Ah, the Tom Clancy universe, where the book titles are meaningless, the righteous are Republicans, women exist sometimes, and everyone is above the law. I got into these books back in high school with Patriot Games. I realized early on that while Mr. Clancy and his successors were not the greatest writers, interesting plots always abounded. It felt like I was in the middle of actual American espionage and military action. Oorah!
But, man, could those things get convoluted. Which is why Duty and Honor feels like a strange breath of fresh air in the Tom Clancy world.
*Reviewer’s note, I did not read Under Fire, which I heard was not very good (and it’s by the same author, strangely enough). Maybe that was a breath of fresh air. I don’t know.
The last Grant Blackwood novel I read set in the Clancy cosmos was Dead or Alive, which fell into the convoluted category. It was too long, too languid, getting close to boring. But Duty and Honor, despite having no relation to either duty or honor, is a compact thriller focused on one character. It starts off with a bang and doesn’t let up.
Here’s what it’s all about: Jack Ryan, Jr., on forced leave from the covert organization known as The Campus, has decided to turn himself into a piece of beefcake at the gym and never shave again (his face; the author doesn’t mention anything else). While making a night run to a supermercado, someone tries to assassinate him. But the killer didn’t hear about the beefcake thing and Jack is able to turn the tables and dispatch the attacker. But who would want him dead? It must be related to his previous work for the Campus, but Jack doesn’t want to involve them while he’s on leave. So he begins his own investigation, which will take him overseas in search of a shadowy organization (aren’t they all?) that may be trying to start world war three.
After reading Duty and Honor, I came to the conclusion that being a fan of the Tom Clancy plane of existence will go a long way to enjoying this book. It’s essentially a by-the-numbers thriller with little in the way of character arcs. However, there is an interesting journalist who becomes more important to the story than I first assumed. But even he isn’t as fleshed out as I would have liked. It’s almost a crime, though, that Jack Ryan, Jr., doesn’t get much emotional conflict to go with the physical conflict.
Part of Jack’s story is his forced leave from the Campus. There are several reasons for the leave that stem from events in previous novels. While it’s not important for Duty and Honor to recount those events, they should present an emotional weight on Jack. This internal conflict does exist, and Jack has a decision to make at the end, but I felt like it should have been at the forefront. Let’s get into this guy’s psyche see how the attempt on his life and the resulting mysteries and violence lead him to his choices. It’s there, but mostly as an afterthought.
That’s the difference between a plot and a story. Lots of plot here. If that’s your thing, cool.
Still, there’s more than enough here to warrant a stop at the Tom Clancy cafe. It’s a rare thing for fans of the series to get a focused narrative that doesn’t deviate from the sole main character and makes every page feel like it moves the story along.