The Hunt for Red October is one of my favorite films of all time. It seemed reasonable that I would eventually read the source material. Having never read a Tom Clancy book, I still had a pretty good idea of what I was getting myself into. Thankfully, the book was entertaining, although lacking focus at times, and well worth the read.
One thing to keep in mind while reading a Tom Clancy book is that military jargon is to his books what romance is to young adult books. It's a vital and integral part of the story; it's what makes the book a Tom Clancy book, which, in a way, has become a genre unto itself. Clancy wants to immerse his reader in a world of CIA and KGB spies, Admirals and Generals, and Cold War tactics. For the most part, it works quite well. I am fascinated by the Cold War, and the book's focus on the distrust and military baiting back and forth between the United States and Soviet Union were especially entertaining. Clancy's theoretical situation of a defecting Soviet submarine captain and his officers plays out extremely well. The mystery, the hunt for the Red October, is why the story is so compelling; Clancy's playing off of the general Cold War mood and tension is an added bonus.
Having said that, the book does lose some of its focus as it attempts to bite off more than it can chew. There is a sub-plot with a Senator, his aid, and KGB infiltration, which does very little to forward the story. It was an unnecessary sidebar and shows a little too much eagerness on Clancy’s part to immerse his readers in the Cold War environment too far above the elbows.
Clancy uses The Hunt for Red October to introduce his audience to Jack Ryan, who will become his most well-known fictional character. I was somewhat surprised at how little Ryan is involved during the middle of the book. He plays a huge role at the beginning and a somewhat ancillary role at the end, but his involvement is almost totally non-existent during the story's rising action. He's a strong enough character and acts as a good reflection for readers since he's more of a layman and fish out of water (pun unintended) than the other characters in the book. True, he's a part of the CIA but only as an analyst. He, like any one of us, feels appropriately terrified to be on a submarine, even navigating it, and simply wants the nightmare to end. He's a likeable character, especially as a family man wanting to get home before Christmas, and has a sufficient introduction in Red October.
I very much enjoyed The Hunt for Red October. About half-way through the book I wasn't sure if I would ever go back to the Clancy well; however, now that I've read Red October, I could see myself returning to read another of Ryan's adventures. There are aspects of the book which I waded through rather than enjoyed, such as the military jargon, but, at least in Red October, it was off-set enough by characters I liked and tensions I wanted to see resolved.
Other Topics of Interest:
Writing History I Can't Forget: Leon Uris
Reflections: The Rising Tide
Reflections: Gods and Generals