On October 1, 2013, author Tom Clancy passed away at the age of 66. His last novel, Command Authority, co-written with Mark Greaney, was published by Putnam on December 2. The author gained immediate recognition with the publication of The Hunt for Red October in 1984. The Cold War-era novel was claimed by then-President Ronald Regan as "unputdownable" and soon made Clancy a household name. Several of his Jack Ryan novels, and the stand-alone work Red Storm Rising, owed much to the threat and paranoia of communism and told tales of US spies versus KGB agents and military heroes battling Russian enemies. As policies shifted following the fall of the Iron Curtain, Clancy adapted and responded to the new threats against American sovereignty: the war on drugs and the Columbian and Mexican cartels (Clear and Present Danger, and more recently in Against All Enemies), nuclear proliferation and dirty bombs exploded on US territory, trade wars turned into shooting wars, potential hostilities from Asian forces, and the frightening possibility of suicide bombing via hijacked airliners (a premonition in 1994's Debt of Honor that was ultimately realized by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001).
However, in the wake of 9/11, it seemed that Clancy may have been lost in the new world order of terrorism. His 2003 novel, The Teeth of the Tiger, was a reaction to the shift toward non-state enemies and established a new hero, Jack Ryan, Jr., and the covert mission of The Campus, which operated independently of government oversight and gleaned intel by spying on the country's establish spying agencies. But after that book, Clancy's output dried up until 2010's release of Dead or Alive (which I reviewed here). It was a direct continuation of The Teeth of the Tiger and resolved the former novel's dangling plot threads. After going radio silent for so long after nearly 20 years of regular output, it was relief to see a new Clancy novel hit the shelves once more. With his return came multiple co-authors, most notably Mark Greaney, but also Peter Telep and Grant Blackwood, who helped ensure an annual release for the last four years.
The gap between The Teeth of Tiger and Dead or Alive allowed other authors, like Vince Flynn (who also, tragically, died this year) and Brad Thor, to fill the void and introduce their own heroes to confront the threat of terrorism head-on. Clancy and his co-writers resurrected the Jack Ryan franchise and proved that the old war-horses still had a place in our evolving political climate.
It is fitting, then, that Clancy's final novel would return readers to the old stomping grounds that laid out his claim to fame back in the 80s. The threat in Command Authority, a 700-plus pager (voluminous novels being another trait synonymous with the author), is once again Russia and a stronger, reestablished KGB-like agency operating under the guise of the FSB. A Putin-like Russian president is making aggressive moves to reclaim USSR territory, while Jack Ryan Jr. investigates that country's shady financial corruption. President Ryan is drawn into the conflict when his old friend, and ex-KGB spy Sergei Golovko, is killed by radiation poisoning. Caught on the front lines in Ukraine are retired CIA agents, turned Campus operators, John Clark and Ding Chavez, who are chasing down a Russian mafia goon known as Gleb the Scar and aiding a CIA field office.
In what may be a first for Clancy, the book frequently hops back in time to tell a thirty-year old story from Jack Ryan's time as a CIA analyst in England. His past, and the investigation into an illusive KGB assassin known only as Zenith, has much bearing on the current turbulence. These flashbacks sketch in a period of Ryan's life following the events of Patriot Games and Red Rabbit, further book-ending the Ryan series as a whole in what is now Clancy's last words with the character. Should this turn out to be the final novel in the Jack Ryan series, Command Authority is a satisfying conclusion to a nearly-30 year legacy.
As with previous novels, Clancy and Greaney exhibit an authentic understanding of military engagements and political savvy. And like his past work, despite the lengthy page count, it's a rip-roaring good story that will keep readers turning the pages to see how things unfold and play out. It's always a joy to be let in on the secret world of espionage and the trade-craft of a spy, and the authors help bring readers into this world with their 'boots on the ground' approach. The bullets hit too close, and the danger is palatable. There's a confidence amongst the operators, both the fictional sort as well as the authors whose name's grace the hardcover jacket, that has been honed by years of training and fighting in the trenches, and they operate like well-oiled machines, performing with extreme precision and professionalism. It's a solid note for Clancy to end on, and a chance for Greaney (who has built a reputation as a skilled author with his Grey Man series, which revolves around a disgraced CIA agent) to, perhaps, continue building the legacy going forward.
Whether or not this is the last Jack Ryan novel remains to be seen. USA Today recently reported that the adventures of Jack Ryan and the Campus operators may continue, citing a statement released by Ivan Held, the president of Putnam, who hopes "Jack Ryan and The Campus team can live on." Greaney, who has now co-authored three of the last four Jack Ryan novels, seems like a logical successor and has been well-groomed to handle the franchise, should the Clancy estate allow it. It seems quite likely given the legacy of the Clancy-brand, which has spread out into movies, video games, and spin-off novels like Op-Center and Splinter Cell (based off the video game series of the same name). In January, Chris Pine will take center-stage as the latest actor to portray Jack Ryan on film with the release of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.