So, having read enough science fiction books for now, I decided to re-enter the world of espionage with The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy. The first book to feature Jack Ryan (by publication date), Red October spawned a pretty successful movie and a very successful film and novel series. But the story is so much more than the garden variety, James Bond-esque, spy thriller. It offers both a commentary on, and a fascinating jaunt through, the Cold War and the ideology and intrigue that drove it.
The Hunt for Red October is told from the point of view of numerous people but most notably Jack Ryan, an American intelligence officer, and Captain Raimus of Red October. Red October is a new type of undetectable submarine built by the soviets, but the crew of the new submarine (led by Captain Raimus) have decided to defect to the United States with the new sub. The Soviets launch much of their navy in pursuit of the Red October, and the Americans launch their’s against what looks to be a full scale invasion. What ensues is a brilliant saga of intelligence and counter intelligence, as both the Americans and the Soviets obfuscate, figure out what is going on, and try to use the situation to their advantage.
Being too young to have experienced the Cold War first hand, this was an interesting read for me. Of course I have read about the CIA, J. Edgar Hoover and McCarthyism in America; and the Gulag and the KGB in Russia. But this was something else. This wasn’t a dry account of the distrust and intrigue. Clancy has brought life to the prejudices and fears of both the Americans and Russians. Derogatory terms like “Imperialist” and “Ivan” are peppered throughout, but instead of feeling contrived like in some stories, I start to picture the animosity. Clancy has captured the essence of nationalism, ideology and power that drove the Cold War, and packaged it in a format that offers so much more than history books.
Clancy also manages to bring life and a bit of realism to the world of military thrillers. More than a spy thriller, this is also a story about submarines. Much of the ‘action’ takes place in the subtle maneuvering of ships and other gestures. There aren’t car chases or super villains, nor assassins or other such hokey literary devices that proliferate in many suspense books, rather the story is driven by subtle military game play. It requires a bit more attention and imagination, but you are rewarded with suspense that is not just palpable, but riveting.
All in all I enjoyed this book very much, and I feel like I have learned a bit from it as well. So much more than your ordinary Spy thriller, this is a real adventure behind the scenes of the Cold War. About the only downside I can see is it’s length, but if you have the time, even that isn’t that much of a bother. I don’t have any more Clancy books lined up, but I will look to get some, and I suggest that you do too.
Title: The Hunt for Red October
Author: Tom Clancy
Pages: 672 (Paperback)
Josh’s Rating: 4/5
Amazon Link: The Hunt for Red October