Sunday, May 18, 2014

Tom, We Hardly Knew Ye…

When a young insurance salesman sold his debut novel, The Hunt for Red October, to the erudite Naval Institute Press for $5,000, a new sub-genre was launched and the rest is literary history!

For several stellar films, over 17 bestselling novels and several non-fiction military books, Tom Clancy's "genius for big, compelling plots" and his "natural narrative gift" have entranced hundreds of millions of devotees, and he remains one of the preeminent storytellers of our time.

With secret operational missions, warlords in Japan, Colombian drug busts, nuclear terrorists, European amusement park raids, to name a few themes, Tom took us almost to the end of a tumultuous civilization with unfailing authenticity and detail.

His thrillers, many written over twenty years ago, could well be current Page One stories of any major newspaper on the planet!

Command Authority, published after his untimely death in October, 2013, describes what is actually happening right now in May, 2014, in places like Crimea and Ukraine, with a fictional Russian president named Valeri Volodin. I feel like I'm reading Page One of the New York Times. Or watching the news on TV. For example, in this book, Gazprom, Russia's quasi-state-owned natural gas company features prominently.

The director of the CIA tells the U.S. national security team at one A.M. in the Cabinet Room, "If anyone doubts for a second that the Kremlin is responsible for this, they are hopelessly naïve." (P. 102)

And U.S. President Jack Ryan says, "We've seen this over and over… Volodin is playing to his own room." (P. 103)
"Kiev has turned into a hotbed of intelligence activity." (P. 129)

A common view for years has been that the spy genre was owned by the Brits—writers like Graham Greene, Len Deighton, Frederick Forsythe, John le Carre.

But the emphasis has shifted. With a changing world of intelligence gathering, terrorism, espionage, dirty tricks, Americans like Clive Cussler, Nelson DeMille, Robert Littell, Alan Furst, Charles McCarry, Vince Flynn, David Hagberg, WEB Griffin—are considered to be some of the greatest writers in the genre, along with Tom Clancy.

As I revisit some of Clancy's writing, I am impressed by his incredibly sensitive prose, his moving insights into human nature. Twenty years ago I galloped through his pages like a hungry animal! Now, I savor slowly the emotional depth in his pages, like I would a glass of aged Laphroaig!

In my earlier reading I missed a lot of the real essence of Clancy's understanding of the human psyche and his gifted ability to portray the heart and emotions of his brave warriors.

Since the death of this gentle giant, a guy who was refused personal combat duty for his country because of poor eyesight, I hope my renewed respect for his emotional insights will make me a better writer!

You may ask, who was my favorite character in Tom's books. Not Jack Ryan, the hero in most of them, a man who rose to become POTUS, the leader of the free world.

I favored a young man named John Kelly, the hero in Without Remorse, published in 1993, with one of my favorite Virgilian lines in the front of the book— "Arma virumque cano," as well as John Dryden's wise line, "Beware the fury of a patient man."

Kelly, a former Navy SEAL and Vietnam vet, still getting over the accidental death of his wife, befriends a young woman named Pam, who is abused, then killed by American drug dealers. At the same time, the Pentagon prepares to rescue Americans from a North Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp and assigns John Kelly, now code-named John Clark, to spearhead the operation.

John then fights on two fronts, his duty to his country in Asia and his now personal mission against deadly drug dealers in Baltimore, the killers of young Pam.

Without Remorse shows us the vulnerable,intelligent young fighter more than other books, where John features as a more mature C.I.A agent, a national icon in a secret role. If he had lived, would Clancy have a given John Clark another book like Without Remorse? I think so.

Today, I wish I could drive down to Maryland and visit with Tom. "How did you know so much about the human heart and soul, the lacrimae rerum of life?" I'd ask him.

Would he have answered? We'll never know… Dear Reader, what do you think?

I really, really miss Tom Clancy…

T. Jackie Straw

P.S. This also brings loving memories of our talented colleague, Marty Meyers, and to his beloved wife, Annette, one of the great pillars of the American mystery family, my friend for many years.

Love and prayers to you both. Love conquers all…

1 comment:

  1. Just saw my guest for March 9, Matt Coyle, is on the list for an Anthony at the next Bouchercon for his wonderful book Yesterday's Echo! We're in your court, Matt!!!! tjs