Whether you enjoy the Tom Clancy mould or not, one thing is for certain: his novels are far too densely plotted to ever be conveyed entirely faithfully on screen. That’s not to say his film adaptations fail. For the most part they keep the basic strands of their respective plots and shoehorn them into an easily digestible two-hour runtime for mass market consumption. Logical, considering much of Clancy’s back catalogue reach the 800+ page count, but what is lost in the translation is the author’s penchant for technical panache and in depth character studies.
The book of Clear and Present Danger is a much heavier beast than its excellent film adaptation but both revolve around a covert war between American Special Forces and the Columbian drug cartels. It’s a change of pace for Clancy who had up until this point used the ongoing American/Soviet Cold War tensions as the back bone for his narratives (see The Hunt for Red October, Red Storm Rising & The Cardinal of the Kremlin). Here, though, rather than ask further questions of the American/Soviet stand-off, he opts to pose questions of America’s own foreign policy and the abuse of power.
Whether this was socially relevant at the time of publication (1989) quickly becomes something of a moot point as, like most of Clancy’s work, the plot takes a turn towards macho heroism once its muscled its way through the political in-fighting. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but Clancy has a tendency to throw away any intellectual pretences in favour of superior firearms.
That said, he is a thriller writer and on this front he never fails to deliver. Whilst the plot clearly sets up events for the subsequent book (The Sum of All Fears), the juggling act between dense plotting and thrilling set-pieces is expertly managed, even if you have to suspend some belief that recurring protagonist Jack Ryan is frequently stuck in the middle of the chaos from book to book (he gets around for an analyst). The most interesting character, introduced toward the end of The Cardinal of the Kremlin, is John Clark, who is, effectively, the yin to Jack Ryan’s yang, the black-ops go-to guy with the shady history that is at once both enigmatic and ruthless and during the book’s final third takes over from Ryan completely as the principal lead.
With suspect political infighting, traitorous government officials and electrifying set-pieces, Clear and Present Danger delivers everything you’d expect from one of the most commercially successful thriller writers working today. Whilst it could do with a trim in places, it does what a well told story should do: keep the reader enthralled.
Clancy, seeing the potential of John Clark, wrote Without Remorse, which details the character’s jaded history. He was also written as the chief protagonist in Rainbow Six, the title of which is Clark’s CIA codename.