Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tom Clancy Dead or Alive

Ok, Thriller Guy is back from all the holiday fun and ready to get back to work. As promised in the last entry, today's topic of discussion is Tom Clancy and his latest book, co-authored with Grant Blackwood, Dead or Alive.

Blackwood seems to be the go-to guy for the big boys to entrust with their valuable franchises. He writes his own series and also authors with Clive Cussler. TG read his and Cussler's Spartan Gold, the new series starring Sam and Remi Fargo, a book TG liked but after reading the reader's reviews on Amazon TG wonders if he's been in the thriller trenches so long he can no longer tell what's good or bad. So, Clancy's Dead or Alive; thumbs up or thumbs down? First, a little history. This is the first Jack Ryan book to appear in seven years. The Ryan character first came onpage in 1984 with The Hunt For Red October, then Patriot Games and on through to this, the thirteenth installment. During this time, Ryan has risen from history professor/CIA agent to retired president of the United States.

It's easy to dismiss Clancy as something of a dinosaur from the early ages of the thriller era, but one would do so at one's peril. This is a man who almost single-handedly invented the modern, military thriller genre. Yes, TG understands all the others who were slightly ahead and quickly behind and who filled out the genre, so don't write chastising little notes of correction. Here's the way it is, Clancy is a giant in this industry and his latest is a great example of what the genre has become. (Side bar: Clancy lives a few miles from TG. Way back in the mists of time TG went to a local bookstore, now, sadly, out of business, and found a pile of The Hunt For Red October with a sign, crudely lettered on a piece of shirt cardboard, that said: Local Author. When TG quizzed the woman who ran the bookstore, he found that she firmly believe that it was her hand-lettered sign that had led to Clancy's great success. TG wrote to Clancy and told him this story many years ago. TG is still waiting for a response.)

All of this leads to the question: how much of Dead or Alive is Clancy's and how much is Blackwood's? TG wishes he could use his vast powers as an industry insider to answer this question, but he cannot. With his reading of the Cussler/Blackwood books, TG gets the feeling that Cussler may mutter a few sentences of plot to Blackwood and then Grant takes it from there, but TG came away from this one with the feeling that Clancy was an active participant in the writing process. (Sidebar number two: TG would like to know how one applies for and is awarded these writing jobs. Obviously, Blackwood has a far better agent than TG. Sorry, Bob, but maybe it's time to hook TG up with a couple of big-name authors who are tired of writing their own stuff.)

Back to the book. Jack Ryan Sr. is sitting in his Chesapeake Bay home writing his memoirs. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to his father, Jack Ryan Jr. is working for the Campus, the secret arm of the CIA invented by his father. The job that Ryan Jr. and his father's old compatriots are pursuing is the takedown the world's greatest terrorist, known as The Emir. Read Osama, Bin Laden. The plot is nothing that hasn't been seen by thriller readers many times over the last few years: an attack on several key areas with the hoped for result being the breakdown of the American economy. Yawn. But the thing is, Clancy has more cool information than all the other guys. TG assumes this is because the secret higher-ups know him as the top dog in the field and are willing to speak, off the record of course, to him and give him the good stuff. Vince Flynn, eat your heart out. And it is this insider info that pushes the book to the top of the thriller heap.

Yes, there's the usual Clancy gear writing: “Along with the standard load-out of fragmentation grenades and flashbangs each man would also be armed with an MK23 .45 caliber ACP with a modified KAC noise suppressor and a tritium laser aiming module – LAM – with four selector modes: visible laser only, visible laser/flashlight, infrared laser only, and infrared laser/illuminator. Favored by Navy Special Warfare teams and the British Special Boat Service, the MK23 was a marvel of durability, having been torture-tested by both the SEALs and the SBS for extreme temperature, saltwater submersion, dry-firing, , impact, and a weapon's worst enemy, dirt. Like a good Timex watch, the MK23 had taken a licking and kept on ticking – or in this case, kept on firing.” If this is the sort of writing that wets your knickers, TG suggests that this book will keep you very happy indeed.

So the final judgment? If you like Clancy, it's good. Maybe not the most exciting of the series, but still plenty good. If you're just starting out, why not go back thirteen books and start at the beginning? That will give any new military thriller reader plenty to look forward to.


  1. I could nitpick about the accuracy of some of that technobabble he's using, but it would be just that, nit picking. He's the author whose earlier Jack Ryan novels had silly things like safeties on revolvers. Not a complaint, just an observation that even the biggest, baddest money making authors out there could use a technical advisor. :)

    The Mark 23 is an impressive sidearm for what it was meant for - soldiers in battle. The tritium sites are not part of the laser aiming module, but the LAM is more than just a normal laser site, it can be used to laser 'designate' via IR, which would mean the benefits of a laser site, but not visible to the unaided eye. Definitely cool.

    There is a really nice website that has done an excellent job putting all kinds of useful details that would be valuable to writers:

    Great pictures, stats, history, and organization all in one nifty location.



  2. I've only read one Tom Clancy book--Clear & Present Danger--but I put it down after about 300 pages. I enjoyed it, but it was just so big my attention wandered and I didn't finish it. Which was a shame, because I didn't dislike it, but it was so dense and detailed the momentum suffered. If Clancy books were a couple of hundred pages shorter I'd probably go back to them.

    And yeah, I do love a bit of gun porn :-)