Tom Clancy and Mark Greaney. Locked On. New York: Putnam, 2011. Print.
I have been a fan of Tom Clancy from the days of Hunt for Red October. This last book did not disappoint. Sometimes called the originator of the techno-thriller, Clancy gets it. Twenty years ago when the Internet was made up of bulletin boards and online services like Prodigy and CompuServe, there were already online fan clubs of Clancy. Back then they called themselves technodudes (and “dudesses”). I was one back then.
Thanks to my time in what Flannery O’Connor called “the arm service of his country,” I became familiar with two arms of the “arm service”: submarines and the Coast Guard. Clancy’s first book, Hunt for Red October, portrayed submarines and their technology honestly and realistically. My favorite Clancy novel, Clear and Present Danger, Clancy gets the Coast Guard, too.
Locked On gets it, too. Here, though, it is not a particular branch of the service—it has been a long time since Clark and Chavez were in the SEALs or Special Forces. This book portrays another part of American culture which I have had some firsthand experience with and most of us know from the so-called mainstream media—the cultural elites. Clancy has lived most of his life just outside the beltway. He gets that, too.
Clancy’s original protagonist, Jack Ryan, is running for president to try to regain the office from President Ed Kealty who defeated him four years before. Though Ryan himself hardly appears in the story, some Kealty operatives are trying to make Ryan look bad by outing American spies Clark, Chavez, and Jack Ryan, Jr. The eminence grise behind this is Paul Laska, educated in a former Warsaw Pact nation, immigrated to the United States, earned a fortune on Wall Street, and now financing all kinds of causes that support a socialistic “empirical” big government. Any resemblance between Mr. Laska and George Soros is probably entirely intentional.
There is also a terrorist plot or two brewing involving some of the action heroes and spies in Pakistan, others in Russia, and eventually in Dagestan, a traditionally Muslim region of Russia trying to gain independence in the name of the Caliphate. There are some stops in Egypt, Qatar, and France. Vintage Clancy.
Although not as devastating as the successful terrorist actions in The Sum of All Fears and Debt of Honor, Clancy does inject a dose of realism. The good guys do not completely thwart the bad guys. Still, there is a satisfying ending that exudes irony and/or poetic justice. While nothing can beat the ending of Rainbow Six for that, Locked On has some fun at the end. Like some of Clancy’s other stories, you know there will be more coming on Clark, Chavez, the Ryans, and their cohorts. There are still too many loose ends.
Two of the major plot threads are interesting variations of plot devices Clancy has used before. Yet they are different enough that they cannot be called retreads or formulas. A male-female relationship develops with one person falling in love with a spy. This is reminiscent of the couple in The Bear and the Dragon. But it is not a traditional “honey trap,” and the spy and the victim are both agents for the same country. There is an interagency mistrust, and we are not completely clear at the end of the book exactly who the spy is working for and what the spy’s motivations are. Is Mary Pat Foley trying to bring Ryan down? Say it ain’t so, Tom! We will not know until Threat Vector (maybe).
One of the major players in Locked On is a variation of Captain Marko Ramius, the commanding officer of the submarine Red October. The Captain, you may recall, was considered a Great Russian on his Soviet internal passport. His father had been a high-ranking military hero, so he was granted the privilege of being called Russian even though he was Lithuanian. Captain Ramius, though, identified with Lithuania more than the U.S.S.R.. When he sailed Red October to North America, he did for the sake of his overrun homeland to thwart Soviet imperial designs.
In Locked On Georgi Safronov is considered a native Russian in post-Soviet Russia. He is a wealthy industrialist who has made his fortune designing missiles and rockets both for the Russians and for businesses all over the world who need satellites launched. However, Safronov knows that he was adopted by a Russian couple from an orphanage in Dagestan and that his birth parents would have been Muslim. He begins to identify with Dagestan and secretly trains with a hardened corps of Dagestani freedom fighters with connections to the Pakistan security service and Al Qaeda.
Like Captain Ramius, Safronov identifies with a minority that has been subjugated by the Russians. However, instead of trying to disable a war machine like Ramius, Safronov tries to start a war—indeed, two wars. If there are formulas, there are enough variations that the stories are anything but retreads.