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Dead or Alive continues Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan universe, the series of novels written revolving around the main character John Patrick Ryan. It is the second in the series containing Jack Ryan Jr. as he continues his work with The Campus, a secret organisation conceptualised by his father Jack Ryan Sr. and run as an off the books anti-terrorism task force working both intelligence and field work.
I will try not to spoil the book in this review.
This novel directly continues The Teeth of the Tiger, even with its 7 year publication gap, with the hunt for The Emir, a fictional character who is the leader of an radical Islamic terrorist group. The Emir has orchestrated a new series of terrorist acts in an attempt to destroy the United States, from within. Trying to unravel who The Emir is and then find and stop this mad man's actions, are the small group contained at The Campus.
Tom Clancy again does what he is great at. He shows snippets of intertwining stories which build in crescendo with their suspense, leaving you wondering what is being planned and how they are going to go about it.
The characters, both good and bad, have their thoughts and reasoning for their actions explained so that you can better understand why one would choose to commit their deeds (I wrote understand, not approve). And when it comes to action, every minute second is dissected like a CSI slow mo breakdown, and you feel apart of the process, not missing a heartbeat of information.
I like how Tom Clancy has managed to interweave fiction with events that have occurred in the past, throughout the whole Jack Ryan universe. This is continued in Dead or Alive, where 9/11 has occurred and The Emir is clearly a character heavily based upon Osama Bin Laden.
The book also leaves a bit of bait dangling at the end, not a cliffhanger demanding you read the next novel in the series, but something to make you think, well what happens with The Campus from now?
This is another good product from the mind of Tom Clancy. There is a healthy amount of character development, a creative plot able to keep the reader guessing and then doses of action to right the wrongs of the bad guys.
Go buy or borrow this book for a good action thriller.
Dead or alive is the latest offering by the bestselling American author Tom Clancy, this one is co-written with Grant Blackwood. This book continues the story of Jack Ryan (Patriot Games, Clear and Present danger) and John Clark (Rainbow Six) as they fight an Islamic terrorist brigade, we with all Tom Clancy novels there is huge emphasis on being militarily correct.
Tom Clancy novel were amongst the biggest sellers throughout the Eighties and Nineties, his ability to depict real sounding events using up to date jargon and believable characters made Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Rainbow Six huge sellers and have converted well into films, first person shoot em's and strategy games. However, his output has diminished considerably and this novel was the first for over a decade.
This book follows the real life fight against al-queda, the Taliban and all the events post 9/11 and creates a fictional Emir (Osama Bin Laden in all but name), who has built a worldwide terrorist organisation with the stated goal of destroying the United States. The book takes on a journey from the hills of Afghanistan, Las Vegas fleshpots, the inner circles of the US counter espionage network, all the way to the Presidency. The book is centred on John Clark in his new role in Jack Ryan's new anti-terrorist organisation Campus, included are Jack Ryan Jr as an analyst and the Emir as a counterpoint.
As with all Tom Clancy novels, the best parts are the action sequences, he has a skill at describing the events as the unfurl so whether we are following a group of marines into a cave I Afghanistan, or Jack Jr going to interview a suspicious airport employee which turns into a bloodbath we fully engage with the action. However, his novels of late and particularly this one do get bogged down in the need to keep up to date, so every piece of hardware is described, how it's abbreviated and why and when it was invented. This is interesting to a degree but once introduced only the acronyms are used from that point on so when something crops up again several hundred pages later than it is hard to recall what the letters stand for.
The other gripe is the treatment of the Islamic terrorists, they are as a rule all given the uncaring robotic stick to the mantra personality whose only concern is succeeding in the mission and bringing down the decadent United States. The only strange exception was the two extremely explicit sex scenes between the Emir and two American hookers, these encounters have to plot links to the rest of the novel and this reader was puzzled by their inclusion. Even more curious was the graphic need to describe the killing of the first and the almost sexual release in the desire to kill a prostitute, I was expecting a grand unveiling of why the Emir was doing what he was doing but it was ignored for the rest of the novel.
There are good elements to the novel, the methods used to break the codes of the terrorist groups are clever and well thought out and the actions of one of Clarks team after his brother is killed are well constructed. Do the Campus save the United States from the nefarious Emir and his band of terrorists? I think you know the answer and the book certainly has plenty of pages to fill at over 900 to allow the story to unfold and give a satisfying dramatic finale. I enjoyed the book in parts, thought it was too jargon heavy and a bit long but was decent enough. The problem rating the book is that this book is a poor shadow of a Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games but compared to the drivel punted out by James Patterson or Lee Childs it's a diamond in the coal shed. So I'm going to be generous and give it 3 stars and hope that Tom Clancy might write a more focused thriller and not pander to clear religious stereotypes.
Between 2000 and 2010 the world's most successful fiction thriller author wrote just one book, 'The Teeth of the Tiger', a limp War on Terror thriller/film script that was there only to enable Tom Clancy to keep alive his Jack Ryan series and recognise that world changing event of September 11th, the fictional US President from his books played very successfully on screen by Harrison Ford over the years. Some say Clancy stopped writing just after '911' because he had already predicted everything that had happened in the actual War on Terror through his fiction in the 1990s and so nothing more to say on the world of geo military politics, his speciality. Bizarrely, in 1995 he penned 'Debt of Honour', part of the Jack Ryan series, set around a fictional terror attack on The Whitehouse and Capital Building by, you guessed it, suicide bombers flying jetliners into those iconic American buildings. Imagine that! In his books he also predicted an assassination attempt on the Pope, the new Russian Republic conflicts in the Ukraine and Chechnya and the war in Iraq. He also created Rainbow Six, an elite and secretive Navy Seals Special Forces team based in Fort Bragg in America, similar to those who recently 'whacked' Bin Laden in Pakistan, they going by the name of ST6 (Seal Team Six). The big question now for hardcore fans is did Al Queda think of those attack methods on American before Clancy did or is there something far more sinister here. Did Bin Laden/CIA model their attacks on Clancy's books? Was Osama's real target the core male America that read Clancy's books and so the place to stir up the hate and patriotism to get the War on Terror going so America could extend their reach to secure their increasing thirst for oil and radical Islam could build their fan base? To make things even stranger and more profound for Clancy and conspiracy fans alike, 'Dead or Alive' concentrates on Gaddafi and Libya and the hunting down and capture of the Emir, Bin Laden in all but name. The timing of this book is remarkable, released in August 2010 when the CIA claimed to have located Bin Laden in that house in Pakistan, yours truly finishing it on May the 1st, the day of Bin Laden's capture. Clancy has an uncanny knack of getting his facts right through his fiction, a precognitive writer to say the least. Did Clancy pen his book last year because he, too, knew what was coming..?
Clancy isn't ex military but a retired insurance salesman from Maryland, turned down for the military because he failed his eye test, living that long forgotten military career vicariously through his writing. In fact he earned so much money from his thrilling and exciting espionage military techno thrillers that he was once the head of a consortium that bought his hometown baseball team of The Baltimore Oreilles and nearly purchased the Minnesota Vikings.
Clancy was an outspoken critic of both the Republicans and the Democrats over the War on Terror and less than sympathetic with Muslims at times, purely to cosy up to the military and spooks if you ask me. But from the Hunt for Red October in 1984 to his latest book here he has rivalled Stephen King for book sales and his ear so close to the ground in Washington and the military he seems to know more than they do about what's really going on, sure to enlighten us on who exactly America did kill in that big house in Pakistan. If he ran for president he would win by a country mile, trampling Donald Trumps wig into the ground in the process.
The first 100 pages of the 730 begin with a needed recap of all that has gone before in the Jack Ryan books over the last 25 years as we are introduced to his young son Jack Ryan Junior who is part of an extremely secretive spy unit called The Campus, what the 2003 book The Teeth of the Tiger concentrated on. We also catch up with departing Rainbow Six members Ding and Chavez and surviving CIA team members Mary Beth and John Clarke from the Op Centre spin off books, an all-star line up if you like.
We open with a covert US Special Forces team taking out some bad guys in a cave on the Pakistan/Afghan border. But because the Seal team assassinate them with a bullet to the head while they are asleep after one too many shots on the hashish pipe (imagine that) the incumbent US President is not happy and ponders bringing charges against the team for possible manslaughter. President Keatly hasn't had a great time in office after Jack Ryan senior has long since resigned the presidency and it seems Kealty will try any liberal stunt to get back on top.
As part of Ryan seniors legacy he set up The Campus, but unaware his son is working for them as it is indeed that secretive on whom it employs. The Campus is self funding and uses its spies and hi-tec kit to nefariously achieve exactly that, listening into highly sensitive business and political information the method. Meanwhile a suspicious plane has gone down in the Yukon, diving under the radar to deliver its cargo, and a team of Arab looking men have hired a boat in baron Northern Russia to rendezvous with innocuous specific targets that litter the frozen coast. On top of that extremist Muslim sleeper agents are being activated around the world as it becomes clear a big operation to trump 911 is underway, young Ryan the first to get an inkling the phantom like Emir is involved. .
Jack Ryan senior is unaware of the threat but persuaded to run again for office to usurp the hopeless Kealty and so get America's war on terror back on trek to defend the country he loves. For Chavez and Ding their Rainbow Six days are over and looking for employment elsewhere, soon picked up by Ryan junior at The Campus, hired killers always required to carry out Americas increasingly dirty work at home and abroad, soon chasing down leads in foreign dusty climes, the body count rising as the Emirs trail hots up. The Campus will need to push all their code breaking and analytical skills to the limit to stop him or there will be no Campus or, indeed, America as they know it.
~ Any good ~
There's a thing in Hollywood where you only get to use real US military kit and personal in your movie if you show the same military in a positive light, and you get the same feeling when it comes to Tom Clancy's books. His preachy style of writing is suspiciously patriotic, obsequious and favourable to the military and spooks, something that has clearly helped him to build up his impressive connections. He never really gets into the cynical and nastiness of the American state. This is not the first time the CIA has thrown a body over the side of a boat wrapped in a sheet and weighted down by rocks. Saying that his early books were fabulous reads for guys and a real insight into advanced military technology and the Real Politick of Washington and beyond. The fact he has pretty much laid out Americas war on terror before it happened means he is a guy worth taking seriously and so worth reading his books.
Alas the book feels flat, the same problem Dan Brown had from being a way so long after The Advice Code, a huge author away from favoured subject matter and core fans for too long. Something is missing here and the revisit to all Clancy's favourite characters in one book and the very topical and timed subject matter still doesn't clinch it. As I said before, he has already predicted what has happened in the last ten years for real so why carry on telling it as fiction? It's very real. When the twin towers came down it was the movies coming to life and things would never be the same again for writers like Clancy. The reader wants to be out wowed by 911 in the books and however outlandish fictional terror plots get they cant beat the real thing now. Unless we are talking dirty bombs, of course...
Clancy fans like me have, or will, buy this and it's nice to get back into the Jack Ryan storyline and this book clearly setting up another series of post 911 adventures, The Campus effectively becoming an Op Centre in all but name. There are some character change sin the book and you do feel Jack Ryan Junior will pretty much become the older Jack Ryan in his younger days all over again and that father-son relationship an extra dimension. But ultimately this book feels stale and dated like the Lost Symbol did for Dan Brown and maybe its time for Clancy to try something different, almost as if credited and co-writer Grant Blackwood has written the bulk of this one. It just does not feel 100% Clancy. Saying that I'm loyal to the writers I like and will be first to take one of the herringbone pile of their latest in Waterstones when the next epics arise and just hope those books are a whole lot better...