This book is dumb as hell. This book is offensive as hell. That’s where I start with this one. I watched the movie a number of times as a kid and what I learned from reading the book is that the movie complicates the ways in which the story discusses the Troubles in a way that the book is fundamentally unable to do. Tom Clancy is an unreflective American imperialist and Jack Ryan as weird American daddy issues and think morality is not committing murder on an individual scale (only because a friend stops him from doing so) while making sure that murder still happens on mass scale. It’s wrong to target children with terroristic violence (I agree!) but not wrong to dump white phosphorous or napalm on thousands of children in the name of Democracy (Oh no!). And these are both the politics of the book and the character.
So the plot is: Jack Ryan on vacation in London (this is a prequel to The Hunt for Red October) before he was officially a CIA analyst. He sees gunmen attacking a Rolls — he gets mad, his Marines training kicks in, and he tackles one gunman, shoots him in the butt, and then shoots the other one. (Again, this is mostly uncomplicated in terms of morality etc — dumb as hell, but clearly morally sound). It turns out it was the “Prince” and “Princess” and their child. It seems like a possible assassination or kidnapping plot. The book doesn’t name Prince Charles (and the movie changes who was involved — making it more like a Mountbatten thing). The gunmen are “Maoists” Irish terrorists, and it goes from there.
In one scene Jack Ryan reads Prince Charles the riot act about being a man — no shit!
The novel then turns into a mostly fine spy thriller, worldwide chase movie about analysis and detective work. This is the bread and butter, and it’s mostly successful. The writing is competent and akin to say Michael Crichton or Dan Brown (both are writers I like) in terms of narrating action.
But every so often it delves into wholly paternalistic, morally simplistic, and completely thoughtless handwringing about what it means to be in a society. Terrorism is bad, obviously, and cowardly, and kind of but not really a reflection of injustice baked into society. There’s the same kind of attempts to parallel terrorism with gangs, and organized crime, and the KKK. This of course fails to recognize that the KKK was a paramilitary group (often membered with actual civic leaders) that did the dirty work for white supremacy for more than 100 years (and still!) to oppress Black people in the US, but definitely the same. It’s absolute moral disaster of a book.
It would palatable and respectable, if any of the characters who espouse these opinions could even come up with something like “It’s all in the game” ala The Wire or admit that cause/effect aside the world is what it is and they’re fighting against terrorism as actors of the state, and not at moral beacons. It’s so dishonest, and worse, typical, and even worst, believes it’s own bullshit. There’s zero complexity in this book and it’s presented as #reasonable or #mature in ways that are embarrassing.
Oh, and the bootlicking of authority! Oh and the casual racism of Jack Ryan who then has the temerity to moralize about the direct racism of the Irish characters. And the sexism…oh and the homophobia!