an american navigator in london
I took Tom Clancy’s Red Rabbit to London with me, a borrowed hardback copy, which was a pain to carry around but worth it. It’s not a return to his old style, he’s introducing more subtle real-world detail in his recent books, but he’s clearly had fun filling in a major gap in the story of his main character Jack Ryan, whose CIA career is just starting to take off at the time of the story, 1982. The background is the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II, and Red Rabbit is an attempt at creating a “back story” behind the real events. Historically, of course, the attempt did take place.
Without giving the story away, then, Red Rabbit is almost a prequel to Clancy’s later novels, offering a chance to expand on his other interesting characters, most notably the Foleys, the husband-and-wife team that later jointly came to run the CIA after years in the trenches. I’m not sure how wise it was to hook his narrative up to real history, but I can hardly fault the storytelling. Red Rabbit is almost up there with The Cardinal Of The Kremlin as Clancy’s best work, I think. He’s no Shakespeare, but he’s not John Updike or Philip Roth either, two Pulitzer Prize winners that I have found almost unreadable.
Clancy just about passes the British Geography test that American writers can easily fall foul of (see 2 Dec 2002 blog). He has the Ryans living in Chatham in Kent, travelling to London via Victoria station, which is correct. He then blows it by having Jack Ryan driven from near Manchester to Chatham in half an hour – not a chance, since it’s over a hundred and fifty miles, with London as an obstacle that would necessitate taking the M25. Two hours would be a minimum at high speed, more likely three. Close, but no cigar, Tom.