Thursday 22 March 2018

Review: Thriller: Locked On by Tom Clancy

Penguin, £20

Jack’s back: Harrison Ford starred in
Clear and Present Danger, based on
the novel by Tom Clancy
Jack’s back: Harrison Ford starred in Clear and Present Danger, based on the novel by Tom Clancy

Myles McWeeney on the explosive new thriller featuring Jack Ryan Snr and Jnr

Tom Clancy is the biggest thriller writer on the planet, famous for technical accuracy and adrenaline-laced action. He's getting on a bit now -- his first novel, The Hunt for Red October, was published back in 1984, with his hero Jack Ryan making his first appearance.

But Clancy is still at the top of his game, and there are now two Jack Ryans, Senior and Junior. In the latest book, Jack Ryan Snr is campaigning for re-election as US president, while Jack Ryan Jnr is honing his skills for hunting down terrorists. What neither of them realises is that they are about to be swept into a global hi-tech warfare scenario in which the enemy within may be even more dangerous than the enemy without.

It's Clancy, these days a one-man industry with co-writers, shifting to the next generation.

Clancy's own story is a thriller in itself. Not so much an author, more a business corporation, he is probably America's richest writer, with a fortune exceeding $500m (€387m).

He was once an insurance broker with a passion for naval history. But The Hunt for Red October changed his life. It's a nail-biter techno-thriller about a Russian nuclear sub commander who disobeys orders and steers his state-of-the-art craft towards America, leaving the White House and the Kremlin both wondering if he is going to defect -- or start a nuclear war.

Initially, no mainstream publisher was interested and it was eventually published by the Naval Press Institute, which was probably impressed with the technical detail. Clancy got an advance of $5,000 and sales were slow in the beginning.

Red October only became popular when President Ronald Reagan arrived at a press conference with the book tucked under his arm. One of the TV reporters asked the president: "What are you reading?" Reagan held it up so everybody could see the cover and replied: "It's a really good yarn."

The endorsement catapulted it to the top of the US bestseller list and it has since sold millions of copies worldwide.

In 1990, the film of The Hunt for Red October, featuring Sean Connery as the sub commander, hit the screen. Although Connery's Russian accent sounded more Gorbals than Gorbachev, the movie was a huge success. It cost $30m to make, a monster budget back then, but grossed over $200m at the box office. Clancy was paid $600,000 for the screen rights.

His main character, Jack Ryan, has been in all but two of Clancy's thrillers, and has featured in four Hollywood adaptations. He's been played by three different actors. Alec Baldwin played him in The Hunt for Red October, in which Ryan was just a lowly security analyst.

Harrison Ford took over the role in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and, finally, Ben Affleck starred as Ryan in The Sum of All Fears.

To achieve a net worth of $500m, Clancy has run his literary career on very commercial lines. He has branded several lines of subsidiary books (like the Tom Clancy Net Force series) that are published under his name but are written by other authors.

These have made him serious money. And his main books are still huge sellers -- he signed a $50m deal with Penguin in the US some time ago for two books. He also founded a successful video games company, Red Storm, which he later sold.

Jack Ryan only played a peripheral role in Clancy's last two novels, The Teeth of the Tiger and Dead or Alive, which feature his son Jack Ryan Jnr, two of his nephews and a number of his closest associates from his CIA black ops days. All work for an off-the-record organisation called The Campus, set up by Ryan Snr in the dying days of his presidency to counteract the weakness he perceived in foreign policy and national security. Locked On, the third book in the Campus series, refocuses on Ryan Snr, who is so disgusted by the sitting president that he has decided to run again himself for the presidency.

The book opens in typical Clancy style with a Russian helicopter infiltration of Dagestan in the Caucasus aimed at a Jihadist terror group leader.

The action then swiftly moves to Egypt, Paris and Pakistan, where a rogue army officer is attempting a military coup.

This officer has terrifying plans which involve stealing two of Pakistan's nuclear warheads. The Campus team become involved and, crisscrossing the globe in their Gulfstream, attempt to defuse the situation the only way they know how -- with bombs and bullets.

Back in the US, an embittered billionaire is attempting to derail Jack Ryan's presidential campaign. Eventually all the strands of this frenetically paced thriller come together in an explosive finale in Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome.

Locked On may have some clunky dialogue but it majors on what every Clancy junkie prizes most -- fascinating technical detail which is 100pc accurate and edge-of-the-seat action.

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