Friday, May 19, 2006

DUST JACKETS: Cardinal of the Kremlin

Perhaps one Tom Clancy novel guaranteed to never find its way onto film is Cardinal of the Kremlin. This isn’t to suggest it’s a bad book, because it’s definitely a good one. The story picks up where the popular The Hunt for Red October left off.

Set in the midst of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union are both racing to develop a “Star Wars” program that works. The key to the U.S. beating the Russians is one of their highest placed double agents, codename “Cardinal.” Few people can capture the down-to-earth world of espionage as Clancy can and keep it intense, and he does a nice job here.

This book introduced a lot of key players within the “Jack Ryan” series, chief among them the husband and wife spy team of Mary Pat and Ed Foley. As for Cardinal, he actually gets a small mention in The Hunt for Red October. Part of the fun of this book is to see Clancy building on that idea to create something epic. We’re given everyone’s point-of-view within this book, and it’s fascinating to watch Cardinal’s own self-destruction that his life of lies has made inevitable.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the book is in the beginning where we see the end of the infamous Russian stealth sub Red October, which the U.S. has picked apart to little more than its framework. Captain Ramius (a role played to perfection by Sean Connery in the film) even makes an appearance alongside Jack Ryan. One almost gets the feeling this scene is little more than an indulgence on Clancy’s part, but he’s not indulging himself here. The reminder of Red October is important as is a look at Ramius, because the events from The Hunt to Red October do influence the plot to Cardinal of the Kremlin and Ramius’ defection offers an interesting comparison to Cardinal’s existence.

I will admit there is a certain, “We’re great, and the Soviets suck” mentality that pervades the book and much of Clancy’s work. Cardinal’s betrayal to his country is played out a little too honorably, and I think we’re given a more realistic idea of a Russian traitor within Clancy’s recent novel Red Rabbit.

Still, no one else really crafts the cat-and-mouse spy game quite like Clancy. I think much of his work could use some stronger editing to improve the pace, but he does a nice job of keeping the story focused given the scope. What probably makes Clancy’s work so effective is that he spends a lot of time getting into these characters’ heads and his risky willingness to make the hero Jack Ryan something of an incidental character throughout much of the book.

Other Books by Tom Clancy:

About the time I was reading this book in 1997, Hollywood was trying to make it into a movie, but the project never got anywhere. By the late nineties, filmmakers just didn’t think moviegoers would find a cold war movie interesting, and they might be right, and I think that has a lot to do with the cynicism many Americans have for their country these days.

It wasn’t until last year that I finally read another book of Clancy’s, the aforementioned Red Rabbit. Many of his books have collected dust on my bookshelf, and for whatever reason, I just haven’t been able to make myself crack into them. You wouldn’t think someone who would willingly pick up a thick fantasy novel would be intimidated by the length of Clancy’s books, but for whatever reason, the sight of his books has always made me hesitant to tackle them.

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