Sunday 28 May 2017

Review: Dead or Alive by Tom Clancy

Michael Joseph, €23.99, Hardback

Tom Clancy is one of the most successful thriller writers in the world. Beginning with The Hunt for Red October published in 1985, he has had 13 straight Number 1 bestsellers and sold tens of millions of techno-thrillers renowned for their snatched-from-the-headlines insider information and cutting edge technical accuracy.

In addition he has lent his name to a number of hi-tech adventure series "co-written" with other authors, including the Tom Clancy's Op-Centre, Tom Clancy's Net Force, Tom Clancy's Power Plays and Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon. A number of these franchises have been turned into immensely lucrative video games.

His greatest creation is former US Marine officer Jack Ryan. After a successful career as a financial consultant, Ryan is recruited by the CIA as a freelance analyst, a job that he is persuaded to make permanent in Patriot Games, when he defeats a crazed IRA killer and saves the life of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

In The Sum of All Fears he is appointed Deputy Director of the CIA, and then, in Debt of Honour, he accepts the post of Vice President of the United States and is catapulted into the presidency by a terrorist attack on the Capitol that kills the President.

Like Lyndon B Johnston, Ryan stands for election after his stint as caretaker finishes. He wins the election, but having served his earned term refuses to stand for a second four years and retires to private life.

Tom Clancy's latest opus, Dead or Alive, opens with Jack Ryan occupying himself by writing his memoirs.

He is becoming increasingly irritated by the actions and weak leadership of the present incumbent of America's highest office, his old nemesis Edward Kealty.

Kealty and his advisors are targeting Ryan's beloved CIA intelligence service with savage cost-cutting exercises at a time when the US's most formidable enemy, the Middle Eastern terrorist leader called the Emir (read Osama bin Laden), is plotting a multi-pronged attack on the American mainland.

Fortunately, Kealty remains unaware of the existence of The Campus, the self-financing covert intelligence unit Ryan set up in his final days in office, charged with rooting out and foiling by whatever means necessary such serious terrorist threats. Most of The Campus' operatives will be very familiar to Tom Clancy fans -- men like John Clark, Domingo 'Ding' Chavez, the Caruso twins, Brian and Dominic, and their cousin, Jack Ryan Junior, who works at the Campus as a computer analyst with ambitions to follow in his father's footsteps and become blooded as an active field operative.

In Dead or Alive cyberspace has become the new battleground as the bad guys use the very latest developments in modern computer technology to plan their deadly missions and alert and activate their agents embedded in target countries all over the western world.

Clancy is skilled at making the arcane and complicated in modern technology comprehensible to the average Joe without diluting the thrill factor, so readers not only learn how to break seemingly impenetrable computer codes, they also get pretty detailed instructions on how to jury-rig an atom bomb from any discarded bits and pieces of nuclear waste that happen to be lying around.

Dead or Alive is a welcome return to top form by one of the world's most popular action thriller writers.

From the nail-biting action-packed opening sequences in Afghanistan as a US Army Ranger group attempts to capture the Emir to the edge-of-the-seat dénouement in a Nevada nuclear waste storage facility, the pace is unflagging as Clancy and his co-writer Grant Blackwood crank up the tension page by page as the Emir and his fanatical followers take the terror threat to the very heartland of America.

The only downside is the somewhat clunky, macho dialogue but, who knows, this may well be how the American military express themselves.

Interestingly, Clancy leaves the door wide open for a rapid sequel as Jack Ryan Snr, memorably played by Harrison Ford (pictured) in the movie versions of Clancy's Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), announces his candidacy for a second term as an elected President of the United States in an effort to unseat Edward Kealty.

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