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The Matarese Countdown

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Secret deals are in the making, massive mysterious transactions steeped in corruption and murder. The players stand at the highest pinnacles of global finance and government. It is an unprecedented consolidation of money, power, and ruthlessness. Their ultimate aim: worldwide economic domination and all it entails ... by whatever means necessary. The Matarese dynasty is back in all its glory and evil. And the one man with enough knowledge to stop it, CIA case officer Cameron Pryce, may not have enough time. The ...
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The Matarese Countdown: A Novel

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Overview

Secret deals are in the making, massive mysterious transactions steeped in corruption and murder. The players stand at the highest pinnacles of global finance and government. It is an unprecedented consolidation of money, power, and ruthlessness. Their ultimate aim: worldwide economic domination and all it entails ... by whatever means necessary. The Matarese dynasty is back in all its glory and evil. And the one man with enough knowledge to stop it, CIA case officer Cameron Pryce, may not have enough time. The Matarese countdown has begun and Pryce's only chance to cut it off is to follow the trail of blood money and stone-cold killers to the heart of this deadly conspiracy. From the Hamptons to Monte Carlo to London's Belgrave Square, Matarese assassins have already struck with brutal efficiency, eliminating all who stand in their way. But on Spain's Costa del Sol, one victim survived long enough to breathe these dying words: "Find Beowulf Agate" - words that reverberate all the way to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Beowulf Agate is the code name for legendary retired agent Brandon Scofield, the only man ever to penetrate the Matarese and survive. Now Cameron Pryce has to draw Scofield and his wife, Antonia, out of their Caribbean paradise hideaway and back to a place they thought thy'd never have to go again - back into the Matarese circle of death. For from the oil fields of the Persian Gulf to the boardrooms of Manhattan, from the hills of Corsica to the halls of power in Washington, the circle is closing, the noose is tightening, the panic is spreading. And Pryce has made a chilling discovery: the Matarese have broken new ground ... deep inside the CIA.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
November 1997

Long considered a master of the international-espionage superthriller, novelist Robert Ludlum has written eight No. 1 New York Times hardcover-fiction bestsellers and 11 No. 1 New York Times paperback-fiction bestsellers. With his latest offering of suspense and high-stakes intrigue, The Matarese Countdown, Ludlum brings back the Matarese, the sinister cabal whose ultimate purpose is worldwide economic domination via a deadly Machiavellian manifesto: by any means necessary.

Originally destroyed by a tenuous KGB-CIA alliance in 1979's The Matarese Circle, the insidious Matarese dynasty has returned in all its glory and evil to the highest reaches of global finance and government. CIA agent Cameron Pryce is the lone man with enough knowledge to stop them, but as the title suggests, he may not have enough time — Matarese assassins have already struck with brutal efficiency, eliminating all who stand in their way.

Pryce's only hope lies in the faint last gasp of a dying victim of the Matarese: "Find Beowulf Agate...." "Beowulf Agate," as Pryce soon discovers, is the code name for retired field agent Brandon Scofield, the only man ever to penetrate the Matarese organization and survive. Now Pryce must draw Scofield and his wife out of their blissful Caribbean paradise and back into a place they never thought they would have to go again: the chilling Matarese circle of death.

Reaching from the oil fields of the Persian Gulf to the boardrooms of Manhattan, from the hills of Corsicato the halls ofpower in Washington, the circle is closing, and the panic is spreading. And Pryce has made a shocking new discovery: The Matarese conspiracy may have penetrated further than anyone could have imagined — to deep within the very walls of CIA headquarters itself.

Library Journal
More international intrigue.
From the Publisher
"Welcome to Robert Ludlum's world...fast pacing, tight plotting, international intrigue."
—The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

"If a Pulitzer Prize were awarded for escapist fiction, Robert Ludlum undoubtedly would have won it. Ten times over."
—Mobile Register

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553579833
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/28/1998
  • Series: Matarese Circle Series , #2
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 566
  • Product dimensions: 4.19 (w) x 6.88 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Ludlum was the author of twenty-one novels, each a New York Times bestseller. There are more than 210 million of his books in print, and they have been translated into thirty-two languages. In addition to the Jason Bourne series—The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum—he was the author of The Scarlatti Inheritance, The Chancellor Manuscript, and The Apocalypse Watch, among many others. Mr. Ludlum passed away in March, 2001.

Biography

Robert Ludlum was the author of 21 novels, each a New York Times bestseller. There are more than 210 million of his books in print, and they have been translated into 32 languages. In addition to the Jason Bourne series—The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum—he was the author of The Scarlatti Inheritance, The Chancellor Manuscript, and The Apocalypse Watch, among many others. Mr. Ludlum passed away in March, 2001.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Jonathan Ryder and Michael Shepherd
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 25, 1927
    1. Date of Death:
      March 12, 2001
    2. Place of Death:
      Naples, Florida

Read an Excerpt


The huge, glistening white yacht, its length over a hundred fifty feet from bow to stern, slowly maneuvered its way into the marina at Estepona, the northern point of Spain's opulent Costa del Sol, a retirement haven for the wealthy of the world.

The gaunt old man in the luxurious master stateroom sat in a velvet-covered chair, attended to by his personal valet of nearly three decades. The aged owner of the ship was being groomed by his servant and friend for the most important conference of his long life, a life that spanned over ninety years, the precise age kept secret, for much of that life was spent in the cutthroat arenas of men much younger. Why give those avaricious turks the advantage of his rumored senility, which in reality amounted to several generations of superior experience? Three cosmetic operations on his features might have left his face partially masklike, but that was merely superficial, a misleading image to confuse the opportunists who would usurp his financial empire, given half a chance.

An empire that meant nothing any longer. It was a paper colossus worth over seven billion American dollars, seven thousand times a million, built on the manipulations of a long-forgotten entity. It began with a vision of revenge and turned ever more violently satanic, further corrupted by underlings who had no vision beyond themselves.

"How do I look, Antoine?"

"Splendid, monsieur," replied the valet, applying a mild aftershave lotion and removing a lap cloth to reveal formal clothes complete with a striped cravat.

"This isn't too much, is it?" asked the elegant employer, gesturing at his finery.

"Not at all. You are thechairman, sir, and they must understand that. You can brook no opposition."

"Oh, my old friend, there'll be no opposition. I plan to instruct my various boards to prepare for destructurization. I intend to give generous benefits to all who have devoted their time and energy to enterprises they essentially knew nothing about."

"There will be those who will find your instructions difficult to accept, mon ami Rene."

"Good! You're dropping our pretenses, you're about to tell me something." Both men laughed softly as the old man continued. "If the truth were told, Antoine, I should have put you on some executive committee. I can't remember when your advice was in error."

"I only offered it when you asked and when I thought I understood the circumstances. Never in the areas of business negotiations, of which I understand nothing."

"Only of people, correct?"

"Let's say I'm protective, Rene. . . . Come, let me help you up and put you in the wheelchair--"

"No, Antoine, no wheelchair! Take my arm and I'll walk into the meeting. . . . By the way, what did you mean when you said there'll be those who won't like my instructions? They'll get their benefits. They'll all be more than comfortable."

"Security is not the same as active involvement, mon ami. The workers will be grateful, indeed, but your executives may feel otherwise. You are removing them from their fiefdoms of power, of influence. Beware, Rene, several who'll be at this conference are among that group."

The yacht's large dining room was a low-ceilinged replica of a fashionable Paris restaurant, the impressionistic murals on the walls depicting scenes of the Seine, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and various other Parisian sights. The circular mahogany table held five chairs, four occupied, one vacant. Seated were four men in severe business suits, bottles of Evian water in front of each, ashtrays with boxes of Gauloises cigarettes beside them. Only two ashtrays were in use, the others firmly set aside.

The frail old man walked into the room, accompanied by his valet of twenty-eight years, known by all around the table from previous meetings. Salutations were exchanged; the ancient "chairman" was lowered into a middle chair, as his servant sat behind him against the wall. The procedure was accepted, none objected, nor could they, for it was tradition.

"So here are all the attorneys. Mon avocat in Paris, ein Rechtsanwalt in Berlin, mio avvocato in Rome, and, of course, our corporate lawyer in Washington, D.C. It is good to see you again." There were muted acceptances of the greeting; the old man went on. "I can see by your eager reception that you are not enthralled by our meeting. That's a pity, for my instructions will be carried out, whether you like it or not."

"If you please, Herr Mouchistine," said the attorney from Germany, "we have all received your coded instructions, now locked away in our vaults, and, frankly, we are appalled! It's not merely your intention to sell your companies and all their assets--"

"Excluding rather extraordinary sums for your professional services, of course," Rene Mouchistine abruptly, firmly, broke in.

"We're most appreciative of your generosity, RenÚ, but that's not our concern," said the lawyer from Washington, D.C. "It's what follows. Certain markets will crash, stocks plummet . . . questions will be asked! There could be investigations . . . all of us compromised."

"Nonsense. Each of you has been following the orders of the elusive Rene Pierre Mouchistine, sole owner of my enterprises. To do otherwise would result in your dismissal. For once, tell the truth, gentlemen. With the truth, no one can touch you."

"But, monsignore," exclaimed the avvocato from Italy, "you are selling assets far below market value! For what purpose? You delegate millions upon millions to charities everywhere, to nobodies who cannot tell a lira from a deutsche mark! What are you, a socialista who wants to reform the world while destroying the thousands who believed in you, in us?"

"Not at all. You are all part of something that began years before you were born, the vision of the great padrone, the Baron of Matarese."

"Who?" asked the French attorney.

"I vaguely remember hearing the name, mein Herr," said the German. "But it has no relevance for me."

"Why should it?" Rene Mouchistine glanced briefly over his shoulder at his valet, Antoine. "You are all nothing but the webs of spiders that spun out from the source, hired by the source, making its operations appear legitimate, for you were legitimate. You say I'm giving back millions to those who lost the games--where do you suppose my riches came from? We became greed gone berserk."

"You cannot do this, Mouchistine!" shouted the American, springing to his feet. "I'll be hauled before Congress!"

"And I! The Bundestag will insist on investigating!" yelled the Rechtsanwalt from Berlin.

"I will not subject myself to the Chamber of Deputies!" cried the Parisian.

"I'll have our associates in Palermo convince you otherwise," said the man from Rome ominously. "You'll see the logic."

"Why not try it now yourself? Are you afraid of an old man?"

The Italian rose in fury to his feet, his hand reaching under his tailored jacket. It was as far as he got. Kesitch! A silenced, single gunshot blew his face apart, fired by Antoine, the valet. The Roman lawyer fell, soiling the parquet floor.

"You're insane!" screamed the German. "He was merely showing you a newspaper article in which several of your companies are linked to the Mafia, which is true. You are a monster!"

"That's sheer irony coming from you, considering Auschwitz and Dachau."

"I wasn't born then!"

"Read history. . . . What do you say, Antoine?"

"Self-defense, monsieur. As a senior informer to the Súrete, I will put it in my report. He reached for a weapon."

"Shit!" yelled the lawyer from Washington. "You set us up here, you son of a bitch!"

"Not really. I simply wanted to make sure you would carry out my orders."

"We can't! For God's sake, don't you understand? It would be the end of all of us--"

"One certainly, but we'll get rid of the body, fish for the fish under the sea."

"You are insane!"

"We became insane. We were not at the beginning. . . .Stop! Antoine! . . .The portholes!"

The yacht's small circular windows were suddenly filled with faces covered with rubber masks. One by one, each smashed the glass with his weapon and began firing indiscriminately at every corner and shadow of the room. The valet, Antoine, pulled Mouchistine under a bulkhead armoire, his own shoulder blown apart, his master punctured around the chest. His friend of thirty years would not survive.

"RenÚ, RenÚ!" cried Antoine. "Take deep breaths, keep breathing! They've gone! I'll get you to the hospital!"

"No, Antoine, it is too late!" Mouchistine choked. "The lawyers are gone and I do not regret my end. I lived with evil and I die rejecting it. Perhaps it will mean something somewhere."

"What are you talking about, mon ami, the dearest friend of my life?"

"Find Beowulf Agate."

"Who?"

"Ask Washington. They have to know where he is! Vasili Taleniekov was killed, yes, but not Beowulf Agate. He is somewhere and he knows the truth."

"What truth, my closest friend?"

"The Matarese! They're back. They knew about this conference, the coded instructions that are meaningless without the ciphers. Whoever's left had to stop me, so you must stop them!"

"How?"

"Fight it with all your heart and soul! Soon it will be everywhere. It was the evil that the archangel of hell prophesied, the good that became the servant of Satan."

"You're not making sense. I'm not a biblical scholar!"

"You don't have to be," whispered the dying Mouchistine. "Ideas are greater monuments than cathedrals. They last millennia beyond the stone."

"What the hell are you saying?"

"Find Beowulf Agate. He's the key."

RenÚ Mouchistine spastically lurched forward, then fell back, his head resting against the bulkhead. His last words were so clear they might have been gutturally whispered through an echo chamber. "The Matarese . . . the evil incarnate." The old man with the secrets was dead.



In the rugged Corsican hills above the waters of Porto Vecchio on the Tyrrhenian Sea, there stood the skeletal remains of a once-majestic estate. The exterior stonework, built to stand for centuries, was by and large intact, the insides of the various structures destroyed, gutted by fire decades ago. It was midafternoon, the skies dark, heavy rain imminent as a late-winter storm made its way up the coast from Bonifacio. Soon the air and the earth would be drenched, mud everywhere, the overgrown, barely visible paths around the great house to be slogged through, not walked over.

"I would suggest that we hurry, padrone," said the heavyset Corsican in a hooded parka. "The roads back to the Senetosa airfield are difficult enough without the storm," he added in accented English, the language mutually agreed upon.

"Senetosa can wait," replied the slender man in a raincoat, his speech betraying a Netherlands origin. "Everything can wait until I'm finished!...Let me have the survey map for the north property, if you please." The Corsican reached into his pocket and withdrew a many-folded sheaf of heavy paper. He gave it to the man from Amsterdam, who rapidly unfolded it, placed it against a stone wall, and anxiously studied it. He kept turning his gaze away from the map, looking over at the area that momentarily consumed his attention. The rain began, a drizzle that quickly became a steady shower.

"Over here, padrone," cried the guide from Bonifacio, pointing at an archway in the stone wall. It was the entrance to a long-ago garden arbor of sorts, odd insofar as the arch itself was barely four feet wide while its thickness was nearly six feet--tunnel-like, strange. It was overgrown with vines crawling up the sides, strangling the entrance--forbidding. Still, it was a refuge from the sudden downpour.

The "padrone," a man in his early forties, dashed into the small sanctuary, immediately pressing the unfolded map against the spidery foliage; he took out a red felt marker from his raincoat pocket and circled a wide area. "This section," he yelled to be heard over the pounding rain hitting the stone, "it must be roped off, sealed off, so that no one enters it or disturbs it in any way! Is that clear?"

"If that is your order, it is done. But, padrone, you're talking about a hundred or so acres."

"Then that is my order. My representatives will check constantly to make sure it's carried out."

"That is not necessary, sir, I shall carry it out."

"Good, fine, do so."

"And the rest, grande signore?"

"As we discussed in Senetosa. Everything must be precisely duplicated from the original plans as recorded in Bastia two hundred years ago, updated, of course, with modern conveniences. Whatever you need will be supplied by my ships and cargo aircraft in Marseilles. You have the numbers and the codes for my unlisted telephones and fax machines. Accomplish what I ask of you--demand from you--and you can retire a wealthy man, your future secure."

"It is a privilege to have been chosen, padrone."

"And you understand the need for absolute secrecy?"

"Naturalmente, padrone! You are an eccentric Bavarian man of immense riches who cares to live out his life in the magnificent hills of Porto Vecchio. That is all anyone knows!"

"Good, fine."

"But if I may, grande signore, we stopped in the village and the old woman who runs that decrepit inn saw you. In truth, she fell to her knees in the kitchen and gave thanks to the Savior that you had come back."

"What?"

"If you recall, when our refreshments were so long in coming, I went into the cucina and found her in very loud prayers. She wept as she spoke, saying that she could tell by your face, your eyes. "The Barone di Matarese has returned,' she repeated over and over again." The Corsican spoke the name as it was in Italian, Mataresa. "She thanked the Lord God that you had come back, that greatness and happiness would return to the mountains."

"That incident must be erased from your memory, do you understand me?"

"Of course, sir. I heard nothing!"

"To the reconstruction. It must be completed in six months. Spare nothing, just do it."

"I will endeavor to do my best."

"If your best is not good enough, you'll have no retirement, wealthy or otherwise, capisce?"

"I do, padrone," said the Corsican, swallowing.

"As to the old woman at the inn--"

"Yes?"

"Kill her."
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Table of Contents

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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

Six months earlier.

In the rugged Corsican hills above the waters of Porto Vecchio on the Tyrrhenian Sea, there stood the skeletal remains of a once-majestic estate. The exterior stonework, built to stand for centuries, was by and large intact, the insides of the various structures destroyed, gutted by fire decades ago. It was midafternoon, the skies dark, heavy rain imminent as a late-winter storm made its way up the coast from Bonifacio. Soon the air and the earth would be drenched, mud everywhere, the overgrown, barely visible paths around the great house to be slogged through, not walked over.

"I would suggest that we hurry, padrone," said the heavyset Corsican in a hooded parka. "The roads back to the Senetosa airfield are difficult enough without the storm," he added in accented English, the language mutually agreed upon.

"Senetosa can wait," replied the slender man in a raincoat, his speech betraying a Netherlands origin. "Everything can wait until I'm finished! ... Let me have the survey map for the north property, if you please." The Corsican reached into his pocket and withdrew a many-folded sheaf of heavy paper. He gave it to the man from Amsterdam, who rapidly unfolded it, placed it against a stone wall, and anxiously studied it. He kept turning his gaze away from the map, looking over at the area that momentarily consumed his attention. The rain began, a drizzle that quickly became a steady shower.

"Over here, padrone," cried the guide from Bonifacio, pointing at an archway in the stone wall. It was the entrance to a long-ago garden arbor of sorts, odd insofar as the arch itself was barely four feet wide while its thickness was nearly six feet--tunnel-like, strange. It was overgrown with vines crawling up the sides, strangling the entrance--forbidding. Still, it was a refuge from the sudden downpour.

The "padrone," a man in his early forties, dashed into the small sanctuary, immediately pressing the unfolded map against the spidery foliage; he took out a red felt marker from his raincoat pocket and circled a wide area. "This section," he yelled to be heard over the pounding rain hitting the stone, "it must be roped off, sealed off, so that no one enters it or disturbs it in any way! Is that clear?"

"If that is your order, it is done. But, padrone, you're talking about a hundred or so acres."

"Then that is my order. My representatives will check constantly to make sure it's carried out."

"That is not necessary, sir, I shall carry it out."

"Good, fine, do so."

"And the rest, grande signore?"

"As we discussed in Senetosa. Everything must be precisely duplicated from the original plans as recorded in Bastia two hundred years ago, updated, of course, with modern conveniences. Whatever you need will be supplied by my ships and cargo aircraft in Marseilles. You have the numbers and the codes for my unlisted telephones and fax machines. Accomplish what I ask of you--demand from you--and you can retire a wealthy man, your future secure."

"It is a privilege to have been chosen, padrone."

"And you understand the need for absolute secrecy?"

"Naturalmente, padrone! You are an eccentric Bavarian man of immense riches who cares to live out his life in the magnificent hills of Porto Vecchio. That is all anyone knows!"

"Good, fine."

"But if I may, grande signore, we stopped in the village and the old woman who runs that decrepit inn saw you. In truth, she fell to her knees in the kitchen and gave thanks to the Savior that you had come back."

"What?"

"If you recall, when our refreshments were so long in coming, I went into the cucina and found her in very loud prayers. She wept as she spoke, saying that she could tell by your face, your eyes. `The Barone di Matarese has returned,' she repeated over and over again." The Corsican spoke the name as it was in Italian, Mataresa. "She thanked the Lord God that you had come back, that greatness and happiness would return to the mountains."

"That incident must be erased from your memory, do you understand me?"

"Of course, sir. I heard nothing!"

"To the reconstruction. It must be completed in six months. Spare nothing, just do it."

"I will endeavor to do my best."

"If your best is not good enough, you'll have no retirement, wealthy or otherwise, capisce?"

"I do, padrone," said the Corsican, swallowing.

"As to the old woman at the inn--"

"Yes?"

"Kill her."

Six months and twelve hysterical days passed, and the great estate of the Matarese dynasty was restored. The results were remarkable, as only many millions of dollars could ensure. The great house with its massive banquet hall was as the original architect in the early eighteenth century envisioned it, chandeliers replacing the enormous candelabrum, and the modern amenities, such as running water, toilets, air-conditioning, and, naturally, electricity, reproduced throughout.

The grounds were cleared, the sodded grass around the main house allowing for a large croquet course and a challenging putting green. The long entrance from the road to Senetosa had been paved, submerged grass lamps lighting the way at night, and well-dressed attendants greeted all vehicles as they approached the marble steps of the entrance. What visitors did not know was that each attendant was a professional guard, in the main, former commandos from various countries. Each palmed an electronic scanner that would detect weapons, cameras, or recorders within three meters; in essence, they could expose such objects from a distance of two feet.

The orders were clear. 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. If the answers were unsatisfactory, there was equipment, both manual and electrical, designed to elicit more favorable responses. The Matarese was back, in all its questionable power and glory.

It was dusk, the hills of Porto Vecchio fired by the setting sun, when the limousines began arriving. The Armani-suited guards greeted the visitors solicitously, helping each from a vehicle courteously with hands that unobtrusively roamed over their clothing. There were seven outsized cars, seven guests; there would be no more. Six men and one woman, ranging in ages from their early thirties to their middle fifties, a mix of nationalities with one thing in common--all were immensely rich. Each was ushered up the marble steps of the Villa Matarese where the individual guards led them to the banquet hall. A long table was in the center of the huge room, place cards in front of the seven chairs, four on the right, three on the left, no one closer than five feet from another guest. At the head of the table was an empty chair; a small lectern stood in front of it. Two uniformed waiters rushed about taking orders for cocktails; delicate crystal bowls of beluga caviar were at each place setting, and the muted strains of a Bach fugue subtly filled the room.

Quiet conversations began haltingly, as though none of the guests understood the reason for this gathering. Yet, again, there was a common denominator: All spoke English and French, so both languages were employed, finally narrowed down to the former, as the two male Americans were neither especially quick nor sufficiently comfortable with the latter tongue. The badinage was inconsequential, reduced to who knew whom and wasn't the weather glorious in St. Tropez, or the Bahamas, Hawaii, or Hong Kong? None dared to ask the essential question: Why are we here? Six men and one woman were frightened people. They had reason to be. There was more in their individual pasts than the present suggested.

Suddenly, the music stopped. The massive chandeliers were dimmed as a small spotlight emerged from the railing of the balcony, growing brighter as it shone down on the lectern at the head of the table. The slender man from Amsterdam walked out of an alcove and moved slowly into light and the lectern. His pleasant if dismissible face looked pale under the glare, but his eyes were not to be dismissed. They were alive and steady, centering briefly on each person as he nodded to each in turn.

"I thank you all for accepting my invitation," he began, his voice an odd mixture of ice and repressed heat. "I trust your traveling accommodations were in the style to which you are accustomed." There was a murmur of affirmatives, although hardly enthusiastic. "I realize," continued the man from Amsterdam, "that I interrupted your lives, both social and professional, but I had no choice."

"You have it now," interrupted the lone woman coldly. She was in her thirties and dressed in an expensive black dress with a string of pearls that bespoke at least fifty thousand dollars, American. "We're here, now tell us why."

"I apologize, madam. I am well aware you were on your way to the Rancho Mirage in Palm Springs for an assignation with your current husband's partner in his extortionist brokerage firm. I'm sure your absence will be overlooked, as there would be no firm had you not financed it."

"I beg your pardon!"

"Please, madam, I'm uncomfortable with beggars."

"Speaking for myself," said a middle-aged, balding Portuguese, "I'm here because you implied that I could be in serious difficulty if I did not appear. Your coded allusion was not lost on me."

"My cable merely mentioned the name `Azores.' Apparently it was enough. The consortium you head is fraught with corruption, the bribes to Lisbon are blatantly criminal. Should you control the Azores, you control not only the incessantly excessive airline fees but the excise taxes of over a million tourists a year. Well thought out, I'd say."

There was an eruption of voices on both sides of the table, some hinting at various questionable activities that might have been the bases of the seven coming to the hidden estate in Porto Vecchio.

"Enough," said the man from Amsterdam, raising his voice. "You mistake why you are here. I know more about each one of you than you know about yourselves. It is my legacy, my inheritance--and you are all inheritors. We are the descendants of the Matarese, the font from whom all your wealth derives."

The seven visitors were stunned, a number glancing at each other as if an unspeakable thing bonded them to one another.

"That's not a name we use or refer to, I shouldn't think," said an Englishman in the sartorial splendor of Savile Row. "Neither my wife nor my children have ever heard it," he added softly.

"Why bring it up?" asked a Frenchman. "The Matarese is long gone--dead and forgotten, a distant memory to be buried."

"Are you dead?" said the Hollander. "Are you buried? I think not. Your riches have enabled you to reach the pinnacle of financial influence. All of you lead, by name or in absentia, major corporations and conglomerates, the very essence of the Matarese philosophy. And each of you was chosen by me to fulfill the Matarese destiny."

"What goddamned destiny?" asked one of the Americans, his accent from the Deep South. "You some kinda Huey Long?"

"Hardly, but your casino interests along the Mississippi River might suggest that you are."

"My operations are as clean as they have to be, buddy-boy!"

"I relish your modifier--"

"What destiny?" broke in another American. "The name Matarese never appeared in any legal documentation relative to the real-estate interests bequeathed to my family."

"I'd be appalled if it had, sir. You're the leading attorney at a major bank in Boston, Massachusetts. Harvard Law School, magna cum laude ... and part of the most bribery-prone institution that ever sucked money by way of compromising state and federal officials, both elected and appointed. I commend your talents."

"You can't prove any such thing."

"Don't tempt me, Counselor--you'd lose. However, I did not bring all of you to Porto Vecchio merely to parade the thoroughness of my inquiries, although I concede they're a part of the whole. The carrot and the stick, as it were.... First let me introduce myself. I am Jan van der Meer Matareisen, and I'm sure the last name has meaning for you. I am a direct descendant of the Baron of Matarese; he was, in fact, my grandfather. As you may or may not know, the Baron's liaisons were held secret, and whatever offspring resulted were also kept secret. However, the great man in no way abandoned his responsibilities. His issue was sent to the finest families throughout Italy, France, England, Portugal, America, and, as I can attest, the Netherlands."

The visitors were again dumbstruck. Slowly, gradually, their eyes strayed around the table. All stared at one another briefly, penetratingly, as if some extraordinary secret was about to be revealed.

"What the hell are you gettin' at?" said the large, coarse American from Louisiana. "Spell it out, boy!"

"I agree," added the man from London, "what's your point, old man?"

"I believe several of you are already ahead of me," said Jan van der Meer Matareisen, permitting himself the trace of a smile.

"Then say it, Dutchman!" demanded the entrepreneur from Lisbon.

"Very well, I shall. Like myself, you are all children of those children. We are the products of the same loins, as the English bard might have phrased it. Each and every one of you is a blood descendant of the Baron of Matarese."

The audience exploded as one with phrases such as "We've heard of the Matarese, but nothing like this!" and "That's preposterous! My family was wealthy in its own right!" and "Look at me! I'm a natural blond, not a trace of the Mediterranean in me!" The protestations grew in volume until the protectors ran out of breath, finally subsiding as Jan Matareisen raised his hands under the shaft of light.

"I can answer your assaults specifically," he said calmly, "if you will but listen.... The Baron's appetites were fierce and varied, as he was. Your grandmothers were brought to him as if they were the whims of an Arabian sheikh; none, however, was defiled, for all accepted him for the extraordinary man he was. But I, and only I, was the legitimate child in the eyes of the Church. He married my grandmother."

"What the hell are we?" yelled the American from New Orleans. "Bastards goin' back two generations?"

"Have you ever lacked for funds, sir? For education or investment."

"No ... can't say that I have."

"And your grandmother was, and is still, an extremely beautiful woman, a model whose face and figure graced such publications as Vogue and Vanity Fair, is that not so?"

"I reckon, although she doesn't talk about it much."

"She didn't have to. She quickly married an insurance executive whose company expanded to the point where he was made president."

"You're not only suggesting, but you're also actually stating, that we're all related!" cried the attorney from Boston. "What proof do you have?"

"Buried six feet in the earth on the northeast acreage of this property was a small vault, an oilcloth packet inside. It took me five months to find it. In the oilcloth were the names of the Baron's children and their new homelands. He was, if nothing else, precise in all things.... Yes, my Bostonian guest, we are all related. We are cousins, whether we like it or not. Collectively, we are the inheritors of the Matarese."

"Incredible," said the Englishman, his breath suspended.

"My Gawd!" said the American from the Deep South.

"Why do I have the feeling that if we did, we'd never reach the road to Senetosa?" mused the woman.

"You ascribe to me more than I ascribe to myself, madam."

"Go ahead, Jan van der Meer Matareisen, visions are my business," said the cardinal.

"Then envision this, Priest," said Matareisen. "We have a schedule, a countdown, if you like. Only a few months away, the beginning of the New Year. That is our target for global control, Matarese control."

Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

On Wednesday, November 5, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Robert Ludlum, author of THE MATARESE COUNTDOWN.


Moderator from barnesandnoble.com: Welcome, Mr. Ludlum. What a pleasure it is for us to have you here tonight! Is this your first online interview?

Robert Ludlum: The answer is yes!



Jeffrey Ludlum from New Jersey: Hi, Grandpa! Are you actually online -- are they using a phone or are you on a computer? I'll see you soon.

Robert Ludlum: Hi, Jeff, how's it going?



Richard from the stacks: Do you have a strategy for designing suspense? Your work is fantastic, I'm wondering how you do it!

Robert Ludlum: Well, I think one has to go with the "what if" or "what's next" syndrome. You have to get beneath the plot and explore it in realistic terms.



Marry Glenn from incosco.com: Your characters are so political -- were you ever involved in politics before you became a writer? What's your reason for charging your stories with politics?

Robert Ludlum: Well, I've been a political animal. I have definite opinions in politics. I try to present both sides of the subject. As George Bernard Shaw once said, "If you want to make a statement, make sure you entertain." That's what I try to do.



Ben from NYC: There is a popular perception that men in various boardrooms around theglobe actually "control the world" and that governments are not truly as"legitimate" as one might think. In light of this perception, do you thinkthat there might be organizations such as the Matarese out there somewhere? Or, put another way, couldn't the Matarese conspiracy happen in one form oranother today?

Robert Ludlum: Well, remembering that I do write fiction, there is the possibility, if one wants to analyze the current situation of the mergers and buyouts, that we could go to a society wherein the few have the power over the many. This is what bothers me, and this is what THE MATARESE COUNTDOWN is about.



Smith from Atlanta: It has been rumored that the TV show "TheX-Files," for example, is actually based on true FBI and CIA files of thepast in many cases. Might any of your plotlines, particularly this one, bebased on actual events? Does any of your past work have a basis in truth,however loosely re-created, or is it all straight out of your head?

Robert Ludlum: Well, to begin with, I've never watched "The X-Files." But in terms of my fiction, in the cases of abused power -- yes, that's entirely possible!



Beth Richard from Chicago: Is Jason Bourne ever coming back or are you on to other things? Also, was the character Jason Bourne based on anyone you knew or met?

Robert Ludlum: Jason was not based on anyone I knew. Jason is close to my age now -- he can't do what he once could. He's retired now in China.



Cara Beakman from Long Island, NY: Did you have to do any research to write this book, or traveling?

Robert Ludlum: I do a great deal of traveling, because it's necessary. You can tell a joke here, then tell it in the Caribbean Islands and get a different response. Every ambience is different. I would be lost if I didn't travel a great deal.



Amy K. from Charlotte, NC: Hi, Mr. Ludlum. I just wanted to let you know how much I have loved your books over the years. Your attention to not only great detail with conspiracies but also to individual characters really makes each one a pleasure to read. Because each book is so complicated, I am wondering if you outline in detail before you begin to write or if you just create as you write.

Robert Ludlum: Well, thank you. When I was younger, I would write an outline of 50-100 pages to give me an idea of what I was doing. As time went on, I would write a shorter outline and maybe a few chapters outlining my characters. I never wrote more than a few chapters according to the outline, because the characters became alive, and they would determine the end of the book.



Chris B. from New York: What book do you think you put the most effort into?

Robert Ludlum: I think it's kind of a cliché, but it's not It's the one you're working on. When you're writing, you need to psyche yourself up to sustain the eight or 12 months it takes to write it. So, it's always the one you're working on.



Michael Ludlum from New Jersey: Hello, Dad. Good talking to you earlier this evening. Glad to see you are taking advantage of this online stuff. We will have to get you really wired, when we come to visit. Good luck tonight.

Robert Ludlum: Hello, Michael. I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm glad you could do whatever you did to be here. Now go to bed! Oh, I guess I can't say that...you're over 40.



Jensen from Brooklyn: Lacking the Soviet threat, and reasonably sure that terrorists couldexact slight, random damage but nothing of a truly grand, worldwide scale,couldn't one make the case that the Matarese represent the next phase ofglobal "warfare" for total domination -- subtlebusiness war or, put another way, economic war, fought in boardrooms and stock exchanges, not with gun and sword but with calculator andexchange rate?

Robert Ludlum: Well, you've just answered the entire question of THE MATARESE COUNTDOWN -- that's what I've written about. What you've just said is what I say. To quote two great gentlemen, George Bernard Shaw said "If you've got something to say, entertain while you say it." And Jack Lemmon said "He never backed off from a provocative picture as long as the provocation was interwoven with entertainment." The ultimate logical conclusion is power by a few over too many.



David P. from San Diego, CA: Do you have plans to write anything else in the Bourne series or has this been retired?

Robert Ludlum: I'll tell you, Jason has grown older over the years. By the last book he was 50-something. I am now 70, and I know I can no longer do what I used to do -- I can't jump over a five-foot fence, so I think Jason should retire.



Robin Baldwin from Vermont: Have you found it hard to create new "bad guys" for your books without thecold war and the "communist" or Eastern European "threat" to make for nice,neat conflicts? Is this perhaps why you have come back to the Matarese --because they are relatively neutral with regards to East and West, as far as"bad guys" go?

Robert Ludlum: I have never subscribed to the idea that communism would ever work. But I have written books in which a CIA man worked with a KGB man. I do not subscribe to absolute ideological extremes, so I have no problem with the collapse of communism. I deal with the collapse of character, not just the collapse of the communistic ideology.



Doug Pontiac from Englewood, CO: One of your main characters is code-named Beowulf. Any symbolismthere? I can't resist asking whether we might expect a villain named Grendel in the future.

Robert Ludlum: That's very amusing, but I chose Beowulf because the Russian tendency is to use the first two names instead of the last. I drew the name from Chaucer's Beowulf tales.



Diana from Hinsdale, IL: Did you plan on writing a sequel to THE MATARESE CIRCLE before you actually wrote it, or after? Will there be another part to the story?

Robert Ludlum: No, I had no idea I would write the sequel, but so many people always asked what happened to Beowulf. Then it occurred that the recent market, downsizing, etc., would make good fodder for this story. It's really as simple as that.



David Przybylinski from Carlsbad, CA: Hello, Robert! I have read a lot of your books and have found them too hard to put down. The Bourne series is one of my all-time favorite reads. Where do you come up with the ideas for the background on your books? Is it done through a lot of research or do you just have an incredible imagination?

Robert Ludlum: Thank you very much. Most of it is whatever minor imagination I have, and the traveling I do with my wife. It's nothing magical, but I simply love telling stories.



Yurisa from Itoko: Hi, I am a big fan of the Bourne series. Do you plan to write more?

Robert Ludlum: No, I don't. As I've said, Jason is ready for R & R relaxation and retirement. It's foolish to expect a man to do the things he did then now. And because I like humor, I like to say he's retired with charm.



Rachel Barnes from Fort Worth, TX: What kind of books do you read when you are not writing? Classics or contemporary?

Robert Ludlum: I'll be very honest. I was asked this once on the Johnny Carson show, and I mentioned many of my contemporaries. When I got home to Connecticut, my phone was ringing off the hook with everyone calling me an S.O.B. for not mentioning them. Now I just say the 19th-century writers -- they're all dead...Dickens, Thackeray, Tolstoy, etc.



Alana from New Jersey: Hi! I'm Shannon's best friend. I am too young to have read any of your books yet, but I promise I will one day!By the way, my grandfather loves your book. Hope to meet you some day.

Robert Ludlum: Well, Shannon is my granddaughter! I'll be very pleased to meet you when I come north one day. I'll tell Shannon you were here.



David P. from Carlsbad, CA: Have you ever thought of combining forces with another thrill writer like Tom Clancy to put out an incredible political thriller?

Robert Ludlum: No. Mr. Clancy and I have different political views.



Rick Knapp from Rockland: Mr. Ludlum, with Jason Bourne retired, will we get a third Matarese novel? If so, you probably should hurry, as Beowulf is at retirement age as well. How about Beowulf and Jason in "The Over the Hill Gang III"?

Robert Ludlum: That would make for one hell of a farce comedy -- I think that's a great idea! But I'll have to leave that combination to one of my son's friends; they're some great writers.



Amelia from Anchorage: It's so great to be able to interact with you like this. I have read almost all of your books, but one particularly memorable one was THE PARSIFAL MOSAIC, because in addition to the usual great detail and conspiracies, there was the wonderful, compelling love story. The romantic aspect of this book seemed even more alive and real than in your other books. Was it based on something that happened in real life or was it a product of your imagination?

Robert Ludlum: Well, I must say that it was really a product of any imagination I might have. I simply put the characters in a place; sometimes affection turns to love. It can help two people out of difficult situations. I believe in love -- I was married for many years and my wife passed away. I am now remarried to a wonderful lady. So I believe in this cycle.



Chuck Redone from D.C.: Did you have a model for Beowulf when you began writing?

Robert Ludlum: No, I did not really. However, I have known people in the intelligence community -- he's an amalgam of many of them.



R. Hamilton from DeKalb, IL: I've read most of your books and would like to try my hand at writing a novel in the same vein. I realize it will vary, but on the average, how long does it take you to produce a book?

Robert Ludlum: Well, I'd say I do three months research, then 15 months writing the book itself. I wish you all the luck in the world -- it's a tough profession.



Yurisa from Japan: Now I've read that Jason was retired, I just wanted you to know what a great character he was. I mean, I've read many suspense novels, and he is absolutely the best of all that I know. He is intelligent, has a warm heart, is sincere and full of charms. At the same time, he is not afraid to show his weaknesses, which is natural, and I like him more because of that. Please keep presenting great stories. I heard that you were retiring -- is that right?

Robert Ludlum: I've said that a number of times. I'm very grateful for your compliments. My wife says, Oh yes, you say you've retired, but you'll be back in your office on Monday. So yes, I say I'm retired, but I'll be back at work before long.



Diane S. from Kennesaw: Hi, Mr. Ludlum. I have enjoyed your books over the years. I was saddened to learn of your heart attack but relieved that you fully recovered. Have you ever considered featuring a woman as the main hero in one of your adventures?

Robert Ludlum: I did do a hero of sorts in the Scorpion. She was a terrorist, not a hero, but I did write from the woman's perspective. I did have triple heart bypass, but I am now benching three tons in the guidance of my trainer, and my wife makes sure I do it! I'm doing quite well...thank you very much.



John from St. Petersburg, USA!: Just wanted to tell you that I really enjoy your work. Keep on keepin' on.

Robert Ludlum: I probably will, but when one reaches 70, as I did two weeks ago, one realizes he may have worn out his welcome. But I'm sure I'm going to try again.



Tracy from Lansing, MI: I, too, have to say I love your books. You are one of a very few authors that I can't wait for the paperback to come out, so I buy the hardcovers and keep them forever, it seems! It must be very satisfyingwhen a book comes together. I watched as my boss wrote a book about politics, and just when I thought he was done, he would change a word or paragraph here or there. Do you eventually reach a point where you feel you have to let it go after final editing, or is there always something more you want to do but you have to let it go anyway?

Robert Ludlum: A terribly intelligent question. I came from the theater, and you come to a point where you have to say "freeze it." If you are a professional, you just have to know when to say, "This is the best I can do."



Nancy Schell from Maryland: Hi, Mr. Ludlum! The idea of "untouchable" businessmen and the like invading and manipulatingevery facet of our economy is both chilling and enthralling, and the stuff ofgreat novels. Do your books ever scare you, though, in terms of how rightyou might be? I mean, wouldn't Aldous Huxley -- who wrote of geneticmanipulation and cloning in BRAVE NEW WORLD -- be blown away by the cloningof sheep in Scotland if he were alive today? Your work, particularly thisnovel, seems to have the possibility for truth in many cases.

Robert Ludlum: Every novelist, remembering that it is fiction, starts with a premise that is extremist. I do not believe that what happened in THE MATARESE COUNTDOWN could happen, but it is the extreme of the extreme. I call it the illogical outcome of the logical.



Ben from Washington, D.C.: Do you write using a word processor? How does writing with a computer compare with the good old days of Royal electrics and paper?

Robert Ludlum: I've got news for you. I still write by hand on a yellow pad of paper and send it to my secretary in Connecticut. I'm of the old-fashioned type who can make money writing from planes, trains, or jail.



Mickey from San Diego: What turned you on initially to espionage?

Robert Ludlum: Well, I don't call it espionage, I call it suspense, and I think it's because I come from the theater, it's the suspension of disbelief. I had some friends in the intelligence agency; I used to call them to see if what I was writing seemed real. If they didn't laugh, I knew it was okay.



Moderator: Thanks for so diligently responding to all of our questions here tonight. We hope to see you here again in the future. Goodnight!

Robert Ludlum: Thank you very much for having me!


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 18, 2009

    Mindblowing!Harrowing, the best ever!

    I began reading it and was unable to put it down till I finished it.The best ever thriller!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2006

    Look out Jame Bond, there is a new hero in the spy world

    The Book was the Best one ever written By Robert Ludlum. The Matarese Circle and The Matarese Countdown. One of the best spy novels I ever read. I enjoyed this book so much I could not wait to continue reading it the next day and the next until I was done. I felt like I was in this story. You never knew what was going to happen next until you got to the next chapter. I really hope a movie version comes out of this incredible book. whoever did not like this book, needs to read it over to fully understand it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2002

    It's O.K.

    Ludlum's sequel to The Matarese Circle doesn't live up to its predecessor. The main characters aren't as engaging as the first one. And I agree with another review, the dialogues were awful. The storyline keeps you reading, but also keeps you wanting more. If you read the first one and were wondering if you should read this one, DON'T! Just pretend the story ended with The Matarese Circle.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2000

    I have read all of his and this disappointed me

    I was truly disappointed, the writing and dialog were horrible. The constant use of insults between the main charaters was high schoolish.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2000

    Ludlum Thrills us Again with Riveting Story

    Robert Ludlum has done it again. He has created yet another astonishing masterpiece leaving you with a final question of 'Could this really happen?' The book is a sequel of the Matarese Circle, a group of people powerful enough and willing to, ultimately, take over the world. They do this not through violent wars but through the takeover of international companies. They also leave a trail of blood as killing is of little concern to them. Ludlum's hero in this book is Cameron Pryce, even though I truly enjoyed the antics of Beowulf Agate. The latter is a very amusing character seldom seen in Ludlum books. The Matarese Countdown has the usual Ludlum hero, villain and woman, but they are taken to a new level. You grow strongly attached to the characters, feeling love or hatred, compassion or anger at their actions. I truly recommend this book to any avid Ludlum reader or to someone who is interested in suspence and actioned filled books. Make sure you read the Matarese Circle prior to reading this sequel as you need to understand what the Matarese is. My congratulations go out to Robert Ludlum for a work well done.

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    Posted September 11, 2009

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