Mark Greaney. Tom Clancy Commander in Chief. New York: Putnam, 2015. Print.
Commander in Chief is the latest “Tom Clancy” novel, and it is the best since Clancy himself passed away. This is the kind of yarn (to use President Reagan’s term) that made readers fall in love with Clancy’s books. It even has Russian submarines!
Russian Premier Volodin, a stand-in for Putin, is trying to build on his successes in the Ukraine and getting NATO to stand down in Eastern Europe. His only problem is that the prices of oil and natural gas have tanked, so the country and its billionaires are not prospering.
An explosion at a natural gas facility in Lithuania, the assassination of a Saudi oil minister in Los Angeles, even the apparent harassment of the President’s son Jack Ryan, Jr., by an Italian paparazzo are all attempts to raise the price of oil and natural gas by Russian surrogates. When a Russian military train en route to the Kaliningrad Oblast is attacked in Lithuania, Russia uses this as a grounds for war—even though they instigated the attack as well as an attempt to kidnap an American diplomat in Lithuania by Russia-trained Serbians.
Yes, there are echoes of Red Storm Rising here, though now there is no international Communist cause, just the desire for money and power. Russia has developed submarines and tanks more sophisticated than any in the West. Volodin is confident.
Typical of the Clancy style, there are multiple interconnected plots. Dom Caruso and Ding Chavez are in Poland, Germany, Lithuania, and Brussels. Jack Ryan, Jr., goes from Italy to Luxembourg. Jack Clark is in the British Virgin Islands. War, espionage, diplomacy, and high finance all appear in this novel.
Jack, Jr., is a forensic economist. He is tracking laundered Russian money through Italian art galleries when he stumbles upon something bigger. Volodin himself is putting away much of his own billions through untraceable Bitcoin transactions. Is this a Plan B or just a sign that Volodin really does not trust anyone?
Besides some new submarine technology, which may or may not be real, we get hints of some more sophisticated ways of waging war. Not only do we have crypto-currencies like Bitcoin which are nearly impossible to trace, but there is also a new GPS-based mapping technique in which computers can help station soldiers in very specific positions in anticipation of the likeliest direction and type of attack on any geographic position.
Greaney’s writing style is a bit different from Clancy’s, and that is fine. He has found a voice. And he wisely does not focus too much on Jack Ryan, Sr. Ryan will always be Clancy’s creation, and he cannot change him too much. Alas, Jack Ryan is probably a far superior president than any the United States has had in recent decades. Fiction is the stuff that dreams are made on.
The title might be a bit ironic. The book is far more about Volodin, the Russian Commander in Chief, than it is about Ryan. However, Ryan appears to have better advisors and is clearly more interested in the well being of the United States than any personal power, reputation, or wealth.
A couple of things that longtime technodudes and technodudesses will enjoy: One featured naval vessel is the USS James Greer, named for one the main characters in the early Clancy novels, Admiral Greer. And one line of realpolitik given by Volodin when asked by a Russian news reporter if Lithuania would accept the presence of the Russian Army in their territory: “Tanks don’t need visas” (303)—echoes of Stalin’s remark, “How many divisions does the Pope have?”