Review: Tom Clancy Under Fire by Grant Blackwood

under fire

About Under Fire

On a routine intelligence gathering mission in Tehran, Jack Ryan, Jr., has lunch with his oldest friend, Seth Gregory, an engineer overseeing a transcontinental railway project. As they part, Seth gives Jack a key, along with a perplexing message.

The next day Jack is summoned to an apartment where two men claim Seth has disappeared—gone to ground with funds for a vital intelligence operation.  Jack’s oldest friend has turned, they insist.

They leave Jack with a warning:  If you hear from Seth Gregory, call us immediately. And do not get involved.

But they don’t know Jack. He won’t abandon a friend in need.

His pursuit of the truth will lead him across Iran, through the war-torn Caucasus, and finally deep into territory coveted by the increasingly aggressive Russian Federation. Along the way, Jack is joined by Seth’s primary agent, Ysabel, a enigmatic Iranian woman who seems to be his only clue to Seth’s whereabouts.

Jack soon finds himself lost in a maze of intrigue, lies, and betrayal where no one is who they seem to be—not even Seth, who’s harboring a secret of his own that harkens back to the Cold War. A secret that is driving him to the brink of treachery.

Racing against the clock, Jack must unravel the mystery: Who is friend and who is foe? Before it’s over, Jack Ryan, Jr., may have to choose between his loyalty to Seth and his loyalty to America.

About the Author

TOM CLANCY was the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of more than a dozen books. He died in October 2013.

The New York Times–bestselling author of the Briggs Tanner series, GRANT BLACKWOOD is also the coauthor of the #1 New York Times bestseller Dead or Alive, with Tom Clancy, and The Kill Switch, with James Rollins. A U.S. Navy Veteran, Grant spent three years aboard a guided missile frigate as an Operations Specialist and a Pilot Rescue Swimmer.

My Thoughts

UNDER FIRE is the latest in the line of posthumous Ryanverse novels in which previous Tom Clancy collaborators and co-writers stake out on their own. I guess it should be noted that one's enjoyment of these works would be dependent on their acceptance of Clancy as a franchise and franchise-generator, rather than as an individual author of unique works. For quite a while now, Clancy's name has adorned work in which he either co-wrote (DEAD OR ALIVE, COMMAND AUTHORITY) or developed the premise (OP CENTER, SPLINTER CELL), or, more recently, as the progenitor of characters and concepts revolving around Jack Ryan, Jack Ryan Jr. and the secret organization known as The Campus, that other writers, namely Mark Greaney and Grant Blackwood, have inherited.

UNDER FIRE, of course, falls squarely in this latter category, so Clancy purists are likely to have a bit of a conniption fit. For whatever it's worth, I have little problem with authors continuing on in Clancy's world and using his characters for officially licensed purposes; as long as the work is good, I'll keep buying. Like I said, the man has grown into more of a franchise staple over the years than anything else, so whoever is actually writing these things is usually secondary to the presence of all the familiar faces and series staples. Now, that said, I've found Greaney to be a much more natural fit, perhaps thanks to his being a more constant companion to Clancy's big name header over the last few years.

Blackwood strikes me as a little less sure footed, and his first solo effort leaves a lot to be desired. But, it's also been a while since he's worked in this world - his last effort was 2012's co-written title DEAD OR ALIVE. Taking the reins single-handedly now, we find Jack Ryan Jr. chasing after a missing friend who may have stolen some money from the CIA operating account, and becomes enmeshed with a coup within the Dagestani government.

What we end up with is a perfectly fine, middle of the road thriller that, unfortunately, lacks much in the way of thrills. This is not a bad book, at least in my own estimation, but it's not particularly good either. It's readable and a decent enough time killer, but it lacks the page-turning drive of your usual Clancy books or the thrills and fast-paced nature of Greaney's works. It's also not as bad as some of Clancy's own solo efforts (I'm looking right at you, RED RABBIT), but it certainly never reaches the pinnacle of Clancy at his best (PATRIOT GAMES, EXECUTIVE ORDERS). If anything, this book might be the perfect example of a Goodreads two-star "It's OK" rating.

Blackwood is clearly trying to hit all the right notes - there's some technical lingo, spies, multinational chicanery, etc. The main problem is that it all feels so small-scale in comparison to what we've been getting previously that it comes across as a rather lightweight affair. The finale strives for the big military blowout between rival nations, but Blackwood doesn't seem to know how to make it all gel and turns toward a more personal touch with a swing back toward spy-vs-spy stuff. Sadly, UNDER FIRE closes out with a gasping whimper instead of a bang.

Clancy is a franchise, and that's never been more clear than in the time since his death. In a world of franchises, this latest effort is a bit more of a plain burger, hold the cheese and ketchup and skip the fries, OK, just give me a fucking salad instead but with a nice thick dressing, standing up against a handful of Baconators. It's OK, but only OK, and you know there's so many other tastier, greasier options for you out there.

The good news is, Greaney will be back soon with COMMANDER IN CHIEF, which I've got high hopes for.


Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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