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The Teeth of the Tiger
Tom Clancy's new generation of heroes
By Steven Martinovich
President Jack Ryan is retired and writing his memoirs, ex-black ops soldier John Clark is now in the private sector, and a new cast of characters has assumed power in Washington, D.C. For most writers the end of a defining character's career would spell the end of a franchise. For Tom Clancy, himself a franchise, that merely presents new opportunities. Jack Ryan has been replaced by Jack Ryan, or to be more accurate Jack Ryan Jr.
The Teeth of the Tiger follows the standard Clancy formula of good guys who are not only competent at their jobs but the best at what they do and bad guys who are clever but never clever enough to achieve final victory over the United States, the tiger the book's title refers to. Given that the outcome isn't in question, it's the journey to the resolution that has to grip us. Clancy's latest effort isn't entirely successful but it does entertain.
The novel opens with a loose alliance being formed between two of America's enemies, one that results in savage terrorist attacks committed on U.S. soil. The response comes not from the U.S. government but rather an organization of questionable legality set up by President Ryan that exists completely outside the system. Hendley Associates is ostensibly a respectable firm that trades in international currencies but secretly it identifies America's enemies and formulates plans to deal with them.
Of course, an organization as this would need to be staffed by the best and the brightest and it eventually attracts a curious Jack Ryan Jr., the former president's 21-year old son. It also recruits his cousins, Dominic and Brian Caruso, who have distinguished themselves in the FBI and the Marines respectively and who will serve as the organization's rapiers. The three young men quickly become enmeshed in the effort to find the men responsible for the terrorist attacks and settle the score.
The techno-thriller genre has always relied on the veneer of realism to sustain itself and few have mastered it as well as Clancy. It's almost foolhardy for a reviewer to debate how realistic any techno-thriller novel really is. The Teeth of the Tiger is probably no more plausible than the female equivalent of a romance novel and yet in that sense is successful by serving its purpose of escapism. Despite that even devoted fans might raise their eyebrows more than once this time around at some of what Clancy attempts to sell them on.
No one reads a novel like The Teeth of the Tiger expecting well-developed character arcs -- or realistic characters for that matter -- and they won't find it here either. As usual, the characters serve to drive the story and while Clancy relies less on high-technology this time around than he has in the past it still plays its expected role. Instead of smart bombs and armies the heroes rely on computers and new weapons. What hasn't changed is the clearly defined moral universe that his characters inhabit. There is good and evil with not much ground left over for the mushy gray area to cover. In the real world the good guys rarely win their battles in a clear cut manner as Afghanistan and Iraq have proved.
If The Teeth of the Tiger does have a serious failing it's with its pacing, a surprising development for a Clancy novel. It begins promisingly enough but then takes its time getting to its raison d'être, the inflicting of vengeance by the good guys. When it finally does occur it feels rushed and stumbles to an ending that doesn't seem quite complete but clearly sets the stage for the next novel in the Ryan -- now Ryan family -- saga. The novel certainly does a competent job of engrossing the reader but it's an inferior effort compared to many of Clancy's earlier works. It's not a disappointment but it does leave the reader less satisfied.
It's not surprising perhaps that Clancy decided to move his franchise past the character that kick started his career with The Hunt for Red October. It's a different world today with different enemies for America to prevail over and new threats call for new men to answer them. Whether Jack Ryan Jr. and the Carusos have the same weight as Clancy's first round of heroes remains to be seen.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.
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