The Jack Ryan Saga Continues

Before he picked up a defecting Russian submarine captain in The Hunt for Red October, saved the world from nuclear apocalypse in Sum of All Fears or became President of the United States by default, Jack Ryan was a mere analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency and ex-marine, working with MI6 in London, leading a rather uneventful life after recovering from an IRA attack on his home (Patriot Games); it was 1981, an uneventful year.

And then there came the letter from the new Polish priest of Rome, sent to the Russians with a warning: should the repression of the Polish people and the Solidarity movement continue, he would resign from his position in Rome to join his people. This wouldn’t be a problem from the typical priest, but Karol Wojtyla, also known as Pope John Paul II, doesn’t fall into that category.

Jack’s response: “Damn.”

On the other side of the planet, Yuriy Andropov, chairman of the KGB (Soviet “state security”), has also received this letter, and his response is slightly stronger.

He puts out a hit on the Pope.

Also caught in the middle of this battle of three powers – the U.S., the USSR and the Papacy – is a low level Soviet paper shuffler named Oleg Zaitzev, who has as much a role to play as anyone, whether he knows it or not.

From the best-selling author of more than 10 novels and just as many non-fiction works, Tom Clancy has produced his most amusing thriller, Red Rabbit, which is woven together with the usual three-dimensional chess game he calls writing, uniting dozens of different players within the novel while keeping it easy to track. The first half of the novel is humor, giving in-jokes for his longtime fans and other funny bits given to those who can view the USSR with 20/20 hindsight.

The second half is pure thriller, leading through the process of how one could get out a “Rabbit” – a Soviet defector – through the harshest, longest lasting regime of the 20th century.

The prose is simple and workmanlike, but don’t expect anything resembling elegance; this book is written for someone who can’t finish this 600-page book in one sitting, or even one weekend, with enough repetitions for someone to make sense of the plot with a month between readings.

Like all of Clancy’s work, he presents a subject with clear, crisp language, making complex issues into a readable bestseller, understandable to even the densest of persons. Clancy does play a little fast and loose with history, making the CIA slightly more intelligent and powerful than they probably are, suggesting they had a slightly bigger hand in the downfall of the USSR than most historians will grant. Unless you want to go into Carl Bernstein’s book on how the CIA, the Pope and Ronald Reagan brought down the Soviet Union…well, that’s something for another review.