauged out, etc., every four or five pages, then the author is falling down on the job.
Nick Bryson is an agent for the super-secret Directorate, an agency so secret that most, even in government, don't know it exists. Nick has worked for the Directorate for years, devoted his life and energies to its purpose, believing that in doing so, he's aided his country, the United States. Then,
after being wounded severely on one mission (the novel opens with this mission) he is retired. He doesn't like it but accepts it and, for a few years afterward, is kept busy teaching at a college,
the new life that was given to him by the Directorate. The agency's retirement plan.
Then, one day, on campus:
"A sound, something definitely out of place. He turned toward the student, but not to look at her. Instead, to look past her, beyond her, to whatever had flickered in his peripheral vision. Yes, there was something amiss in the general vicinity. Strolling too casually in his direction, as if enjoying the spring air, the verdant setting, was a broad-shouldered man in a charcoal flannel suit, white shirt, and perfectly knotted rep tie. That wasn't academic garb at Woodbridge, not even for administrators, and the weather was too warm for flannel. This was indeed an outsider."
Bryson's old instincts have him ready to defend himself against the stranger and
others who come for him. He escapes but then must ask himself: Why had they come
for him? He's out of the game.
As he is drawn into a web of intrigue and learns new truths about the past, he is forced to question his whole previous life. Was the Directorate working for the United
States, or was it in fact an agency working against the U.S? He learns that his beloved mentor, Ted Waller, was in fact a Russian. Were all his exploits hurting his country? Was he unknowingly a traitor? And nothing more than a dupe all those years? His own parents were killed when he was a child. Now it's hinted that it was Ted Waller who had them killed, for the sole purpose of getting the youngster under his wing. Perhaps seeing the child's potential as a future agent? Can it be true? Can the person Nick has loved all these years be the killer of his own parents?
There is a great scene in Saint Jack and Toad by Philip Carraher (also reviewed) in which Jack (in a dream?) enters a room called "Truth." There is a sign over the door that says only truth is inside, all lies stop at the doorstep. Once inside, Jack meets a strange ephemeral woman (Truth?) and tells her that he seeks the truth. She then tells him that everything in his entire life has been a lie. See what you do with that truth, she says, almost as a dare. Jack is devastated. Everything he believed in, the love of his wife, his God, everything is a lie. Here Nick Bryson is equally devastated. His entire life up to now has been built upon a deception. He has been a pawn in someone else's game of chess. Nothing was real, not even his marriage to Elena. Did she love him? Was she just another agent? If she loved him then why did she suddenly leave him without telling him why? In Saint Jack and Toad, Jack soon realizes that the sign over the door, the sign that said only truth is inside, was also outside the room. Since everything outside the room is a lie, then that sign too must be a lie. The room itself is a deceptive lie. Or is it?
There is some of that kind of thing here in The Prometheus Deception. Where does truth begin? Where does it end? Was the Directorate an anti-American agency, or is that another lie? Is Waller a friend or an enemy? Nick Bryson must discover the truth if he is to make any sense at all of his life. This questioning by the main character does allow Mr. Ludlum to add some depth to the tale. And it's welcome. But ultimately what counts here is the action. Nick's questioning of his past is kept to a minimum as he fights and shoots his way to the truth.
There are some plot conveniences, such as when Nick visits his senile Aunt Felicia to talk about his parents (suspecting now that Waller had them killed), the woman almost immediately is talking about exactly what he wants to hear, although she is barely aware she's talking. If anyone else went to visit their Aunt Felicia, she wouldn't make sense at all for hours. Perhaps never. Another is the relative ease with which Nick can meet with the president's National Security Advisor. One phone call and they're soon talking face to face. Hmm, I wonder if I could do that? Well, Schwarzenegger in his movies can generally do the same kind of thing, and the real point of these kinds of meetings is to move the main character into the next scene of mayhem and armed combat. Ludlum achieves this successfully, as one would expect from a long-time giant in the action-adventure genre.
The "Prometheus" deception of the title has nothing to do with the deception played upon Nick by the Directorate; rather, it refers to a plot by some very high-placed people to wrest control of the U.S. government onto themselves. Deception placed upon deception. Ultimately it is up to Nick (with some help from a few others) to stop the evil plot from being successful and to effectively save the United States from tyranny.
And all the time, people are shooting at him and fighting with him and blowing things up around him. If action is your thing, you can't do better than this book.