The Hunt for Red October (Jack Ryan #1 or 3, depending), by Tom Clancy

Please note, I referenced various book sources to determine where this novel fell in the Jack Ryan collection. None could agree, so I listed both options, chronologically written and chronological to the protagonist’s life.

Eight stars

When asked if I would buddy read this Tom Clancy classic, I jumped at the chance. While the book’s title was familiar to me, I have to admit that I have never taken the time to read any of Clancy’s work. This was a sensational Cold War thriller, with all the key elements to keep patient readers on the edge of their seats. When a well-armed Russian nuclear submarine is on its way to the East Coast of the United States, few know that its captain has plans to defect. After the Russians learn this, they hope to stop things quickly and recover their prized maritime weapon. The Americans are privy to this through a leak in the Soviet government, but do not wish to tip their hand. Now, it’s a matter of getting the captain and his crew safely into the hands of the Americans, while capturing the submarine, all before the Russians learn of the plan. It’s sure to be a race, as both sides stare one another down and hope not to push the world to the brink of war on the high seas. A great introduction to Clancy’s world for anyone with time and patience to dedicate to this novel.

In the bleak North Atlantic, the Red October, a Soviet submarine with exceptional firepower, inches closer to the East Coast of the United States. It’s mission is not entirely clear, but the payload aboard could cause havoc in the blink of an eye. The Cold War may be a period of detente, but all that could change quickly.

Captain Mario Ramius is guiding Red October on its mission, stealthily crossing the Atlantic with hopes of making landfall before too long. However, Ramius has a secret, one that he has not shared with many. He wishes to defect and is happy to take his crew with him. While his family has strong ties to Soviet Russia, he cannot stomach the direction in which his government is taking the nation and has high hopes of living freely in America.

While the Russians have been made aware of this, they must act carefully. They need to get Ramius and Red October back before anyone is aware of what is going on. All the while, the Americans have been tipped off to what’s going on and have plans to help Ramius and get their hands on Red October, as well as all it holds. This will allow them a better idea of Soviet technology and submarine advancements.

Trying to play it cool, both sides send ships into the open waters, in hopes of keeping things somewhat light and discreet. This includes a CIA operative, Dr. Jack Ryan, whose background in naval history will help the Americans on their mission. Ryan has not served and is not keen to be pulled into this battle, but knows that he must serve his country as best he can. Armed with an academic’s mind, Ryan will have to attempt to inform the higher-ups as the Soviet ships inch closer.

While both sides are calm on the surface, it’s a panic to locate Red October and bring her in. Ramius is becoming more worried as the days pass, wondering if his plan will work, or whether he will be captured and sent to the gulags. The Americans are keen to get their hands on the technology and will do whatever it takes to get their hands on it, even if that means sacrificing some of their own.

When things come to a head, it’s a political stare down like no other, pitting American freedom against Soviet order. Neither side is keen to open the proverbial can of worms, but possession of the Red October is essential and must be achieved. The hunt for this submarine could push the world to the brink, though no one is blinking quite yet. A chilling Cold War tale that had me turning pages and wondering what was to come. Clancy has me intrigued and I will surely be back to discover more!

While I am aware of Tom Clancy and how Hollywood got their hands on his books to turn them into feature films, there was never a push for me to read the vast collection. I love espionage and Cold War stories, but always shied away, as I have little knowledge of anything marine related. I was told the book was which technical in places and worried that I would be lost as I tried to stay afloat, if you pardon the pun. That, and I always had a massive pile of books around me. But, as luck would have it, when asked to buddy read this with a dear friend, I could not resist.

While the book explores both sides of the Cold War clash, Jack Ryan does prove to be somewhat of the protagonist. An academic who has great knowledge of maritime history, he is tapped to help guide the Americans through this clash with their Soviet counterparts. Clancy develops the Ryan character well, keeping his backstory and some development constant throughout the novel. I was intrigued about how he would fit into the larger narrative and saw that Clancy did not want him to steal the show, using many characters to push the story along.

The large number of characters and settings used in this novel help to make it even better. This is a story told through the eyes of many men, from two countries, pushing clashing ideological beliefs. All this drips from each page, as the reader is immersed in the politic from the very beginning. The battles are numerous, if only on paper, and Clancy heightens them with strong characters throughout the story. Ramius is but one whose struggles come to light throughout the book.

Many of the reviews and comments that I have read regarding this book point to its technical nature. While I agree that Clancy does get ‘into the dirt’ when it comes to marine technology and life on a submarine, it is essential to capture the true essence of the story and struggles. This detailed narrative is not for the impatient (of whom I see there are many who choose only to make one-liner comments as reviews) or those wanting something quick. Like a submarine, this is a slow a deliberate trolling through the narrative to build up a sense of urgency. It is, perhaps, the duelling perspectives that really capture the greatness of this book. Clancy offers accounts on both sides, providing the reader with something in-depth to really see how both sides struggle throughout. The characters were on point and I found myself intrigued by how they saw things developing. Clancy uses detailed chapters to really get to the heart of the matter, which might explain why some have found it overly long winded. However, that is, to me, an essential part of the process, particularly if it is not to be a one-sided affair. I am intrigued to see how Jack Ryan fits into the larger narrative and what will come of him. While I cannot commit to binge-reading the entire series, I will be back to see how Jack Ryan develops as a character and what else Clancy has to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Clancy, for opening my eyes with this stellar piece of fiction. I cannot wait to explore a little more, when time permits. A perfect buddy read for someone who knows so little and will be able to question a new recruit to the US Navy!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: