12 Best Robert Ludlum Books: High-Stakes Spy Thrillers from the Creator of the Bourne Trilogy

Traverse the globe and uncover intricate plots of world domination with our list of the best Robert Ludlum books.

Fast, explosive action and incredible plots are guaranteed with every entry in our list of the best Robert Ludlum books.

Robert Ludlum (1927-2001), was the American author best known for creating the Bourne series. He graduated from Connecticut’s Wesleyan University in America with a degree in Drama. After college, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps and worked as a producer and actor in Broadway theatrical shows and on television. 

Ludlum began writing when his theater business began to fail. Every one of his 27 books reached The New York Times Bestseller List, according to his website. And his fabled hero Jason Bourne has rivaled James Bond in terms of notoriety and popularity. 

While not all of Ludlum’s work includes Jason Bourne, all of his novels follow the same theme, offering edge-of-the-seat adventure.

“I start every book with something that outrages me. I’m outraged by the FBI, the CIA, and computers that seem to have cataloged our lives.”

Robert Ludlum

A prolific and successful writer, Ludlum died in 2001. His work has been continued by authors like Eric Van Lustbader, Gayle Lynds, and Kyle Mills, including the popular Covert-One series which Patrick Larkin contributes to.

If you enjoy spy thrillers, make sure to check out our list of authors like Robert Ludlum.

Best Robert Ludlum Books Ranked

1. The Bourne Identity

The Bourne Identity
The nineteenth novel in the series, written by Brian Freeman, is scheduled for July 2024

The Bourne Identity kicks off the famous Bourne series, centering around the eponymous spy Jason Bourne. The story begins with him having lost his memory, and his face modified through plastic surgery. Bourne must uncover his past while chased by a band of assassins. 

The Bourne Identity is a celebrated classic of the spy thriller genre. It was published in 1980 but remains timeless due to its explosive nonstop action and powerful character development. 

Quite different from the film adaptation, the book offers additional layers of complexity and indicates the commitment and research Ludlum put into writing about spy operations. Reading it will give you insight into the kind of influence that the novel had on the genre. 

“It’s not the meek who are inheriting the earth, Jason, it’s the corrupters.”

Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Identity
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03/07/2024 02:29 am GMT

2. The Holcroft Covenant

The Holcroft Covenant
Ludlum served in the United States Marine Corps

The Holcroft Covenant was adapted in 1985 into a film starring Michael Caine, and revolves around Noel Holcroft, the American son of a Nazi officer standing to inherit vast sums of money. The riches, however, come with a dark pledge. Only he can prevent the Fourth Reich from rising to world domination.

The book follows what fans dubbed Ludlum’s “formula” – an evil plot that can be stopped only by one person, the main character, who usually ends up getting the girl too. The author’s masterful writing and convincing dialogue, not to mention the general realism of his works, make The Holcroft Covenant a must-read.

“Peaceful Geneva was no more immune to violence than were the wild streets of New York at night.”

Robert Ludlum, The Holcroft Covenant
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03/07/2024 02:31 am GMT

3. The Matarese Circle

The Matarese Circle
Ludlum started his writing career late, almost at the age of 50

The Matarese Circle follows an international group of assassins, the Matarese, who are seeking world domination. Two rival spies, Scofield and Talaniekov, representing the CIA and the KGB, join together to stop them.

The novel allows fans of the spy thriller genre to step away from the massive Jason Bourne series, with its familiar hero and antagonists, while offering the same thrills. It also showcases one of Ludlum’s strengths, namely the ability to tell a good story without getting bogged down in details. 

“The philosophy of a conglomerate is to buy as far and as wide as possible and diversify its markets. It both uses and refutes the Malthusian.”

Robert Ludlum, The Matarese Circle
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03/07/2024 02:33 am GMT

4. The Bourne Supremacy

The Bourne Supremacy
Ludlum’s estate so far published 33 books under the “Robert Ludlum” brand

The second book of the Bourne saga, The Bourne Supremacy, has the superspy chasing down a killer bent on destruction who has taken on the Bourne identity. Jason has to find him before it is too late while dodging the authorities, spies, and traitor agents. 

The novel shows Ludlum’s versatility as a writer, the way he skillfully portrays action scenes to create tension. The 2004 film adaptation, which saw Matt Damon return as Jason Bourne, is again quite different from the book, so readers who have already seen the movie will find a rather exciting new story between the sheets! 

“The cruelest thing you can do to a person who’s living in panic is to offer him or her hope that turns out false. When the crash comes it’s intolerable.”

Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Supremacy
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03/07/2024 02:35 am GMT

5. The Bourne Ultimatum

The Bourne Ultimatum
The author’s books were translated into 32 languages

The third installment of the acclaimed saga, The Bourne Ultimatum, starts with a mysterious killing. The two men who witnessed it had both received a telegram signed “Jason Bourne.” The messages, however, came from Bourne’s mortal enemy, the terrorist Carlos the Jackal, who wants revenge above all else. 

In Ultimatum, Bourne, the man with nothing to lose, has plenty to live for now, and Ludlum expertly conveys the internal struggles Bourne goes through. Ludlum manages to combine fast-paced action with careful, thorough character development. Ultimatum offers a gratifying resolution to the saga. 

Other authors continued the Bourne saga, with writer Eric Van Lustbader penning eleven more novels, including The Bourne Dominion, The Bourne Deception, and The Bourne Legacy.

“The games of the devil are not restricted to those confined to hell. Others can play them.”

Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Ultimatum
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03/07/2024 02:36 am GMT

6. The Scarlatti Inheritance

The Scarlatti Inheritance
Ludlum used two aliases to write: Jonathan Ryder and Michael Shepherd

The Scarlatti Inheritance, published in 1971, is Ludlum’s first novel and was an instant success, reaching the bestselling charts. It follows self-made businesswoman Elizabeth Wyckham Scarlatti as she tries to save the world from her son Ulster, who is working for the Third Reich. 

The book put the author’s name on the literary charts, so it is a must-read for any fan of Ludlum novels. The writing is superb, making it an essential entry in our list. 

If you want to delve deeper into diplomacy and affairs of state, read our list of the best political fiction authors.

“He knew that the contents of the briefcase, or more specifically, his possession of its contents, signified the end for him.”

Robert Ludlum, The Scarlatti Inheritance
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03/07/2024 02:38 am GMT

7. The Icarus Agenda

The Icarus Agenda
The Ludlum Estate transferred video game rights to EA in 2009

The Icarus Agenda, published in 1988, follows Colorado congressman Evan Kendrick. When it is revealed that Kendrick is responsible for freeing hostages held by terrorists at the American embassy in Oman, his quiet life is upended. Kendrick has to avoid the terrorists who are out for revenge. 

The 786-page novel, long even by Ludlum’s standards, reads like a warning against religious fanaticism. The Icarus Agenda is a wild ride that takes the reader from one crisis to another, making it hard to put down.

“The trigger meant death, but in their wild-eyed zealotry, they could not make the connection with that finality.”

Robert Ludlum, The Icarus Agenda
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03/07/2024 02:44 am GMT

8. The Matarese Countdown

The Matarese Countdown
Ludlum traveled extensively, conducting research for his books

After 20 years, the Matarese dynasty of assassins is back, and Cameron Pryce is running out of time to stop their evil plots. They were once curtailed by an uneasy alliance between the CIA and KGB’s best, but this time the ruthless powerbrokers have learned their lesson and have come prepared. Legendary retired agent Brandon Scofield is needed, but first, he must be located.

The story in The Matarese Countdown has us revisit beloved characters, now more senior in age. The relationship between Scofield and young Pryce gives zest to the book, and the looming global takeover makes for constant suspense.

“Should anyone arrive with these items, he or she was to be forcibly detained and taken to an interrogation room where harsh questions would be asked.”

Robert Ludlum, The Matarese Countdown
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03/07/2024 02:38 am GMT

9. The Matlock Paper

The Matlock Paper
The Guardian hailed Ludlum as one of the defining authors of airport friction

The Matlock Paper is one of Ludlum’s earliest books, published in 1973. It features Vietnam veteran James Matlock, who is brought into a secretive investigation by the U.S. government. However, the job is more than it seems, and the now college professor with a dark past gets the attention of a criminal organization called Nimrod. 

Ludlum’s style has changed over the years, and while his Bourne books entrap readers with their unyielding pace, his earlier works were less relentless. The Matlock Paper allows the master of spy novels time to weave an elaborate story with equally complex characters and motivations. Cliff-hangers, well-placed social commentary, mystery, and exquisite, introspective characters, The Matlock Paper has it all. 

“When the old men kill themselves, the cities are dying.”

Robert Ludlum, The Matlock Paper
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03/07/2024 02:39 am GMT

10. The Gemini Contenders

The Gemini Contenders
Ludlum’s books sold over 225 million copies worldwide

WWII has just started. In Greece, an order of monks is trying to hide away a mysterious vault. The Nazis march through Europe seeking it. One of Christianity’s biggest secrets could throw the whole world into turmoil, and it must not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands.

The Gemini Contenders has at its core a quintessential Ludlum plot, mesmerizing and convincing. The novel reads a lot like The Da Vinci Code with a tad more violence, although The Gemini Contenders came first by 27 years. 

“It was important to keep moving. Certain struggles continued. Others had to be brought to a close. The wisdom was in deciding which.”

Robert Ludlum, The Gemini Contenders
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03/07/2024 02:48 am GMT

11. The Sigma Protocol

The Sigma Protocol
The writer married actress Mary Ryducha, with whom he had three children

The Sigma Protocol, like all of Ludlum’s books, features magnitudes of deception, all leading to a central plot. 

It starts with investment banker Ben Hartman who is on holiday to Switzerland, when an old college friend suddenly tries to kill him. Forced to go on the run without knowing why, Hartman meets Department of Justice Agent Anna Navarro, who is also being hunted for investigating a series of puzzling killings connected by the codeword SIGMA. 

“Calculate the odds, and recalculate, and recalculate again. And then just go with your gut instinct.”

Robert Ludlum, The Sigma Protocol
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03/07/2024 02:53 am GMT

12. The Parsifal Mosaic

The Parsifal Mosaic
Ludlum had a famously deep voice, and he used it to earn money doing voiceovers

The Parsifal Mosaic originally came out in 1982 and marks one more deserving entry on the list of Robert Ludlum’s best books. The novel follows rogue agent Michael Havelock, hunted by assassins after being marked by a top-level mole codenamed Parsifal. 

Despite being the last book on our list, The Parsifal Mosaic is an addictive read. The plot is born out of a love story between two agents that gets interrupted when one of them is gunned down. With numerous subplots and constant action, the novel is a classic spy story and one of Ludlum’s best.

“Those who betrayed the living and brokered death had to die.”

Robert Ludlum, The Parsifal Mosaic
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03/07/2024 02:54 am GMT