Tom Clancy. Tom. Clancy.
Clancy is one of those writers, like ’em or hate ’em, who define a genre, who, for all practical purposes, helped invent a genre. In Clancy’s case it was the techno-thiller, which seems to have tacitly replaced the Ludlumesque / James Bondian spy thrillers of yesteryear. He was one of the first fiction authors who could make the intricate, evolving dance of technology, tactics and weapon’s systems come alive (assuming you like that sort of thing). Short and shallow on character development, but able to make the technical specifications of an Aegis Cruiser readable, Clancy redefined thriller writing.
As anyone who has read his books and followed his career over the years, as his fame and success grew, so have the problems with his books. They are routinely huge (Red Rabbit is 618 pages, and is smaller then most of his recent works), spends a great deal of plot-time running in place, with a little too much time pushing his own personal politics, and, these days, often seems contrived or somewhat lost. It may be that the end of the Cold War left him at a loss for good villains as Columbian drug lords, environmentalists, Asian capitalists and terrorists don’t seem to leave him quite as much to work with. His topical plots remain as precognitive as ever, particularly in light of his pre-911 use of a plane as a weapon in “Debt of Honor“.
Red Rabbit in particular feels like a bit of a reach. It harkens back to the 1980’s, with a young (but still just as lightly sketched) pre-Red October Jack Ryan posted to the U.K. by the CIA as an analyst. The Rabbit in question is a Russian KGB code officer in Moscow who makes the moral decision to defect and pass information about an intended KGB-sponsored assassination. The proposed victim: Pope John Paul II. The book outlines (in endless, tedious detail) the various machinations of the KGB, the CIA, MI6, Ryan’s perky wife Kathy, and various other characters (none of who are particularly memorable or for that matter particularly distinguishable from one another) as the parties involved try to assassinate/prevent the assassination of the Pope. Even the moral musings of the defector, which you might think would be interesting to examine, are dishwater dull and feel contrived, as the Rabbit arrives at his moral decision to betray his country without a great deal of soul-searching. The climax is exquisitely marred by the fact that, being based on an actual incident (Mehmet Ali Agca’s failed attempt n 1981, for which he was recently pardoned), you readily know what is going to happen.
Be that as it may, I can’t recommend Red Rabbit, unless you are a die-hard Clancy fan and refuse to miss one no matter what. As for myself, Clancy dropped off my “must-read” list about ten years ago, when the sheer weight of his books began to require propping them up agains the fruit bowl on my kitchen table in order to read them.
My recommendation to Mr. Clancy (for all its’ worth) is that he depart for a time from the “Jack Ryan universe” as it increasingly feels like he has painted himself into a corner. Try a new character, a new situation (or possibly a new era – maybe the Civil War?) and hire a new editor, one with a strong ruthless streak who can cut some of the unnecessary and retain the essential.
For more details on the real events involved, try Nigel West’s book, “The Third Secret: The CIA, Solidarity and the KGB’s Plot to Kill the Pope“.
For more than you ever want to know about the world’s various weapon’s systems, armor, ships, subs, planes, missles etc., check out Janes. If they don’t have it, nobody does.
One thing of note: I enjoyed Clancy’s descriptions of the Vatican and St. Peter’s, as I have never had the opportunity to visit. Of particular interest is the Vatican Museum. You check it out virtually here.