Thursday, February 09, 2012

'Locked On' by Tom Clancy - A Review

In honor of National Read in the Bathtub Day (I looked for the only known picture of me in a bathtub, but alas, was unable to find it) we've got a book review for you today.  I'm sure you're way more interested in the review than the photo anyway.

'Locked On' is the latest in the Jack Ryan lineage, and includes all of the old gang of Jack Clark, Ding Chavez form the early days as well as newer faces like Jack Ryan, Jr. and cousin Dominic Caruso. The elder Ryan is pursuing a White House bid against a liberal who has gutted the CIA and the younger Ryan and the rest of the gang are running a privately-backed paramilitary group (The Campus) in Northern Virginia.

I have read all of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan books and a few of his others, including Red Storm Rising, one of my favorites of all time, but this might be my last one. Written 'with' Mark Greaney, this book has three main plots that converge so that Ryan's buddies can save the world. Each has its own impossible elements and combine in the end for a climax that would make Hollywood's worst action movie directors wince in incredulity.

In the Plot One, a shadowy former Warsaw Pact informer turned liberal American billionaire (A thinly-disguised George Soros) seeks to scuttle Ryan's presidential bid.  The plot involves the world's most wanted terrorist, a liberal civil rights group, a deputy director of the CIA, a convenient French detective with a million amazing contacts, a former Soviet spy and his Russian diplomat son.  And a few dozen other characters with connections and motives that are incomprehensible.  Executed properly, there is enough in just this plot for an entire novel. Sadly, it's executed horribly.

In Plot Two, we've got the insane Pakistani general trying to overthrow his own government by creating a conflict between India and Pakistan. This guy has multiple identities and has been causing trouble in the Indian sub-continent for a decade but no one knew who he was until Jack Ryan, Jr. got on the case! Thankfully Jr. and Cuz zip over to Pakistan to defuse a stolen nuke, kill the plotting general and head back in time for the Inauguration.

And in the Plot Three, a Russian billionaire space tycoon finds out he really isn't Russian, but actually a Muslim, and buys an extra stolen nuke from the Pakistani general to take his revenge on Moscow and force the release of a separatist military leader. Of course, he has 3 former Soviet ICBMs at his disposal and manages to take control of an entire Russian space launch facility to carry out his dastardly plan.

The Rainbow organization of Clancy's middle period has been gutted by lazy, left-leaning Eurotrash governments and can't handle the task of saving the day.  Thankfully, a 64-year old John Clark is fresh off being shot and tortured at the hands of the Russian diplomat from Plot One and is available to train up his old Rainbow organization overnight.  With the help of his trusty sidekick Ding, who is now also a super-sniper and helo jumper, the hostage crisis is averted and with only minor damage to Moscow, the terrorist plot is foiled.

Even at 853 pages, there are glaring plot holes that you can drive a truck through. Ryan, Sr. is running for president as a far more conservative hawk than the moderate who resigned the presidency four years before.  We never hear the reason for his resignation or the startling run to the right. A love interest, Megan Kraft, is introduced to Jr. by old family friend and super spy runner Mary Pat Foley.  We have a few pages of her Kraft's inner thoughts and misgivings about the CIA early in the book.  By the end of the book, those inner thoughts have apparently been forgotten by the authors and Kraft is a duplicitous agent trying to dig up dirt on the Ryans for the CIA.

There are a few saving graces for the book.  It's pretty well written, if not by Clancy himself, then by barely-credited ghostwriter Mark Greaney.  The action is well-written and paced and the switches from plot to plot are solidly done.  As is true with any Clancy book, the technical aspects are perfect.  WIth a wide array of vintage and ultra-modern weaponry, the Jane's addicts will be very happy.  There are also a million new technologies mentioned and used, showing someone is keeping up on what makes counter-terrorism work these days.

In the end though, this book is a mess.  It's clearly designed as a pre-cursor book to a future Ryan, Sr. presidency book where all the world's evils with be righted with a super-robust CIA and techno-superior military. The three plots are just too over the top, the super-human characters to able to do just too much, the villains just too able to enmesh their own separate agendas to make this book remotely believable.

Sadly, I don't care where the series goes from here.  It's been killed by lazy writing, a lack of editing, and obviously greedy publishing.  It's a shame, because there is still some degree of interest left for me, especially in the Jack Ryan, Jr. character.  But there's just too much other crap going on in the last few books to make me think the next one will be worth the time to read it.


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