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22 January 2016

Tom Clancy: Patriot Games (A Jack Ryan Novel, Book 1)

The start of the Jack Ryan saga
It's interesting to revisit a key bestseller that you first read over 30 years ago. This is the first in the Tom Clancy's long-running series about Jack Ryan, which has even been continued after Clancy's recent death via the pen of Mark Greaney.

Jack Ryan is visiting London on vacation with his eye surgeon wife Catherine and 4-year-old daughter Sally when they find themselves close to a terrorist attack by the Ulster Liberation Army on a Rolls Royce driving through St James Park. After the terrorists have blown up the front of the car with a grenade they start moving in firing machine guns, intent on capturing the people in the back of the car. In seconds, Ryan tackles one of the attackers and kills another but is seriously injured.  He didn't realise until later that the occupants of the car are the Prince and Princess of Wales and their infant son.

This fantasy opening makes Ryan and his family close friends to the Royal Family and the Queen gives him an honorary Knighthood for his bravery. While the captured Irish terrorist Sean Miller is given life imprisonment, with the help of the ULA he escapes when being moved to a high-security prison. Miller vows that he will eliminate Ryan and capture the Prince.

The rest of the book details Ryan's determination to find Miller and defeat the ULA and to do this he reluctantly accepts an invitation to work at the CIA. Miller pops up again in the US, targeting Catherine and Jack. Later on, he continues his vendetta against Ryan and the Prince with a stunning bloody gunfight at the end.

I enjoyed going back to the start of the Jack Ryan saga and to read Clancy when he was at the top of his form. Some aspects of the book are dated (for example, terrorism was considered to always have political motives) and technology is fairly primitive. My main reservation is that Clancy's writing style is pretty ponderous and detailed. In those days, we expected blockbuster novels to be 800 pages but now we would expect this kind of story to be a compelling 400-500 page-turner.

My other reservation is Clancy's inclusion of real people in the plot in fictitious situations, especially the Royal Family. He also has poor understanding of Royal protocols - calling the Duke of Edinburgh "My Lord" and the Prince "Your Highness".

Many of you will have seen the movie of the book starring Harrison Ford and Anne Archer. I suggest that you read the book because the finale when Ryan finally catches up with Miller is very different and shows Clancy's forethought in making Ryan the kind of character he becomes in later books.

As pointed out by several reviewers the conversion to an e-book has not been done well with no breaks between different sections of the action making some parts difficult to follow.

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