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the cardinal of the kremlin

The Cardinal of the Kremlin (Jack Ryan #4) by Tom Clancy.

From Goodreads:

In a rolling sea off the coast of South America, a target disappears in a puff of green light. In the Soviet hills of Dushanbe near the Afghanistan border, an otherworldly array of pillars and domes rises into the night. To the two greatest nations on earth, no contest is more urgent than the race to build the first Star Wars missile defense system, and no one knows that more than the two men charged with assessing the Soviets’ capabilities: Colonel Mikhail Filitov of the Soviet Union, an old-line warrior distrusted by the army’s new inner circle of technocrats, and CIA analyst Jack Ryan, hero of the Red October affair.

Each must use all his craft to arrive at the truth, but Filitov gets there first — and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Because Filitov, code-named Cardinal, is America’s highest agent in the Kremlin, and he is about to be betrayed to the KGB. His rescue could spell the difference between peace and war, and it is up to Jack Ryan to accomplish it — if he can — as, in a breathtaking sequence of hunter and hunted, Filitov’s life, and Ryan’s and that of the world itself literally hang in the balance.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I’ve been disappointed by many of the previous books in the series but this was very good. There is much more of a storyline and much less mind numbing technical and military detail. Altogether there are three strands to the story with a CIA, Russian and Afghan element. I would have liked to have seen more development of the Afghan storyline but it’s there for a plot line purpose and just serves that.

Refreshingly in this story Clancy spends much less time degrading Soviet society and highlighting its faults. It still comes across as a corrupt and faulty society both socially and politically but more as part of the story and not rammed in the reader’s face. Additionally, the book is chock full of strong characters and a good number of these are on the Soviet side this time. The most notable is the old war hero Misha but the young soldier Bondarenko and the KGB investigator Vatutin are also excellent characters. In many ways the Soviets are the stars of this book while Ryan himself is in more of a supporting role.

I also particularly enjoyed the espionage of the first half of the book. There is a great sense of pace and tension as well as a good insight into the operations of both the CIA and KGB spy networks, how the agents operated and how they passed along information while staying undetected. Considering the disappointment of Red Rabbit this was a much better and more enjoyable book.

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red rabbit

Red Rabbit (Jack Ryan #2) by Tom Clancy

From Goodreads:

Long before he was President or head of the CIA, before he fought terrorist attacks on the Super Bowl or the White House, even before a submarine named Red October made its perilous way across the Atlantic, Jack Ryan was an historian, teacher, and recent ex-Marine temporarily living in England while researching a book. A series of deadly encounters with an IRA splinter group had brought him to the attention of the CIA’s Deputy Director, Vice Admiral James Greer—as well as his counterpart with the British SIS, Sir Basil Charleston—and when Greer asked him if he wanted to come aboard as a freelance analyst, Jack was quick to accept. The opportunity was irresistible, and he was sure he could fit it in with the rest of his work.

And then Jack forgot all about the rest of his work, because one of his first assignments was to help debrief a high-level Soviet defector, and the defector told an amazing tale: Top Soviet officials, including Yuri Andropov, were planning to assassinate the Pope, John Paul II.

Could it be true? As the days and weeks go by, Ryan must battle, first to try to confirm the plot, and then to prevent it, but this is a brave new world, and nothing he has done up to now has prepared him for the lethal game of cat-and-mouse that is the Soviet Union versus the United States. In the end, it will be not just the Pope’s life but the stability of the Western world that is at stake. . . and it may already be too late for a novice CIA analyst to do anything about it.

My Rating: ⭐⭐

I really struggled with this. The writing is slow and ponderous. The storyline has so much potential for excitement and intrigue with the CIA v KGB to bring across a high level defector and based around an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. However, Clancy manages to make it dull and boring.

There is far too much boring detail, far too much to and fro on inconsequential details and far too many characters with minor roles that make it difficult to follow. The main characters are unlikeable. There is a consistent arrogance from everyone towards the culture and traditions of everyone else that gets wearisome very quickly. Ryan and his wife have a particularly condescending attitude towards British life and portray what appears to be a serious personal issue of Clancy’s towards the NHS that is jarring and doesn’t contribute to the story.

The only likeable character in the whole story is Oleg, the Russian defector with a developing conscience around the assassination of the Pope and his desire for a better life for his family.

I struggle to see why this book became a #1 bestseller. I wonder what the competition at the time was?

Header image by Ricardo Esquivel from Pexels