Mike Maden. Tom Clancy: Point of Contact. New York: Putnam, 2017. Print.
Tom Clancy has been gone for nearly four years, but his characters and President Ryan’s America live on. This Jack Ryan, Jr., novel adds a new but experienced writer to the list of Clancy ghostwriters. How do Mike Maden and Point of Contact compare to the actual Tom Clancy and other writers for the Clancy estate?
Point of Contact, unlike some of the recent pieces, is a true techno-thriller. It hearkens back to Clancy’s more technical novels like Hunt for Red October, The Bear and the Dragon, or even The Cardinal of the Kremlin. The novel is suspenseful and carries the reader along, but there is less physical action and reaction than in some of the other Clancy novels, especially those authorized by the Clancy estate and authored by others. That makes the novel cleaner and more direct in exploring technical possibilities.
Some of the technology described in this novel is probably already available and being used but not yet on a wide scale. As far back as Patriot Games, Clancy had government operatives using satellites in some areas—for example, uninhabited parts of the Libyan desert. Now with drones, fine cameras, and cloud storage, it is possible to have surveillance 24/7 and to be able to rewind stored images to trace the movements of people, vessels, and vehicles. (As an aside, this could be useful for tracing the movements of birds.)
Quantum computing is brand new. Point of Contact notes that it has the potential of making the Internet and communications virtually instantaneous, even at interplanetary distances. Maden—who has written several books on drones—introduces these technologies and explains them in a way that most readers can understand them.
Like other Clancy tales, Point of Contact tells stories of a few events that seem almost prophetic. Guess which country in this book is rattling its sabers and openly threatening the United States? In this week’s news and in Point of Contact, it is none other than North Korea. Only in the novel, the submarine-launched missile which threatens Guam is a feint for the real DPRK plan: a massive cyberattack that will send the world’s powers into an economic meltdown.
As we saw North Korean agents kill a member of the Korean royal family in Malaysia, so most of Point of Contact takes place in nearby Singapore. In this case, an American conglomerate is thinking of purchasing the Dalfan Corporation, a Singaporean high tech company whose president Gordon Fairchild could be a character in Crazy Rich Asians. A former U. S. Senator who had worked for the CIA and is currently a board member of the American firm has hired Hendley Associates to do an analysis of Dalfan’s finances and practices.
I was reminded of a conversation I once had with a friend who worked for a well-known consulting firm. He was telling me about some of his assignments which prompted someone to ask in so many words, “What is the difference between consulting and industrial espionage?” He just smiled and raised his eyebrows.
So Clancy readers know that Hendley Associates has a public side and a clandestine side (“The Campus”). This time Mr. Hendley himself assigns Paul Brown, an older but physically out of shape top auditor, as the public side accountant. Jack Ryan, Jr., who is an experienced financial researcher, is also sent to Singapore to give him a break from his usual cloak and dagger work. Except, of course, we can be sure that it is not going to end up to be much of a break.
Jack discovers a couple of Dalfan warehouses that are off the grid. Even the Fairchilds (Gordon, his son Yong, and his daughter Lian) deny any knowledge of these places. Meanwhile the ex-Senator has asked Brown to plant a Trojan Horse program in the Dalfan mainframe to insure that they are not hiding anything. Before he manages to do that, Brown discovers a lot of QC (quantum computing) sales to China—something that would be against the law if Dalfan were purchased by an American company and even questionable in Singapore, which is decidedly pro-Western.
From time to time different bad guys show up to cause trouble. Though Dalfan is told he is a financial analyst, Ryan is able to hold his own with most of these thugs. This makes Lian Fairchild suspect that Ryan is hiding something and makes Yong Fairchild think he is up to no good and should be sent home immediately or killed.
In typical Clancy style, the bad guys are from a variety of nations, in this case Australia, North Korea, China, Bulgaria, and Germany. The apartment where Ryan and Brown are staying is broken into more than once. The Singapore police also break into their apartment looking for drugs. Oh, and a rare typhoon is bearing down on Singapore as well.
This is a lot of fun. It is escapist but based on realistic technological advances at the same time. The plot could have come from Clancy himself. From what I have seen of the posthumous works from the Clancy estate, matching Mark Greaney’s style with Mike Maden’s plotting might make a novel that would be indistinguishable from the work Clancy himself.