Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Clancy, Tom. Clear and present danger. New York: Berkley, 1990. 688pp

Good ol' Tom Clancy. A bit of technophilia, some serious obsessiveness about “competence” and honour and duty and gadgetry. On the other hand, there's also a strong emphasis on camaraderie, the vital importance of mentors, relationships with friends, the centrality of families – you would almost call the guy sentimental. Every character needs to have a background, a context, an explanation for their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it feels like he's taking a stock character out of central casting, but sometimes it hits the right note. Clancy is also oddly pragmatic or even liberal about a lot of traditional right wing issues, like that drug problem as much about demand as supply, women in the military or US involvement in Central America and other developing nations. His characters also always ask questions about what they're doing, ponder moral rights and wrongs of their actions, the nature of good and evil, the nature and purpose of government action. You don't always have to agree with the characters' conclusions, but it's interesting that Clancy feels the need to have them asked and not always even answered completely. There's a lot of grey in a novel you expect to be black and white.

So, what's the big picture plot outline. The novel opens with a horrific execution at sea of a US businessman and his wife and kidson a South American fishing trip. This spins out with the President getting the CIA to launch a real War on Drugs, more no-holds-barred. It gets a bit out of hand with some semi-rogue elements in the government. Some CIA good guys like agent John Clark and new acting Deputy Director Intelligence of the CIA, Jack Ryan, and a whole bunch of army super-grunts need to save the day and get the Agency back on a more legal and ethical track. There's lots of explosions and miscellaneous derring do. I also find it odd that the whole War Against Drugs plot line feels almost like a historical novel. It's a good thriller, but it almost feels like it's about Berlin in 1950. It's worth noting that we don't even see Jack Ryan much until after page 100, and even then he's peripheral to the main action until the very end.

And how does it compare to the movie starring Harrison Ford? The movie more or less successfully mixes and matches some of the characters and plots, extracting some and adding others, figuring out a way to make Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) more completely integrated in the action. Pretty good but since it leaves out all the crazy detail that make Clancy novels so much nerdy fun, it seems a bit bland in comparison.

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