Command Authority (Jack Ryan #9)
Tom Clancy with Mark Greaney
Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Former CIA analyst Jack Ryan is now comfortably into his second elected term as President of the United States of America. His son Jack Jr has taken a break from working for the Campus organisation and is in London working in the City district as a financial analyst. It’s the sort of methodical work that appeals to him and when he catches the case of a Scottish billionaire who had his oil company in Russia seized because of “taxes owed” and dismantled with the assets sold off, he smells a rat. He begins investigating, despite the express wishes of his boss to drop the case because Russian oligarchs, especially those tied to the increasingly authoritarian government are impossible to prosecute. Better to cut his losses and move onto something else, Jack Jr is advised. But he’s in too deep now and he’s too intrigued to do that.
When an old Russian friend and former FSB man collapses in the White House after a friendly lunch with the President and is taken to hospital the last thing that is suspected is polonium poisoning. But that’s what it is and as the White House is taken apart to be decontaminated, the ramifications of this begin to echo around the world. Although obvious to most in the Western world as a set up, Russia broadcasts that the CIA have put down an old Russian man. It’s all the provocation they need to begin their expansions, sending tanks and planes into the Crimea to take back that territory with the goal of going all the way to Kiev. Having attempted Estonia and failed due to NATO back up, the President of Russia, Valeri Volodin is determined to make a mark. He’s returning Russia to the old ways, the ways of the Cold War 50 years ago and stomping on any progression towards democracy that the country might’ve made.
Jack Jr’s digging in London turns up a startling connection to a case Jack Snr worked on thirty years ago when he was in London. If Jack Jr can round up all of the information and untangle the threads and stay alive in the process not only will he solve a long running mystery of the rumours of a Soviet assassin from days gone by but he will also give his father the ammunition he needs to halt Russia’s invasion of its former territories.
I’ve never read a Tom Clancy novel before but I have seen a couple of the movies that his books have spawned: Patriot Games, The Hunt for Red October, Clear And Present Danger etc all of which feature Jack Ryan. All of them play along a very similar theme: the CIA and therefore the United States (and often their Allies, such as the British) face a threat (often Russia, sometimes China, also Irish IRA, etc) that has personal and greater political ramifications. This one once again reverts to a tried-and-true story: the US versus Russia. The new president Valeri Volodin has a lot of money and influence and he has been slowly steering the country back to the Old Way, exporting gas and oil for ginormous amounts of money which are funneled through the pockets of top gangsters who make up a secret organisation with a complicated hierarchy and set of criteria for joining. NATO thwarted Volodin’s attempt to invade and conquer the small country of Estonia which has been more Scandinavian than Soviet since the fall of communism in the early 90s and so Volodin has turned his eyes south to the Ukraine and the autonomous territory of Crimea. Volodin is aided by his head of the FSB Roman Talanov, a man never seen in public. Although President Ryan worries about the ramifications of Volodin’s plans to invade in terms of an assault on the Ukraine, politically there’s nothing he can do: the Ukraine are not a NATO member state, the Americans have few forces there and the Ukrainian forces are under-prepared. He needs to find another way to halt Volodin’s invasion which everyone knows would lead to the Russians taking the country with little problem. To further complicate matters, there is a large Russian population in the Ukraine and many more with ethnic, political or ideological ties to the state. To show too much force to stop them could provoke a civil war. Ryan has to tread carefully using brains rather than brawn.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book considering it’s not really something that I’d normally choose to read. Although I recognise it as being so very one sided (the US are always good, pretty much above reproach, the opposition are almost always comically ridiculously evil) there’s something sort of attractive about a good guys vs bad guys story because you know sort of how it’s going to end, it’s just the journey there that you have to unravel. Clancy isn’t afraid of killing people off either, including important people (except Ryans Snr and Jr of course). I did wonder whilst reading this if there is a Russian version of Tom Clancy who perhaps writes books that are similar to this but where Russia are the good guys and the Americans are always the bad guys. There probably is. Regardless of its partiality, this novel is clever and well researched with lots of action to balance out the long conversations between President Ryan and his various advisers where they discuss policy and history. This balance would ensure that action fans don’t get too bored and also that fans of the more delicate political nuances don’t get too bogged down by crazy chopper pilots and SEAL teams blowing stuff up. Books like this always end up encouraging me to research further too: I’m pretty familiar with the Ukraine and Crimea and the politics and history of the region but I have to admit prior to this I knew nothing about Estonia, I was barely able to locate it on a world map.
There’s no denying the success of Tom Clancy’s books. Several sources claim that he has sold in excess of 50 million copies worldwide. He passed away in October of this year so I’m not sure what this means for the Ryan family. There are still quite a few books that have yet to be made into movies (and another Jack Ryan movie will open in 2014) but as for new stories….. who knows.
Book #306 of 2013