After a slow start, Tom Wolfe builds A Man in Full into a riveting, multifaceted story that shatters into shards in the final chapter.
The central character is Charlie Crocker, a good ol’ boy who use his football prowess to get access to Atlanta’s wealthy elite where by salesmanship—which Charlie believes is synonymous with manhood—he built a commercial empire.
As the story opens, Charlie is in his sixties and in deep financial trouble.
Another story-line is about Conrad Hensley, an employee in one of Charlie’s warehouses, who is trying to raise himself by his bootstraps.
A third story-line is about Atlanta’s black mayor’s attempt to prevent racial incidents over rumors—no charges have been filed—that a black, Georgia Tech football player raped the daughter one of the city’s leading white establishment figures.
Wolfe is funny in an ugly, wise-cracking way. He ridicules Charlie for his lack of education and sophistication and mocks Charlie’s ex-wife for being hurt by people who cut her because she’s been replaced.
There’s no middle class in Wolfe’s picture. He contrasts blotches of poverty, prisons, and hopelessness with shimmering wealth, self-indulgence, and conspicuous consumption.
The world of A Man in Full is interesting to read but unpleasant to contemplate.
In Rainbow Six, Tom Clancy features the character John Clark (a.k.a. John Kelly) who appears in several of his Jack Ryan novels and is the central character in Without Remorse.
Rainbow is a secret, six-nation task force created to combat terrorism led by Clark, who is “Six” to the military he commands.
Rainbow’s members have barely met each other when their services are required. First, former members of the Bader-Meinhoff gang take hostages in a Swiss bank in what appears to be a robbery.
Hard on the heels of that incident, Rainbow is called to Vienna when a financier’s home is seized by intruders who demand insider codes to international trading.
Next there’s an attack on a Spanish version of Disney World that was prepared to repel thieves, but not to deal with armed men demanding the release of political prisoners.
Meanwhile, some very influential Americans are developing a terrorist scheme designed to work without a public announcement of demands.
Normally, Clancy invents situations that are plausible. Here the ultimate terrorist scheme is so preposterous it wouldn’t attract adherents among residents in a mental institution. And the ending of Rainbow Six, is, as one character says, “like something from a bad movie.”
The Best Laid Plans is a dazzling display of Sidney Sheldon’s cinematic flair.
The story is about Leslie Stewart, a PR and marketing genius who is smart, young, sexy, and ambitious, and Oliver Russell, the governor of Kentucky who is young, sexy, ambitious, but not nearly as smart as Leslie.
He’s also a drug addict.
When Oliver comes looking for PR help, he and Leslie become lovers.
Oliver finds a mentor in a Kentucky’s Senator Davis who sees his JFK-like charisma, properly managed, could take him to the White House.
Senator Davis is just the man to do the managing. That means tying Oliver closely to himself.
Leslie has no mentor, but she doesn’t need one. What she doesn’t learn by observation, she learns by doing research. She turns into a Katherine Graham-type power figure.
When Oliver abandons her for the Senator’s daughter, Leslie knows the best way to get back at him is to ruin his political career.
Sheldon’s story has no depth and it has mountains of implausibilities—where does Leslie get her money?—but all the main characters have enough real-world counterparts to keep readers on the edge of their chairs right up to the dramatic ending.
Primary Colors is a fictional backroom account of a current—1996—presidential bid by Jack Stanton, the Democratic governor of a southern state.
Henry Burton tells the story. Stanton doesn’t offer Henry a job; he absorbs him into his staff.
The grandson of a famed civil rights leader, Henry had worked for a congressman after college before abandoning the Beltway for a teaching gig. Henry thinks he’s being used as “racial cover,” but he’s very impressed by Stanton’s ability to connect with ordinary people.
He’s less favorably impressed with Stanton’s truth-stretching facility, nevertheless he finds a comfortable perch where he can observe the internal operations of the campaign while “working the phones, doing stuff.”
The novel is packed with historical and political trivia from FDR’s presidency forward: who ran, what made them good candidates, what brought them down.
Primary Colors captures the aspirations and intensity of Stanton’s political campaign as well as the idealism, audacity, dedication, duplicity, and stupidity of the campaigners.
The negativity with which the Democrats regard news organizations like The Washington Post and NPR, which today are trashed by Republicans seems odd, but as I write this in January 2020, the rest of Primary Colors feels very contemporary.
Within minutes after Jack Ryan is sworn in to serve as a one-year caretaker vice president, Jack Ryan finds himself President. A kamikaze attack on the Capitol has killed President Durling, the entire Supreme Court and the Joint Chiefs, all but two of the Cabinet members, and most of the members of the House and Senate.
Suddenly Ryan’s “caretaking” means putting the federal government back together again. America’s enemies see the greenhorn president as an opportunity too good not to exploit.
Threats arise on all sides.
The president of Iraq is assassinated and Iran’s chief cleric assumes control of what he declares to be a United Islamic state.
China and India both create distractions.
At home, Ryan is harassed by the former vice-president, the media, and staff members who expect him to be political and presidential.
Terrorists devise a way to sneak the Ebola virus into US convention centers. They activate sleeper agents to kill the President and kidnap his children.
To follow Executive Orders, you’ll need to keep your atlas handy, but Tom Clancy is a marvelous storyteller. He packs with information worth knowing without letting it overwhelm the story.
I suspect few people under 60 will be able to follow Clancy’s story today.
The worst thing that can be said about a Robert Ludlum novel is that readers must pay close attention.
In The Scorpio Illusion western government leaders aren’t paying attention.
A secret group calling themselves Scorpios are plotting to throw the US, Britain and France into turmoil concurrently, precipitating a public outcry for stability that will catapult them to virtual dictatorship.
The Scorpios are positioned to make it happen. They have money, power, and the protection of the most sophisticated technology and most ruthless assassins that their money can buy.
Meanwhile, a beautiful terrorist intent on revenge for the deaths of her parents and her lover is planning to kill the US President. She and the Scorpios make common cause.
To stop her, the intelligence community calls on a former naval intelligence officer, Tyrell Hawthorne, whose wife was shot as a spy because of a mistake made by inept higher-ups. As he begins his work, Hawthorne runs into a beautiful woman who comforted him as he grieved; he vows not to lose her again.
Ludlum complies with the requirements of thrillers—sex, romance, blood, explosions—but his real interest is on how decent people can be hoodwinked because of the very traits that make them decent people.
Doomsday Conspiracy reads like a novel Tom Clancy and Stephen King might have co-authored while drunk, with help from Danielle Steel to make the story end happily.
Robert Bellamy, a Navy Commanding Officer, is ordered to investigate the crash of a weather balloon in the Swiss Alps and identify the tour bus passengers who saw the wreck.
Bellamy thinks it’s a very odd job to be treated as top secret and given top priority, but he follows orders. Witnesses say they saw a space craft with two dead extraterrestrial creatures in it and an empty seat that had obviously been occupied. The witnesses even had their photographs taken in front of the spacecraft.
Each of the witnesses is murdered within hours of Bellamy’s reporting their identity to his superior officer.
When Bellamy learns that three of the witnesses have been killed, he begins to smell a rat.
The liner notes say the story unfolds to reveal “why the world must never learn an incredible secret shielded by an unknown force.”
If it did, I was laughing too hard at the crazy story to notice.
The Sum of All Fears is a hold-your-breath novel from Tom Clancy featuring Jack Ryan, Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Accustomed to Cold War hostilities, neither America and its allies nor Russia and hers are quite sure how to behave in the new, lukewarm conditions.
Ryan gets an idea for a Middle East peace plan brokered by the Vatican. The plan works, but all Ryan gets is the animosity of the President and his Secretary of Defense, who also happens to be the President’s bed mate.
Terrorists, to whom peace is unnatural and unsettling, have plans of their own.
As both the West and the Soviets have dismantled missiles with nuclear warheads, some of the nuclear material has simply disappeared. The owners haven’t publicized their losses. Nevertheless, a few men of ill-will know where the material is and how to use it for their ends.
Clancy provides plenty of excitement with a minimum of gore. He focuses on how people rise to or fall before a challenge for which they could not rehearse.
Clancy’s text is packed with jargon and technical details about intelligence procedures, aircraft, ships, submarines, weapons, and bomb building, which feels incredibly dull but is essential to the plot: Evil is not passive in this novel.
Robert Ludlum’s The Icarus Agendais not escape reading.
Ludlum’s tale is a series of inter-connected, world-wide plots further connected by a journal typed into a computer by an unidentified man who records the events for his own mysterious purposes.
In book one of the novel, terrorists have already killed 11 hostages and threaten to kill the other 236 Americans they hold hostage in the US embassy in Masqat, Oman. They demand release of 8,000 terrorists belonging to organizations ranging from the IRA to the PLO.
Evan Kendrick, a newly-elected, “accidental” Colorado congressman, convinces the State Department’s covert operations director to let him try to raise the siege using connections he made—including connections to the Sultan of Oman—while doing construction work in the Middle East.
The man at DoS agrees only because Kendrick’s offer is predicated on his role never being known to any other person.
The hostage incident is over page by 221 of the novel. After that the Ludlum’s story gets complicated.
Although the novel is action packed, Ludlum’s characters are believably complex characters whose motivations are as complex as their personalities.
This 1988 bestselling political thriller requires—and deserves—readers’ full attention: The plot Kendrick uncovers is altogether too plausible to be dismissed in 2019.
The Cardinal of the Kremlin was Tom Clancy’s fourth bestseller in a row.
It follows what by 1988 had become Clancy’s signature blend of Cold War politics, espionage, military technology, and the presence of CIA analyst Jack Ryan.
The “Cardinal” of this novel is a Colonel Mikhail Filitov, thrice awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal for service in battle; unknown to Ryan, he’s been a CIA spy for 30 years.
Ryan is in Moscow as a technical advisor for arms negotiation. There he stumbles across information that the Soviets are very close to having a working, missile-based laser system.
Far to the east on the Afghanistan-Russia border, an Afghan freedom fighter glimpses a flash of green light that proves the Soviet technology works. He passes his observation along to the CIA along with documents taken from Russians he and his men slaughtered.
Clancy runs multiple story threads simultaneously, switching the scene from one continent to another, and the focus among dozens of characters.
You can read Cardinal for relaxation, but you can’t relax and read it. That is part of its attraction. Clancy expects each reader to do his/her duty.