Marc Cameron. Tom Clancy: Power and Empire. New York: Putnam, 2017. Print.
The Tom Clancy estate keeps cranking out the Jack Ryan novels, and this reviewer still enjoys them. Power and Empire, I am happy to say, has a little bit of Coast Guard action at the beginning of the story. Like many Clancy novels there are actors in its plot from all over: Indonesian pirates, Chinese politicians and triads, Mexican white slavers, and even an African terrorist.
It appears as though someone is trying to get a rise out of President Ryan and his administration with respect to China. It is hard to tell whether these perceived hostilities originate with Premier Zhao (who does resemble Premier Xi in many ways), other Chinese, the Taiwanese, or Islamists who disrespect both parties.
A Chinese super container ship catches fire in a mysterious manner while off the Washington coast in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. A Taiwanese with a Chinese passport (or is he really Chinese pretending to be Taiwanese?) seems to appear in a number of unusual places where trouble is happening. He may be connected with that disaster at sea as well as an attempt by Indonesian pirates to rob an American yacht and torpedo an American naval vessel that tries to rescue the yacht.
He also shows up in Texas where he seems to have a connection with some procurers and human traffickers. Then he is in Argentina at the time and near the place where a bomb has killed treasury secretaries of four different countries. The Chinese treasury secretary is injured in the blast but survives.
Jack Ryan, Jr., and his co-workers from the Campus (a.k.a. Hendley Associates) encounter him in South Texas where he seems to have more than a casual connection with some procurers, smugglers, and prostitutes in that area. He likes prostitutes who are underage.
Got all of that?
This story moves fast in the Clancy tradition. It flips back and forth to the different people and locations, and it keeps the reader turning its pages.
Longtime Clancy fans may recall Debt of Honor. It was an outlier in the Clancy canon. It focuses on a personal vendetta carried out by the mysterious John Clark against people who raped and murdered a friend of his. It is far and away the most violent of the Clancy tales and had little to do with either technology or politics. It was no technothriller.
Parts of Power and Empire share some of those graphically violent traits. There are few scenes that can only be described as cruel. We are introduced to people from the FBI who track children who have been sold into slavery. Many such young prostitutes of both sexes often end up in the United States where they can make more money. We do sympathize with Agent Callahan of the FBI who tracks down such people. The reader may ask, “Who does such things?” Alas, plenty of people do.
As an aside, one of this reviewer’s first encounters with an openly homosexual adult, the wealthy businessman boasted how he was connected to a ring that brought boys from Central America to homosexuals in the United States. Cameron would have us see that things have not changed in forty years.
It is also clear that the USA-China relationship matters a lot to the story. The two countries respect and mistrust each other at the same time. I recall my time in China as a teacher being told, “Chinese-American friendship has a long history and will endure a long time,” but also being asked, “Why are our two countries always enemies?” That curious ambiguity of the relationship between what are becoming the world’s two main superpowers drives this story as well—from both the American and Chinese perspectives.
Power and Empire is the first Jack Ryan novel by Marc Cameron, author of the Jericho Quinn novels. He channels Clancy’s style very well. Cameron’s background is with the U.S. Marshals’ Service. His description of human trafficking is new to the “Clancy” novels but no doubt reflects his own knowledge and experience of the subject. It is disturbing, but perhaps such things ought to disturb us.