I have read every Jack Ryan novel Tom Clancy ever wrote. At least I thought I had until I decided to re-read The Hunt for Red October. It turns out I had confused the movie with the book, so my re-read turned into a first read.
In the story, a Russian nuclear submarine—the titular Red October—goes missing, the motive of Marko Ramius (its captain) unclear. The Soviet Navy launches every ship it has in its Atlantic feet, on the surface or under it, with orders to find and destroy the sub. But why?
That massive deployment catches the attention of Washington DC, for the Soviet boats are headed toward American coastal waters. CIA analyst Jack Ryan thinks he knows the reason why. Together with his bosses, he sets up an audacious plan to intervene and … well, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, I don’t want to give away the ending.
As is almost always the case, the book is better than the movie. Like later Clancy novels, the plot is labyrinthine. It is told by an omniscient narrator who jumps in and out scenes, unfolding the mystery one turn at a time. No wonder the movie simplified some of the plot lines, characters, and actions.
The Hunt for Red October established Clancy’s reputation as a master of the suspense drama. His novels combine large-scale global forces as the background for individual heroic action. I may not have read Clancy’s first novel back in the day, but looking through his catalogue, I know I read all the others. Clancy’s reputation—not to mention Alec Baldwin’s brilliant performance in the movie—gave me good reasons to do so.\
This book is long, but it is nevertheless a page turner, which is my first rule of thumb when evaluating a suspense or mystery novel. Also, it didn’t push the limits of my willing suspension of disbelief, which is my second rule. Despite the wheels-within-wheels plotlines, the book’s main action felt plausible. (If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you’ll know what I mean when you read it.)
So, five stars to The Hunt for Red October, which celebrates its 37th anniversary this year. It’s a great read, and a fantastic start to a series of novels well worth reading, for a second or third time … or even the first!
Tom Clancy, The Hunt for Red October, Kindle edition (New York: Berkley, 2018; orig., Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1984).
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