The American Tom Clancy was a lifelong Republican who sold millions of books riffing off the Cold War, then once the USSR collapsed presciently created a “war on terror” in his next generation of spy thrillers. Clancy’s influence on popular culture was further cemented with wildly popular shoot-‘em-up video games like Splinter Cell. And it’s even been suggested that Jack Bauer, the obsessive federal agent in the television series 24, is named partly in homage to Clancy’s most famous protagonist, Jack Ryan.
Clancy died this month in Baltimore, at the age of 66. You can always catch up with the career of Jack Ryan, however, through the library stacks.
Ryan begins his career as a CIA analyst in The Hunt For Red October (1984, filed in Adult Fiction, although his backstory appears in Patriot Games, published three years later). It’s a secret job – he’s actually a certified accountant and professor who lucks in to the position after interfering with an assassination attempt on the British Royals.
But the tale begins as a Lithuanian captain hand-picks his officers for a maiden voyage on a newfangled stealth submarine its inventors hope will be impossible to track by sonar. All but a handful of the top men are in on Capt. Marko Ramius’ plan to defect – the ship’s “political officer”, charged with ensuring ideological purity on board, is murdered within the first few pages. (Entertainingly, given the current leadership in Russia, the dead political education czar is named Putin.)
Word gets out that the Red October is AWOL, and the Soviets and the Americans both go on the hunt for the valuable sub and its crew. This is a solid thriller that takes place over 18 days — but it’s also filled with gobs of technical information. By the end of this novel, as one wag has noted, you could operate a submarine yourself. (If you’re not a techno geek and want to skip the detail and focus on the suspense, rent the movie, which stars Sean Connery as the defecting Russky and Alec Baldwin as Ryan.)
Soon after publication, US President Ronald Reagan publicly called The Hunt For Red October “the perfect yarn”, and Clancy’s novel went gangbusters. Clancy eventually quit his job as an insurance agent to write full-time (the incredibly canny entrepreneur made millions, licencing video games, lending his name to introduce other authors’ books, and signing off on Hollywood movies based on his work — including Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears and the upcoming Shadow One). He dedicated a later book, Executive Orders, to Reagan in thanks.
The UK Guardian newspaper has noted its top five best Clancy novels, and The Hunt For Red October is right up there. Other Jack Ryan thrillers on the list include Clear And Present Danger (1989) (battling a Colombian drug cartel). Followed by Debt Of Honor (1994), in which a plane crashes and kills hundreds in Washington, D.C. and Jack Ryan is vice-president of the United States. By 1998’s Rainbow Six, Jack Ryan has been president of the United States for a few years. The last on the Guardian’s list of must-reads for Clancy fans is The Bear And The Dragon (2000), where China is the new baddie.
The Lennoxville Library has a good selection of Clancy novels, filed in Adult Fiction and in New Arrivals. The new novel Command Authority is expected out in December.
– Eleanor Brown, Oct. 18, 2013