Friday, July 22, 2011

Red Rabbit, by Tom Clancy

Clancy’s Red Rabbit is a spy-procedural, I guess you’d call it, that stars perennial hero Jack Ryan in a retrospective-prequel set in the early 1980’s. Being that I haven’t yet read all of Clancy’s stuff, I got the impression that I was missing some inside jokes as I went along. It was like watching old episodes of Benny Hill, where you get the impression that you’re supposed to laugh but you’re not sure why. So there were a few things I didn’t get; a few details that overflew me as I read.

That’s not to say it was a bad book at all.  It’s actually a good book. Personally, I’m lately enjoying Cold War era spy novels, and Clancy delivers the goods in this one. Actually, I’m pretty sure the guy can’t write anything badly or even subpar. I’m reminded why I love Clancy’s style: he has an attention to detail that isn’t often found in fiction these days. In fact it’s more often found in college level textbooks, probably. He has a knack for explaining the science, the why behind a particular plot element in the story that adds to rather than takes away. It’s brilliant.

And can I just say here, too, that holy crap there is a whole lot of consumption going on with his characters. At any given point, the characters are using any kind of tobacco and drinking any kind of alcoholic beverage, up to and including every kind of crap Soviet vodka they ever made. Clancy’s cast is lush, and in more than one sense.

The ending is at least slightly open-ended, but it still satisfies. Thankfully there’s a substantial Clancy backlist out there just waiting for me to peruse at my local library. If anyone knows offhand what Clancy novel is next in the timeline, drop me a comment, because I’d like to know.

The only niggles I can come up with on this book have already been mentioned (which can be chalked up to operator error, in lots of ways), but there’s one to add: I just wonder about this. It seems backward to me, especially from the perspective I’ve gained as an editor. But it seems to me that Clancy may have submitted his final MS to the editor, and then the editor came back with this comment: “Good, but add 20%.” There’s about that much padding in there, honestly, and I think it detracts from the momentum of the story. I don’t like it when authors (or their editors) make me feel like they think I’m too stupid to grasp something the first time it’s mentioned, let alone after the second or third time. It gets almost plot-line preachy. But again, that may be because I missed some things that the rabid Clancy fan would have latched onto. All in all, Red Rabbit is a good summer read.

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