A big finish for Jack Ryan?

Posted Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Command Authority by Tom Clancy Putnam, $29.95 Audiobook: Random House Audio, $50; read by actor Lou Diamond Phillips

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It’s not known yet whether Command Authority, the latest edge-of-your-seat military-political thriller from the mind of Tom Clancy, will be the last one featuring intrepid Jack Ryan.

Clancy, a publishing powerhouse for the past three decades, dating back to his from-out-of-nowhere debut in 1984 with The Hunt for Red October, died Oct. 1 at age 66.

Command Authority (Putnam, $29.95), written with Mark Greaney, Clancy’s co-author on two previous books, was completed shortly before the bestselling author’s death.

Ivan Held, president of Putnam, told USA Today this month, “Of course, we hope Jack Ryan and The Campus team can live on.”

Clancy wouldn’t be the first writer whose characters endure in the hands of another author. (It has happened with Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser.) But the publisher offered no concrete details or timetable regarding this being the fate of Jack Ryan.

Where that leaves us, if the Clancy estate decides not to keep the books coming, is a fitting and satisfying end, because Command Authority has brought the series full circle.

After directing his focus in many books at the Middle East and the constant turmoil there, Clancy found that a new threat has risen from the ashes of an old one. Ryan’s adversaries once again, as in Red October, published when the Cold War was drawing to a close, are the Russians.

The story involves an aggressive and tyrannical leader, a former KGB man, trying to gobble up other countries in a transparent effort to rebuild his country into a new Soviet Union-size superpower.

It’s up to President Jack Ryan, the former CIA agent, and his team (a large cast of political advisers, military men and espionage colleagues) to keep this new Cold War from turning into a “hot” war.

After Russia tries and fails to invade Estonia, thwarted only by U.S. military intervention, Russian President Valeri Volodin starts beating the war drums against Ukraine, its defenseless neighbor to the west.

Meanwhile, Volodin and his cronies (an unholy alliance of corrupt government officials, outlaw intelligence agencies and organized crime bosses) are robbing foreign investors and their own country blind with spectacularly crooked business deals involving Russia’s newfound oil and natural gas wealth.

With John Clark (another of Clancy’s popular characters) and members of The Campus (Clark’s super-secret intelligence unit) positioned in Kiev in time for the Ukraine invasion, and with chip-off-the-old-block Jack Ryan Jr. doggedly investigating the shady-business-dealings angle, the Americans might just be able to save the day.

But the most important step in stopping Volodin’s power grab lies in solving a 30-year-old mystery involving Daddy Ryan and a ruthlessly efficient KGB assassin known only as Zenith.

Clancy is famous for meticulous research when it comes to military and espionage hardware and global politics — and the details in Command Authority live up to his reputation in every way.

His insider knowledge and vivid imagination enabled him to concoct plots that were more than just ripped from the headlines. In some cases, he somehow anticipated how tomorrow’s headlines would read.

The most famous example: The plot of 1994’s Debt of Honor involved a Japanese pilot crashing a Boeing 747 into the U.S. Capitol during a joint session of Congress, an event eerily similar to the 9-11 terrorist attacks seven years later.

The plot of 2010’s Dead or Alive, meanwhile, mirrored the 2011 capture of Osama bin Laden.

Clancy’s knack for prescient storytelling doesn’t bode well for world stability — and there are many indicators that real-life Russia, as it’s currently being run by Vladimir Putin, seems to be on the same dangerous course that fictional Russia is in Command Authority.

If ever our country needed a real Jack Ryan to take command, it’s now.

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