My Favorite Novelist: Tom Clancy

In 1986, when I was a freshman in college, my American history professor – impressed by a book report I’d done on Gordon W. Prange’s At Dawn We Slept – took me aside after class and said, “You seem to have a great interest in books about naval warfare and military subjects; why don’t you read a novel titled The Hunt for Red October? It’s right up your alley.”

Coincidentally, I’d seen the paperback edition of Tom Clancy’s first novel several times at the campus book store, but because I had read – and not liked – quite a few books in what was to be called the “techno-thriller’ genre, I always put The Hunt for Red October back in the rack, thinking that it would be just a silly rip-off of James Bond.

After my prof’s recommendation, however, I bought The Hunt for Red October, which – despite Clancy’s unpolished style and some intrinsic idiosyncrasies – turned out to be an exciting and eye-opening glimpse into the worlds of intelligence-gathering and the military – particularly the U.S. Navy

The novel, written in the early 1980s when Clancy was an insurance salesman in Maryland, introduced readers to CIA analyst John Patrick Ryan, Sr., a former Marine second lieutenant who became independently wealthy as a stockbroker but joined the Central Intelligence Agency because he wanted to continue serving his country.

Ryan – the central character in what is now known as the Ryanverse,- was created by Clancy to be the antithesis of Fleming’s James Bond. Where Britain’s 007 is forever a bachelor who beds different women in every story (or so it seems) and doesn’t really evolve, Ryan is a believable “Everyman” character who balances his duty to his country to his responsibilities as a family man even as his career takes him from his cubicle at CIA headquarters in Langley, VA to the Oval Office as President of the United States,

Though some of his later novels – namely Red Rabbit and The Teeth of the Tiger – proved to be somewhat disappointing, Clancy remains my favorite novelist because he still can tell realistic stories that blend action, espionage, military themes and political intrigue in a believable fashion.

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