Friday, August 09, 2013

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse

There the book was, so I decided to read it. I've seen two or three Clancy movies, Red October, Clear and Present Danger, for sure. They're the sort of thrillers that leave me convinced that I’ve missed ¾ of what's going on, but the ¼ I get offers some satisfaction.

You never know if a movie translates a novel fairly, or if “movie magic” keeps the eye transfixed, like jiggled string for a cat. I trudged thru the novel The Firm, somehow, not quite feeling the same excitement for billing as Grisham feels. Not to overpraise the movie but, despite starring Tom Cruise, it at least kept moving. So I assumed nothing as I entered Clancy's world.

Pop writers like Clancy, they tend to use random titles. The words just need to be punchy, not relevant to anything in the book. Altho Our Hero shows no remorse in one plotline here, he and everyone else in the book show plenty of remorse. Wear it on your sleeve remorse. A perfect storm of remorse. Let's go!!! Not to worry about it. We're here for action, and Clancy hands it out.

Clancy twines several plots that could have functioned nicely by themselves. There's an I'll show 'em quality to the shifting forth and back but he manages in near tour-de-force fashion to hold it all together. We won't fret the unlikeliness of the mayhem.

John Kelly, later Clark, is a young undersea demolition expert. He's a Vietnam vet, former Navy SEAL. His young, pregnant wife dies in a car crash, which sends the first glop of remorse into lugubrious motion. Cut to a few months later. Kelly seemingly has quit working but, since demolition is so lucrative (just guessing), he can live grimly on his island in the Chesapeake Bay. So okay, for some reason, he picks up a hitchhiker, a young woman who clearly has been thru a lot. That's the sullen version of meet cute. We learn slowly that she's an addict, forced into that condition by a ruthless pimp.

Am I going too fast here?

Well they fall in love. Then Kelly helps a couple who have boat trouble. One's a surgeon, the other's a psychologist. This is sort of meet cute, as well. The three help restore the young woman. The woman explains that other young women are held like she was. Kelly wants to help them. He and the woman go to the nasty neighbourhood just to scope it out. As I think on it, this seems both pointless and dangerous. The plot needed this action, however, because Kelly gets shot and the woman is killed. Tortured then killed.

Once Kelly recovers, he's out for revenge. There's the lack of remorse. Is that enough plot for you? Well there's also a fighter pilot who gets shot down over Vietnam. Held as a POW he gets interrogated by a Russian. There's a certain simpatico between the two, both being fighter pilots.

Meanwhile, some elder generals and admirals want to get him and the other prisoners out from the secret prison in Vietnam, in an off the books way. The son of one of these grandees was rescued from similar circs by a Navy SEAL named You Can Guess, back when Kelly was about 7. Yes, and Kelly found the lad at the same place as here we go. So there’s that plot, and it wants to help make everything sound plausible.

We're also watching closely how a black drug dealer and ruthless pimp sets up a biz with the mob selling pure Asian heroin. He has a mysteriously wonderful supply. By happenstance, they set up their lab right near Kelly's island. Okay, I'll tell you: the heroin enters the country in the corpses of dead American soldiers. The recompense for such horror ought to be pretty righteous.

All this action gets plenty of attention from Clancy.

Kelly starts methodically killing drug dealers in search of the main perps who killed his love. Did you guess that the black drug dealer is the one who killed her? The military men interrupt Kelly's spree. Remembering Kelly's earlier heroics, they invite him into the rescue mission. He trains with a select group of Marines then goes with them to Vietnam.

I'm getting caught up in all the plots. Clancy handles the story telling well enough. He writes with a sense of expertise. Wikipedia merely informs me that Clancy ran an insurance agency before becoming a bestselling author. Maybe he was also a SEAL or some such, but I suspect his expertise is painted. When actors come on talk shows to hype their latest, they are often interviewed as subject matter experts. If the movie's about the Civil War, they're regarded as experts on the Civil War. Here, the book crackles with military terms and slang. We get in depth insight into how Kelly machines his guns for ultimate performance. It sounds right out of Clancy's life, when he murdered a bunch of people in revenge for... Well, whatever. Possibly Clancy is just a writer, and he's making it all up.

When Clancy lets his characters start in on emotional issues, momentum stops. Wearisome dialogues ensue. The book tops 600 pages; 100-200 represent sleepytime. That would be a dreadful percentage except that the rest is well carried and nifty. Plus Clancy demarcates sections so you can easily skip over the trite emotional shit.

Clancy goes to the trouble of describing Kelly several times as a big man. Specifically he's 6' and 190. Sorry, that aint remarkable. Kelly's a machine, tho, James Bond without the martini. He just is.

The admirals and generals pretty much let Kelly run things in the Vietnam mission, which presses unlikeliness a bit much. Kelly seems to be in his early-mid twenties, and he's not even in the military anymore. The mission goes awry because the enemy has been tipped off. Even so, Kelly manages to capture the Russian interrogator. This allows the play of an East-West espionage plot line.

Back home, Kelly goes back to killing off those who helped torture and kill his lover. Even when things go wrong for him, they go right. This is where Clancy overcommits to his hero. He doesn't want, cannot accept, any blots in Kelly's 'scutcheon. Franchise writers have that prob. The writer's protagonist becomes the writer's good self-image. No room for the Not Okay child here.

Kelly has befriended a nurse who has worked with the surgeon and who helped Kelly's lover recover. She may get to dance with him in later novels. Currently, she mostly offers moral questions that Kelly doesn't need because he's right. He doesn't believe in killing unless people deserve it. As the I think 17 drug dealers did. It's a Republican simplicity that I guess one can expect from Clancy. By the end, Kelly's murders convince the nurse of his mission. Now okay, maybe, but Kelly savours the thrill of the hunt and loses no opportunity to take pleasure in his victim's demise. His fanciest and most extensive effort in this regard is using a pressure chamber to extract information from one of the perps. Trusting Clancy's science here, Kelly gives the guy a day's worth of the bends before putting a period on the sentence.

The ending is just the happy bloodlust that satisfies us so. The prisoners are saved—thru diplomacy. Too bad about the no guns part, but it allows related righteous killing. The kindly brutal Russian interrogator, who's not a stinking Vietnamese, is allowed to go home because he was sort of nice to the fighter pilot. The Ivy League twerp who dealt info to our foes was exterminated. Guess what, after learning that Kelly was the one killing all the drug dealers, those military guys send him to kill the twerp, which Kelly does righteously. Then they invite him to join the CIA. Because he's just crazy enough.

I could read another Clancy novel but don't expect to. I don't feel the commitment. One summer I read 11-12 Stephen King novels. Just to see. They were entertaining enough but I see no need for more. I get a twitch of interest when I see one of his recent 9000 page epics, because I wonder what he can do with so many pages to fill. Tho he's a competent writer you realize he's just blowing it out his ass.

The same goes with Clancy. They both produce comfortable franchises. Their competencies are straightforward and undeniable, but then you realize that triteness is one of the competencies. They have to give the reader something comfortable and familiar. We all accept this, that's why we have movies and television. Committing to this just doesn't seem in my best interest, however. But I like looking around.