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Tom Clancy: RED WINTER, A Jack Ryan Novel Review

Matthew Kresal ventures behind the Iron Curtain for an untold Jack Ryan adventure.
In the mid-late 1980s, Tom Clancy rose through the bestseller charts with his Cold War thrillers featuring CIA analyst Jack Ryan. Yet, just as Clancy was firmly establishing himself at the top of bestseller lists, the Cold War ended, sending the author to seek new threats for Ryan to face on a journey that took him to the Oval Office. And, except in 2002's Red Rabbit, that's where Clancy and his continuation novelists have left the character. Until now, that is, with Marc Cameron taking readers back into the Cold War career of Ryan with last December's Red Winter.

Set between the events of The Hunt for Red October and Cardinal of the Kremlin, Cameron's Red Winter takes place in prime Cold War territory. It's 1985, and the Cold War is just beginning its final thaw, even as tensions between East and West remain high. Into this comes a potential defector from Communist East Germany (the DDR), a traitor somewhere in American intelligence inside West Germany, an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter crashing in the Nevada desert, and a still-green CIA analyst named Jack Ryan. It's a tapestry of a tale, again in the classic Clancy/Ryan tradition.

Cameron combines Clancy's eye for technothriller details and solid intelligence fiction well. Indeed, by focusing a portion of the narrative on the Nighthawk, Cameron can fill in the early years of stealth in a manner that Clancy only guessed at when writing before it was publically acknowledged. The attention to detail about late Cold War tradecraft and spy tech, too, feels present and correct, including lines of communication between the divided halves of Berlin and an East German spy among UFO watchers on the fringe of the soon-to-be-infamous Area 51 in the Nevada desert. Indeed, arguably they're more on the money than Clancy was in his own prequel Red Rabbit two decades before! And while Cameron's short, pacey chapters depart from Clancy's sometimes lengthy ones, they serve the story he's telling here and make this a solid read.

The large cast of characters is present here, too. Given how far Ryan, John Clark, the Foleys, and Dan Murray have gone in Clancy's later works (not to mention the novels since his passing), there's both a thrill and a challenge in returning to their earliest days. Cameron rises to both, highlighting and capturing how far Ryan had come from Patriot Games and Red October on his journey to becoming the character he would be by the time of Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears. Other familiar names and faces feel present and correct if sometimes popping in for cameo appearances in the cases of Greer and Ritter. The result is that, as well as a thrilling story, Red Winter feels like a reunion with old friends that have been long overdue. And, as a reader who got much out of those early Clancy novels, Cameron's work on Red Winter feels like a return to form.

Even with a few imperfections along the way. The halves of the narrative, the one following Ryan with the defector and the crash of the stealth with the FBI's Dan Murray searching for an escaping spy, never quite intersect in true Clancy style. The large cast of returning characters also comes across in places as a hindrance as much as a help, never quite being a box-checking exercise, but leaving a number of them as cameos or in plotlines that are nice but slightly underwhelming. These are comparatively minor blemishes, given how utterly readable Red Winter is, but ones perhaps to be aware of going into the novel.

And even with them, Red Winter is an unhesitating recommendation for Clancy fans. It's a novel that wonderfully recaptures the feel of those early, classic novels, and sits well alongside them. Not to mention hopefully being the start of a new era for the Jack Ryan continuation novels, something this reader would happily sign up for.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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