I was sad to see that Tom Clancy died today. He was only 66.
Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C. when Clancy published The Hunt For Red October. President Reagan raved about the book, and everybody in D.C. felt obligated to read it so you could say you did at the next cocktail party. I picked it up reluctantly, because I was not a fan of spy novels. I found the John le Carre books, for example, to be almost unreadable.
The Hunt For Red October was different. It was fast-moving, technical, riveting, and seemed to portray an insider’s view of the intelligence community. I couldn’t put it down, and others couldn’t either. It was a huge best seller and helped to single-handedly reinvigorate the spy thriller genre. I like to re-read books, and over the years I’ve re-read The Hunt For Red October multiple times. It stands the test of time and remains a great read.
Clancy next wrote Red Storm Rising, which was another excellent book. From the initial terrorist attack that provoked the Soviet Union to attack the West to a sprawling series of battles and incidents across the globe, Red Storm Rising was a massive page-turner that believably depicted a potential war between the Warsaw Pact and NATO. You read it through, hoping that America would win in the end.
I continued to read Clancy books after that, following the exploits of Jack Ryan and other continuing characters that Clancy created, through Patriot Games and The Cardinal of the Kremlin and other books. At some point, though — and it was probably about the time that planes crashed into the Capitol and Ryan unexpectedly became President — the believability that had made the initial books so gripping was gone. I left the Clancy books behind, but that doesn’t change the extraordinary achievement of Clancy’s early work. I could easily read The Hunt For Red October and Red Storm Rising right now and enjoy them immensely.
Good storytellers who can create plausible alternative universes have a special gift. Tom Clancy had it, and he will be missed.