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Not the Clancy I wanted, but a good read
on December 15, 2011
There are no plot spoilers in this review.
I started with Tom Clancy 15 years ago, and he's been my favorite author since then. I appreciate his style of writing, technical accuracy, his character building, and his art of story telling. I am not as fond of the co-authored novels or the other series that bear his name. While generally better than most of the genre, they are not up to par with the Clancy of the early Jack Ryan and John Clark novels.
I approached this book with a bit of caution, because with "Dead or Alive", I walked away with the feeling that Clancy just didn't care about the quality of his work anymore. I was encouraged that this was a book with Ryan Sr. in a prominent role, but discouraged by it being co-authored.
Overall, I like this novel. The story telling, while not historical Clancy quality, is good. It draws you in, keeps you turning the page, and gets your blood pumping at times. Those who know Clancy's style of writing and his attention to detail will certainly appreciate many parts of this story. I found myself with a smirk several times thinking "typical Clancy" or "that's ingenious". The last Clancy novel I read where I had similarly good thoughts was "The Bear and The Dragon". As far as Ryan/Clark co-authored novels go, this is better than the others but far from being great. It was a very low bar that the Clancy/Greaney duo had to rise above.
While it is "good", I have an expectation for anything with Clancy's name to be "great". So many of Clancy's earlier works fall into this "great" category for me: Red Storm Rising, Hunt for Red October, Without Remorse, Executive Orders, Rainbow Six. This doesn't fit into the same category. There are gaps in this book with unanswered questions, which has been typical for the last several novels. The big ones? Chavez has previously-unknown expert skills, and it isn't mentioned how he acquired them. Ryan's resignation from his first Presidency still isn't clearly explained, which is something I wish was in this book since it is about Ryan's run for the White House, and, honestly, was something I was looking forward to reading about. The old Clancy doesn't leave things unexplained like this, and he missed a prime opportunity to address this.
I have read enough Clancy to know which parts are written by Greaney in this novel, and they don't all flow well with the rest of the book. The difference in writing style, at times, threw me off and interrupted the story somewhat. The opening action sequence of the book is such an element. The difference in style is very apparent as the next element of the story is about Ryan Sr., and is clearly written by Clancy himself. I do not have an issue with Clancy co-authoring his books, I have an issue with the quality of those books. There is no reason a co-authored novel has to be of lower quality. It is undoubtedly hard work to make the work of two authors flow well together in a single cohesive story, and where Clancy fails is in the editing and proof-reading. The only explanation is that either Tom is losing skill, or he lacks the same level of intense passion he had before.
As for my rating, it goes a little beyond just the star value I assigned to it. I like this book, I feel it's better than just "ok". As far as entertainment value, I feel it deserves the "I like it" four-star rating. If I were to rate it on five star scale against other Ryan/Clark novels, it would be a 3. While this isn't the Clancy redemption I hoped for, I can now see an author at least trying to get back to his roots. I hope the next one is a solo novel that ties up some of the loose ends from the last few.
Final thoughts: I can't think of a reason to NOT recommend this book. Through it's flaws is a good story that is a page turner, and has some great moments with familiar characters. It leaves me glad I read it, and I'll probably read it again.