First of all, let me just say that I was burning the midnight oil on this book big-time. At 736 pages, Tom Clancy Commander in Chief is a lengthy thriller that is twice the size of your average spy novel. But, and I cannot stress this point enough, the latest Jack Ryan offering from Mark Greaney is absolutely fantastic!
Obviously, the legendary Tom Clancy had nothing to do with this novel. Clancy passed away in 2013, but even before then Greaney had been penning books about the Ryan universe, several of which he co-authored with Tom, beginning with his 2011 novel Locked On.
Commander in Chief is Greaney’s sixth installment in the Jack Ryan (and Jack Ryan Jr.) franchise, and quite possibly his best yet. If it’s not his best, then it’s definitely, without question, the most realistic thriller of the bunch, tackling many issues facing the world today.
A few books ago, Greaney introduced a Russian president by the name of Valeri Volodin, who bears a striking resemblance to Vladimir Putin. In this novel, Volodin serves as the main antagonist, proving himself a formidable foe to Jack Ryan – who returns as the President of the United States.
I know this is slightly off-topic, but my goodness… how long has Jack been President?!
For those of you that haven’t followed the series in the past, Ryan (if I remember correctly) served his first term and then opted to not run for a second term. Years later, due to his disagreement with the direction the country was headed, Ryan once again ran for president – ultimately winning the election and taking office to serve his remaining second term.
For history nuts, that would make Jack Ryan just the second American President to serve two nonconsecutive terms, after Grover Cleveland.
Reading the book, it’s unclear how far Ryan is into his second four-year term, but one generally heads into these types of novels having already suspended their level of disbelief. Besides, when following one of the most iconic characters ever created, nobody cares about those minor details, and it’s easy to be distracted by everything else.
Here, much of the plot revolves around Volodin’s desire to keep his power, while Russia’s economy struggles mightily. To save face he needs a plan, but the logical steps to regaining any strength in the economy relies on expanding beyond just Russia. Unfortunately, that’s been tried before and one country repeatedly stands in their way – America.
Volodin, to circumvent America’s stance against Russia expanding abroad, develops a sinister plan to achieve his objective using what appears to be random attacks of terrorism around the world.
There’s just one problem for Volodin – Jack Ryan sees a pattern in these attacks that the rest of the world seems not to notice.
Before President Ryan can do anything to stop Volodin, he needs proof. From there a lot of the book follows various intelligence-gathering agencies working to find a link between the terror attacks and Russia.
Meanwhile on the political side of things, Jack Ryan has to find a way to unite a Western coalition of nations against Russia, which isn’t and easy task.
The plot moves fast, twisting and turning as it goes. Much like Clancy before him, Greaney has added a touch of everything into this novel. Suspense, twists, espionage, and even – for maybe the first time since The Hunt for Red October – submarines! I’d expand on that, but I don’t want to give anything away.
Can Jack Ryan stop Russia from tilting the tables enough to shift the world power in their favor? That, essentially, is the main question in this novel – and it will have you turning pages frantically to find out.
What I liked about the book
I’m a sucker for a good America vs. Russia spy novel. Especially one set in today’s modern era, utilizing more advanced technology. So in that aspect, I loved the story idea.
Also, kudos to Mark Greaney who, I’m sure, likely began writing this novel long before these issues were as prominent in the world as they are today. I’ve read that Greaney has a degree in International Relations and Political Science, which I’m sure helped him nail many of the geopolitics he wrote about in Tom Clancy Commander in Chief.
I also appreciate that he’s not overly technical when describing weapons, aircraft, ships, you name it… There were times I was ready to quit reading one of Tom Clancy’s novels because of his penchant for describing things in such detail that it slowed the book, and its plot, down to a crawl.
In my opinion, the hallmark of a good thriller is that it’s exciting and fast. Greaney seems to embrace that style, and it works really well here.
Why you should read it
As I’ve already said, Jack Ryan is one of the most iconic characters ever created. Tom Clancy, likewise, is one of the original godfathers of the spy genre. Any book that has both of their names on it – even if Clancy is no longer with us – is at least worth checking out.
Up next for Mark Greaney
Tom Clancy Commander in Chief is the first of two back-to-back releases for Mark Greaney, who’s other book, Back Blast, hits bookstores on February 16, 2016.
Back Blast marks Greaney’s return to the series that first launched his career, starting with The Grey Man in 2009.
Author: Mark Greaney
Pages: 736 (hardcover)
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: December 1, 2016. IN STORES NOW!