Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Clancy Chronologically: Red Rabbit

You've been on pins and needles for somebody to review the books your dad was reading when you were in middle school; we're here to help.  Last year, we read all of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan books in order of Ryanverse chronology rather than order of publication (we include the John Clark and Jack Ryan Jr. books in this process).  This year, we're doing it again and posting about each of the books as we complete them/manage to be sufficiently unlazy to actually post a blog.  Your comments are more than welcome. NOTE: POSSIBLE DECADES-OLD SPOILERS!!!

Why Red Rabbit?
You may have noticed that Tom Clancy enjoyed the Cold War and was fascinated by the Soviets. Published in 2002, the book was probably written before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 which would alter the course of the later Ryan books.  From a character standpoint, it details Jack Ryan's time in London after the events of Patriot Games but before his submarine adventures. Red Rabbit showcases two previously undersung Ryanverse heroes, Ed and Mary Pat Foley (who isn't even Irish Catholic).  If you didn't get enough of the "Soviet government employee decides his government sucks and betrays them" plot device from The Hunt for Red October and The Cardinal of the Kremlin, then this is the book for you.

Already a hero in Britain for having saved the Prince and Princess, up-and-coming star CIA analyst Jack Ryan is lent to the British SIS Soviet group. While wowing his colleagues with his keen analysis, surprising wealth, and being way more important to Britain than they'll ever be, Irish part-time Catholic Jack learns that the Pope has written a dangerous letter to the Soviet leadership.  The Pope (only known by the name "Karol" in the book, never John Paul II) threatens to resign if the Soviets don't let his native Poland have more freedoms, siding with the Solidarity movement.  As Jack supposes, the Soviets decide to take out the political nuisance Karol.  KGB communications specialist Oleg Zaitzev is disturbed by this plot; he attempts to reach out to the CIA and secure safe passage to the West in exchange for his information.  Can the good guys act in time to save the Pope?

This plot is totally crazy and implausible, right?  Kill the Pope?

These Russian Babes are Pretty Beefy, amirite?
It's hard to escape references to how chunky Russian women are: 
On Zaitzev buying pantyhose for his lady: "'My wife is a real Russian,' he replied, meaning decidedly not anorexic."  We are impressed with the precision of the measurements.
On Zaitzev learning of his wife's bra purchase: "Those of Soviet manufacture always seemed to be designed for peasant girls who suckled calves instead of children - far too big for a woman of his wife's more human proportions."
On (Russian-American) Mary Pat's hotness compared to the Russian fatties: "Like a peacock among crows, her husband liked to say...She could not change her figure much - the local aesthetic preferred women of her height to be about ten kilograms heavier...Whatever, the level of fashion for the average Russian female was like something from a Dead End Kids movie." 

Rare picture of Tom Clancy not in his trademark aviator shades


Our paperback edition of Red Rabbit comes in at 636 pages, which is short for a Clancy book, but could easily be trimmed by 200 pages.  While Clancy books are usually larded up with lengthy descriptions of weapons and war machines, Rabbit is stuffed with repetitive pangs of conscience and self-questioning by Zaitzev.  Various characters having identical reactions to the potential assassination of the Pope along the lines of "I'm not a Catholic, but killing a priest is wrong" or "I'm not much of a Catholic, but even I know that this is wrong" or "I worship Satan, but even I adore the way JP2 rocks the hat and scepter."

Rabbit largely lacks an essential quality in a spy thriller: suspense.  While Zaitzev gets nervous that he hasn't contacted an American who can actually help him and the Foleys worry about the operation, the stories reek of inevitability.  Even the assassination attempt falls flat; the book discusses it dozens of times, but when we get to that point, we've spent more time reading about radios and positioning to prevent the incident than the actual incident.  The plot to get the Zaitzev family to the West is clever, but too much space is consumed repetitively discussing the details and there is little sense of jeopardy during the escape attempt.  Mrs. Zaitzev isn't even told that they're defecting until they're in Hungary. Oleg assures the CIA previously that it'll be fine, she'll do what she's told; it happens just like that. Mrs. Zaitzev has about three lines of dialogue in the whole book.  The novelty of having the Foleys in a major role is undercut by constant descriptions of Mary Pat as the cowboy type and Ed as the worry-wart administration type.  Tension between them is never mined for any real drama (keeping in mind virtually every married woman in the Ryanverse is a Saint and is always right).
Red Rabbit has a lot of good and entertaining elements - the assassination conspiracy is fascinating (and based on historical events and conspiracy theories around them) and the spycraft details are compelling and well-executed.  It's a collection of good ideas connected by underwhelming writing.

What About the Movie/TV Show to be Produced by WYNE Media?

If you wanted to add some depth, it could be a very entertaining mini-series; it wouldn't be hard to add some marital conflict and more tension in the Zaitzev escape, include some actual debate within the Russian leadership, and cut out all of the repetitiveness.  As it stands, it would make a stellar movie, like a Bourne film with more purpose and direction.  Considering how much Vlad Putin behaves like fictional Soviet leadership, it could be a very timely retro movie. 


19 references to vodka, 18 to wine, 30 to coffee (including the phase "they didn't know beans about coffee"), 5 to beef/steak (including a Brit admitting that American beef is better), 17 to tea (drunk exclusively by Brits except for Zaitzev, the defector).

"I serve the Soviet Union" is a frequent refrain between the KGB employees in the book.  A former coworker and I would say this to each other at least daily to mock our employer.  Why did I get laid off from that company?

Herein a character is named Dominic Corso and one with the name Hendley.  These names are recycled as Dominic Caruso and Gerry Hendley later on in the Campus-based books.

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