Book Review: Tom Clancy Firing Point by Mike Maden
Tom Clancy Firing Point by Mike Maden is the 29th book in the Jack Ryan Universe, where Jack Ryan Jr is out to avenge the murder of an old friend, but the vein of evil he’s tapped into may run too deep for him to handle.
I’ve been reading Tom Clancy novels on and off since I was about 9 years old, but I had mostly stuck to his earlier novels where a young Jack Ryan was a reluctant participant in the field of international intrigues—until this book crossed my desk. Jack is now the President of the United States and has an adult son, Jack Ryan Jr, who works for Hendley Associates, ostensibly a small, private equity firm. In actuality, Hendley Associates is a front for The Campus, an extralegal organization that takes on tasks that the American government can neither undertake nor avow. Jack Jr is fully trained as one of their covert operatives, though with a scholarly background similar to his father’s.
After a mission goes awry in South Korea, Jack Jr is sent off for some needed R&R. The historian in him chooses Spain, traveling from Madrid to Barcelona and taking the time to really soak up the surroundings. As he’s about to leave a restaurant in Barcelona, however, he runs into an old flame, Renee Moore. They make promises to catch up later but are doomed to break them as a bomb rips through the building mere seconds after Jack Jr walks away from it. He runs back inside to look for survivors and finds a mortally injured Renee, who tells him “Sammler” before she dies.
A Catalonian separatist group immediately claims responsibility for the bombing, but Jack Jr isn’t so sure. He teams up with CNI Agent Laia Brossa to unearth the identities of several suspicious characters he’d noted from just before the explosion. While they do make some progress, he can’t help but feel frustrated with the slow speed of Spanish investigations, which he’s sure is allowing Renee’s murderers to elude justice. At least the extra time gives him the chance to get to know Brossa better—and to deliver some spookily relevant pronouncements on the ways history repeats itself.
“When the people believe the justice system is no longer just, that the politicians are above the laws they make, that the government serves the interests of the ruling class instead of the middle and working classes; and when the history and culture and language of the people are denigrated and denied—these are the conditions that make a society ripe for civil war.”
“You have just described the feelings of millions of Catalonians,” Brossa said as she took her last sip of coffee.
“Not just here. It’s a movement sweeping all over the world. And I suspect it might even change the world, sooner rather than later.”
Meanwhile, back in Washington D.C., Jack Sr is wrestling with odd naval reports of container ships being blown to smithereens, leaving no witnesses or survivors despite global satellite overwatch. The attacks match no known electronics weapons signatures, raising Pentagon concerns that an unknown actor has acquired a new form of covert underwater weaponry. As the attacks begin to escalate, Jack Sr has to dance on the edge of creating a diplomatic incident in order to figure out which, if any, foreign powers could be behind them.
There’s a cool throwback to the book that launched Mr. Clancy to the top of the bestsellers list when the Russian captain of a low-profile submarine tender discovers that the Americans are on to the operations of both his ship and the submarine that they’re supporting:
Despite the heavy thrumming of his churning diesel motor belowdecks, Yevgraf couldn’t help but feel if not hear the heavy beating of the Seahawk rotors booming above him.
He thought for sure they’d give up when the storm worsened. They’d dropped a dozen of their passive AN/SSQ-101 ADAR sonobuoys on their first run. His own sonar man had picked up the splashes of the three-foot-long, thirty-nine-pound devices. That meant the Glazov below head the splashes, too—their sonar people were far superior to his own. And even a deaf sonarman would have heard the pinging of the Americans’ active sonobuoys that followed.
Mike Maden has written a book that wholly embraces the Jack Ryan Universe, building off of a long, beloved tradition that started with Jack Sr while also looking forward to the new, ever-evolving threats more capably dealt with by Jack Jr. As with Mr. Clancy’s originals, the tech talk is both detailed and supremely plausible, as are the action-packed scenes in the interwoven plot narratives. I did raise an eyebrow over the legality of several of Jack Jr’s choices, and I wonder whether the last few scenes he was in are pointing to an emotional reckoning to come. While Cathy Ryan may believe that her son and husband are very alike, I’m reluctant to equate the son’s “lies bad, killing okay” attitude with the more nuanced outlook of his father at the same age, at least in my remembering of the first few books of the series. But hey, that’s what I get for leaving them for so long! I’m definitely looking forward to finding out whether my suspicions are correct in Mr. Maden’s next Jack Ryan Jr novel.