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The Bourne Novels Head to the Middle East

The books, though, not the movies.

A fixture of airport bookstores, newsstands, and beach bags, the novels about formerly amnesic super-spy Jason Bourne have proven to be independent of their prolific creator, Robert Ludlum, the best-selling author who died a decade ago. Now written by Eric Van Lustbader, the subsequent Bourne titles have sold some 8.5 million copies for Hachette's Grand Central Publishing. Up next for Lustbader and Bourne: The Bourne Dominion, The Bourne Upset, and the fracas of the Middle East.

“I don’t create fake countries like they did on The West Wing,” says Lustbader. “You can get away with things like that [the fictional, oil-rich Middle Eastern nation of 'Qumar'] with TV and films, but even if I wanted to take those short cuts, my editors wouldn’t allow it: You have to be much realer." For that reason, Lustbader’s last book, The Bourne Deception, had plot points involving Iran and Egypt. The forthcoming Bourne book, The Bourne Dominion, due out this July, dives even deeper into the Middle East, introducing a lissome female undercover agent of Israel’s Mossad named Rachel, who Lustbader says “will become very important” to the future of Bourne and the Bourne franchise.

The novel scheduled to come after Dominion, The Bourne Upset, the ninth in the series, needs writing this summer if Mr. Lustbader is to meet his commitment for a July 2012 release. “Events are happening so fast, everyone is being overrun by it,” says Lustbader, “I have to think: ‘How are things going to be a year from July?’ If I go by what’s happening now, it’ll seem dated. If I took the exact things that happened now, they’ll have already become stale.” So Lustbader has his eyes, again, on Iran. “No one could have predicted this, but I read this one analyst back in January 2011 — back when everyone was giving their predictions for the new year — and he felt strongly about regime change in Iran,” recalls Lustbader, “And I thought, ‘He’s nuts.’ But it now it seems likely, or at least more likely than any time last year. So instead of talking about Egypt or Libya, [for the next Bourne book] I probably would focus on Iran. That’s going to be the last domino to fall, if it does.”

And if it doesn't? “Part of being an author is that you’re God,” Lustbader chuckles, “You want to make it as realistic as possible. You don’t necessarily want to make it as real as possible. Those are two separate things.”