Tuesday, October 19, 2004

branching out: book review on Teeth of the Tiger

Hey, I have other interests than politics, you know. Actually, until this season I was pretty much interested in everything OTHER than politics–but some things are more important than my hobbies. However, now that I find myself with a little bit of time on my hands (it wasn’t supposed to be that way, but unfortunately it is), I can write about some other things from my comple Hey tely amateur standpoint. Today’s topic: a book review of Tom Clancy’s THE TEETH OF THE TIGER, the latest in the chronicles of Jack Ryan. . .

. . .which isn’t about the Jack Ryan from Clancy’s earlier books and movies, although he does get mentioned in passing. No, the "new" Jack Ryan is Jack, Jr., son of the former President, fresh out of Georgetown University and looking to do something that "makes a difference". He ends up in the employ of The Campus, a so-underground-that-it-doesn’t-exist organization that adds more eyes (i.e. analysts) to the intelligence community–although this organization has a different purpose than merely analyzing. Set up by then-President Ryan due to his distaste for the bureaucracy that had handcuffed the intel community for the entirety of his career, The Campus is charged with tactically (and covertly) maneuvering in response to the information they gleam through established data collection networks. Also playing prominent roles on Campus are Gerry Hendley (a former Senator that now oversees the activities at the Campus), Tony Mills (who works as the younger Ryan’s training officer and fellow analyst), and Dominic and Brian Caruso, a former FBI special agent and Marine Corps Force Recon officer, respectively, newly recruited to the Campus and charged with doing the actual "dirty work" of the organization.

The storyline briefly goes something like this: the terrorists are seeking new methods and allies in their assault on the American homeland. Likewise, the Americans are seeking new methods and weapons to attack the terrorists. For the terrorists, this means establishing a working relationship with the drug cartels to the south of America to help in "smuggling assets" through the Mexican border, the assets being "believers" willing to sacrifice their lives to inflict harm on Americans. For the Americans, the new methods and weapons mean The Campus. Without giving away too much of the plot, I will tell you that the terrorists brought into America have a simple plan to attack at "middle America"–even stooping so low as to plot against Des Moines! (Imagine the nerve!) Meanwhile, the training of the Campus’ recruits (including Ryan, although his training is not on "field" operations) allows that organization’s planners to start looking at "targets" from the bad guy networks throughout the world.

Now I can only look at this book through the eyes of somebody who has read a lot of Tom Clancy’s fiction works–I think I might have missed one of the prior Jack Ryan books, but the rest of them have a place in my library. And as an experienced Tom Clancy reader, I will boldly say that this is not one of the author’s best works. While Clancy has always been good at establishing background and tension in building up to the main thrust of his stories, the climax to this book falls flat. (Very similar to the thoroughly anti-climatic "major" battle in THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON) And an awful lot of this book, especially in the earliest parts, are sloppy–either repetitive, or poorly edited, or just plain "who cares" material. Clancy does spin a good yarn overall, but I think that is because the material has both applicability to our society today and endless possible angles from which to tell the story. But clearly this is not Clancy at his interested, energetic peak. It is contrived, predictable and empty–unless you rank irony as the most filling of literary tools. While the story as a whole may be "realistic" in it’s accomplishments (talk about realism–the major terrorist plan is something that could easily be on Al Qaeda’s operations dossier right now), this story is nowhere near as interesting or inspired as Clancy’s major successes.

In sum, I would say that this book should be considered for reading by interested parties looking to kill time on a business trip or on long travels–when you won’t be totally disappointed by a book that doesn’t deliver all the goods that you might expect. But if you steal reading time away from other activities and interests, don’t choose this book–there’s nothing here that is worth "stealing".


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