Tom Clancy Duty and Honor: A Coming of Age Thriller Without the Geopolitical Intrigue

By Michael Sulick

Michael Sulick is the former director of CIA’s National Clandestine Service and is currently a consultant on counterintelligence and global risk assessment.  Sulick also served as Chief of Counterintelligence and Chief of the Central Eurasia Division where he was responsible for intelligence collection operations and foreign liaison relationships in Russia, Eastern Europe and the former republics of the Soviet Union.  He is the author of Spying in America: Espionage From the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War and American Spies: Espionage Against the United States from the Cold War to the Present

Duty and Honor is the latest in the multi-volume series by Tom Clancy and his successors featuring Jack Ryan and his son Jack, Jr., who works in the “Campus,” a covert counterterrorism unit established by his father, the U.S. President. Clancy fans eager for the geopolitical intrigue, intricate plots, and broad tapestry of characters won’t find them in Duty and Honor. The novel, written by Grant Blackwood, is a combined coming of age story and thriller in which Jack Jr., on a forced leave of absence because of his impetuous behavior, copes with his own character flaws as he unravels a mysterious plot to assassinate him.

Jack’s quiet time for reflection is immediately interrupted when he is assaulted outside a market in Virginia. The Campus-trained operative defends himself ably and in the scuffle the mugger winds up smashed to smithereens by an oncoming truck.

But was he just a mugger? Jack snatches a knife and hotel key card at the scene, the first in a trail of clues that convinces him the mugger was a professional assassin specifically targeting him.

Jack decides to find out who is trying to kill him and why without the help of the Campus or the U.S. Secret Service, whose protection he is entitled to as the President’s son. Of course, his lone cowboy independence was precisely the reason for his troubles in the Campus. With each new clue, Jack discovers more conspirators in a mysterious plot that takes him from Virginia to European cities and Namibia. In the interludes between violent confrontations with his shadowy adversaries, Jack grows introspective and experiences self-doubt about pursuing them on his own. Since the novel is focused primarily on Jack and his single-minded quest, the rich interplay with his fellow Campus operatives from other novels is missing, and the characters here are underdeveloped and seem to pop in and out of the narrative at various times.

The one exception is Effrem Likkel, a Belgian journalist Jack encounters while following up on a lead. Effrem is working at his own expense on the story of a missing French soldier, the son of an important retired general–- which intersects with the assassins pursuing Jack. Effrem is similar to Jack in some ways. He has a famous parent, a world renowned journalist, and is eager to establish his own reputation without her help. Like Jack, he suffers from reckless impulsiveness and inability to follow orders. The two join forces and, as the novel progresses, Jack sees a mirror image of himself in Effrem’s behavior and gradually comes to grips with the foibles resulting in his suspension from the Campus.

Jack’s introspection is well balanced with plenty of action-packed encounters as each new clue leads to savage firefights and brawls with newly discovered adversaries. They turn out to to be former German commandos, but our outnumbered hero manages to dispatch them efficiently, perhaps too efficiently, with cunning, luck, and deft use of weapons. Weapons on both sides of the fray are described with the meticulous detail characteristic of Clancy, but they are knives, guns, and special bullets instead of the submarines and tanks of the earlier novels.

Jack, however, uses more than brawn and marksmanship skills to find and overwhelm his opponents. His clever use of technology is well integrated into the plot and among the most interesting aspects of the novel. After subduing his opponents, Jack downloads their smartphone contents to unearth further clues, implants GPS tracking devices and tracks credit card charges to locate his next prey, and checks Google Earth to inspect the scene of an impending battle. In one of the more interesting scenes, Jack, surrounded by his enemies, exchanges text messages with them as they try to convince him to surrender.

Jack’s use of his special operations talents and technology gradually reveals details of the sinister plot, but only half way through the novel does he learn of its mastermind, Jurgen Rostock, the owner of a powerful private security company. Rostock has all the makings of a juicy villain, a former head of German Special Forces waging a fanatic covert campaign of kidnapping, terror, and extortion –- no spoiler alert here, but cybersabotage and a warped approach to combatting terrorism figure prominently. Unfortunately, Rostock himself never appears in the novel, and his background and motives are only explained by another character near the end of the book.

As Jack grapples with shadowy opponents and struggles with his self-reflection, he sometimes forgets –- and so does the reader —- that his main goal is discovering why Rostock wants him dead. The reason, which only surfaces at the end of the novel, is fairly mundane and almost doesn’t seem to warrant Rostock’s frantic efforts to silence Jack.

Author Grant Blackwood noted in a book review published on that “I think he (Jack) grew up a lot in this book. He did a lot of thinking of who he is and where he is going.” Now that Jack has done that, perhaps he’ll return to the geopolitical intrigues that made the novels of Tom Clancy and his successors so popular.   

Tagged with:

Related Articles