Locked On (a book review)

Tom Clancy Locked On
You are now locked on to this review!

I’ve been a Clancy fanboy since I read Patriot Games back in high school. The “real-world” adventures of Jack Ryan seemed to stand above more generic thriller fare. I eventually stopped reading though, as the author turned out massive tomes that felt self-indulgent (not to take a shot at Tom Clancy since he has passed). The Sum of All Fears had an entire chapter devoted to the sequence of events that take place within the casing of a nuclear bomb when it triggers. “The bomb exploded” probably would have sufficed.

And don’t get me started on the titles of these newer books. What does “Locked On” even mean?

That’s my love-hate relationship with Tom Clancy. See, I still like the idea of the characters he created and the “Ripped-from-the-Headlines” world they live in. So, I recently decided to start it back up.

This brings me to Locked On, the second in the series since Tom Clancy handed the reigns to several different authors, and one focused on the clandestine U.S. organization known as The Campus.

Unbeknownst to his parents, Jack Ryan, Jr. has been recruited to The Campus and become involved in increasingly dangerous missions. Lately, they have been tracking several dangerous terrorists. When one of their operations goes sideways, they learn of a new threat in a position of power in Pakistan. Desperate to discover what his plans are, Ryan, Jr. and his compatriots find themselves crossing the globe, from France to Dubai to Russia. When one of their top agents is taken out of the game, used as pawn in a political chess match in the new presidential election, The Campus must find a way to deal with the escalating violence on their own.

I like Locked On quite a bit, and I thought it was better than the previous installment, Dead or Alive. The pacing is better – events develop quickly enough and there is a good deal of action, which, for a military-style thriller, is a pretty good call. Author Mark Greaney is easily up to the task of constructing action set-pieces in a fast-moving and exciting way.

The characters here are human, not super-human (for the most part…), and some of them actually get hurt and are forced to act in plausible, realistic ways. Those same characters are still somewhat dry, though, even if the dialogue is pretty good. However, there are several interesting developments for Jack Ryan, Jr., including an unexpected mystery dropped at the last minute and left as a cliffhanger.

For me, there was also the thrill of the novel getting into some spycraft, like an intelligence-gathering operation involving mini-drones and listening devices. I would have actually liked more of that, which builds suspense better than a lot of thriller writers think. But what was there was nice.

There are still some problems that persist, even if others are authoring (or co-authoring) these novels. In Locked On, there is a sub-plot involving one character that appears to have been orchestrated simply to get that character to a specific location near the end of the book. It otherwise has little bearing on the story, yet takes up quite a bit of space. Now, if characters in that sub-plot are going come back around in later novels, that’s cool. But I feel like the story could have been streamlined and a little more focused (is there a minimum length requirement for a Clancy novel?). Why kill your momentum to drag the reader off in another direction that feels meaningless?

Too many characters and too many subplots can sink you, but author Mark Greaney brings it together here, constructing a fast-paced story that advances the characters and  thrills the reader. If you have enjoyed the Jack Ryan world in the past and, like me, you have drifted away, this isn’t a bad book to come back with. I liked it enough to buy the next one, Threat Vector, which is written by the same author.

If you read it, maybe you can tell me what “Threat Vector” means.

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