Robert Ludlum set two of his earliest novels, The Matlock Paper (1973) and The Osterman Weekend (1972) in flatly suburban arenas, where the homogeneity of the upper-middle classes is at any minute about to be ripped open. Robert Ludlum is a conspiracy theorist — his stories are always epic conspiracies —and before he decided to segue that with James Bond influences for the ultimate alchemical plot explosions ever (he predicted), this was his singular contribution to the thriller world. The underbelly in The Osterman Weekend is that of the Cold War and a project called The Omega, which looks set to destabilise the entire capitalist west. What’s of driving interest in these novels however are the characters, swarthy middle aged men with attractive wives, guys who always have a drink after work and seem at a disconnect from the major realities of their country, certainly the realities of politics and social issues.

It’s soft putty, and so you will be once you’ve read 350 pages of this Ostermania. Aside from the wife and wealth fantasies The Osterman Weekend constantly plumbs, there is the idea that all of your close friends are actually international spies, actually quite convenient when you think of how many times you’ve looked for an excuse to kill them.

Talking of those wives, Robert Ludlum like others of his ilk cannot help but portray a dream world of sorts: the hero of The Osterman Weekend, John Tanner has a wife whose hobby (he states) is sex, a fact that brings a wry smile to the protagonist himself as he skips across the lawn after work towards his homestead of an evening — although thankfully, we don’t have to endure any sex scenes — that comment in itself seems enough.

Couples by John Updike, published in 1968, presents the same bunch of people, and often in similar terms, expect of course the men of Couples are not embroiled in international espionage, but there is an odd similarity in the somewhat gross reality of the upper middle classes shown in both.

The oddity of The Osterman Weekend are these couples. It’s credit to Robert Ludlum that the basic madness of the story becomes believable — the fact that John Tanner is persuaded that his three closest friends are Soviet agents. It’s not to Ludlum’s credit that when you step away from his book, it looks as daft as it is, and you may wonder, embroiled in a depths beyond despair at some later stage, why you did not question the initial premises.

The film of The Osterman Weekend came later. The story was much better suited to the 1980s and it was Robert Ludlum’s first major cinematic adaptation — known to others as the forgettable endpoint of the career of Sam Peckinpah.

The cast alone is epic! Rutger Hauer, John Hurt, Burt Lancaster, Dennis Hopper, Chris Sarandon, Meg Foster. Sam Peckinpah held it together despite the obvious problems he faced within himself and had with others, and so something pretty decent was produced in the end.

Of the book however, it’s your patience that is at stake. Of course The Sunday Express and The Observer have got there before you and proclaimed The Osterman Weekend as being tense and stupendous, but you may be as likely to find it as stupid as you do stupendous.

Robert Ludlum only barely gets away with this novel. He writes conspiracy and it doesn’t matter what the setting, we’ve always got to accept that uber-shady forces are controlling society, with the government usually being the worst enemy, while at the same time being able to kill anybody from any range, watch everything and control what they like.

Maybe in this wise, Robert Ludlum was ahead of his time — this is only 1974, although The Osterman Weekend certainly had to wait to the 1980s to make any sense as a film. As for the Bourne films, they had to wait a hell of a lot longer.