THE BOURNE EVOLUTION: Five Questions with Brian Freeman

The hero you know, now rebooted for a new generation.

That’s right, Jason Bourne is back in the new rebooted series from Brian Freeman, who re-explores the Treadstone operator’s past, establishing a new timeline to build on moving forward.

Borrowing all the things readers love about Bourne, one of the most popular thriller heroes of all-time, and dropping him into today’s universe, Freeman’s first outing (the first commissioned by the Ludlum estate since Eric Van Lustbader ended his run as the writer behind the franchise) is truly phenomenal. For the first time in a long time, Bourne returns as one of the most formidable antagonists in the genre.

For readers wondering which Bourne they’re getting from Freeman, the 1980s version from the books or the movie version made famous by Matt Damon, it’s the latter. Think how Daniel Craig brought more physicality and youth to 007 when he took over as James Bond, that’s what Freeman’s Bourne brings here—and it works so, so well.

Just ahead of the release of The Bourne Evolution, I caught up with Brian Freeman, who agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment. During the Q&A, I asked Freeman about everything from what the moment was like when he first got the call that he was chosen to rebook the Bourne franchise to what research he had to do before actually sitting down to write it. Trust me, you’ll want to see his answers!

Read the full interview in its entirety below, then order your copy of The Bourne Evolution today.

 

Cover Image - THE BOURNE EVOLUTION

 

TRBS: Before we even get into the story here, tell me, what it was like the moment you accepted the job of taking over the Jason Bourne series, one of the most iconic franchises the genre has ever known. Marc Cameron once told me he was thrilled, and then terrified, when he accepted the Clancy gig. Did you have a similar experience? 

Freeman:  I was getting ready to do a bookstore event last February when my agent called and told me, “Putnam wants you for Ludlum.”  My first reaction was that my life had come full circle. I remember reading The Bourne Identity forty years ago when I was a teenager.  It was one of the books that inspired my whole career, and I’ve probably read it a dozen times since then.  Heck, I’m such a Bourne fan that I remember when Richard Chamberlain was Jason Bourne, not Matt Damon!  So to have the opportunity to bring Bourne back to life was one of the great honors of my fifteen years in publishing.

After that, yes, Marc got it exactly right.  Jack Ryan…Jason Bourne…these are legendary thriller heroes.  Readers are possessive of these characters — as they should be! So once I got to work, I felt like I was carrying a lot of weight on my shoulders to do justice to what Ludlum created.  But you know what?  The first words I wrote on my whiteboard when I started the book were, “HAVE FUN.”  And I did.  I had a blast writing this book.

TRBS: In many ways, this book is a sort of a like a reboot of the series. Why did you decide to go that route? 

Freeman:  Think about all the iterations that Jason Bourne has gone through in forty years!  Ludlum wrote three hugely popular Bourne novels starting in 1980, in which the character’s backstory was heavily shaped by experiences in Vietnam.  Then Matt Damon launched the movie series in 2002 and introduced millions of new fans to Jason Bourne.  The first movie included some of the elements of The Bourne Identity—Bourne’s memory loss, his relationship with Marie—but otherwise, the plots didn’t really have anything to do with the original books.  Shortly after that, Eric Von Lustbader took over writing Bourne books and did eleven novels that moved the character in completely new directions.

So readers and fans have a lot of different visions of Jason Bourne stretching over four decades.  That’s why I didn’t choose to build on any of the previous stories.  To me, it was more important to go back to Ludlum’s original portrayal in the first novel and be true to that iconic hero.  That’s why I decided on a re-boot—to capture that original Jason Bourne and bring him into the modern world.  Essentially, my book is a stand-alone, a new beginning for Bourne.

TRBS: How did you come up with the story idea for The Bourne Evolution? 

Freeman:  What makes Jason Bourne so compelling is that he’s not a super-hero.  He’s fractured, broken, stripped of his memory, and unsure of his identity.  And although the movies portray him as a tortured loner, it’s clear in Ludlum’s original books that he’s capable of deep relationships.  Those were all elements I wanted to bring out in The Bourne Evolution.

In this book, Bourne has rejected Treadstone because he believes they betrayed him and killed his former lover.  Now he’s working for a cabal of tech organizations to take down a shadowy group known as Medusa.  (Using “Medusa” is one of many little echoes I included as a tribute to the first Bourne book.) However, as he pursues Medusa, Bourne finds himself double-crossed and framed for the assassination of a Congresswoman.  Hunted and on the run, he has to rely on a Canadian journalist named Abbey Laurent to help him expose the conspiracy.  Despite himself, Bourne finds that he has growing feelings for Abbey – and she falls for him, too.

The story feels “ripped from the headlines” at times, with massive data hacking and concerns about the overreaching power of Big Tech and social media to invade people’s privacy. At the same time, today’s political climate – full of social division and conspiracy theories – isn’t so different from the Vietnam/Watergate era that shaped Ludlum’s books. So while it’s a modern-day story, it’s the kind of plot that should also feel like a natural part of the Ludlum world.

TRBS: What research did you have to do before actually sitting down to write this one? 

Freeman: I remember reading an interview with Ludlum years ago where he was asked the same question. I loved his answer:  “I do less research than my readers think and more than my family believes!” In fact, I don’t like to do extensive research before writing the novel, because inevitably, my plots evolve during the drafting process. It’s also easy to get lost in the weeds by falling in love with a lot of technical details that slow down the pace.  I want my story and characters to drive the research and not vice-versa.  So I investigate what I need as questions arise in the book, which helps keep the narrative fresh, spontaneous, and unexpected.  

TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for you now that this book is about to hit bookstores? 

Freeman:  I’m keeping busy! Back when I was doing one book a year—wow, that seems like a vacation now—my readers kept telling me to write faster. So I took their advice to heart. I already released a stand-alone thriller earlier this year, Thief River Falls, that hit #1 on the Amazon Kindle chart. In September, I’ll release the tenth book in my Jonathan Stride series, Funeral for a Friend. Then in October, my Audible Original The Deep, Deep Snow, which was a New York Times bestseller, finally arrives in paperback. 

Next year will be just as busy. My newest stand-alone Infinite comes out in March, and I’ll have another Audible Original called The Ursulina—a follow-up to The Deep, Deep Snow—available later in the year. And of course, Jason Bourne will be back in my second Bourne novel next summer!


 

Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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