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Review: Clancy's 'Red Rabbit' rotten

Book has lots of rhetoric, little plot or character

By L.D. Meagher (CNN)

"Red Rabbit"
By Tom Clancy
Putnam
Fiction
618 pages

Book has lots of rhetoric, little plot or character

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(CNN) -- Diehard Tom Clancy fans raced to the bookstores the moment "Red Rabbit" hit the shelves and made it an instant bestseller. If you're not a member of that not-so-elite club and you haven't read the new Jack Ryan novel yet, do yourself a favor.

Don't.

The adventure-suspense-thriller is markedly lacking in adventure, suspense and thrills. In fact, the most exciting event in the opening chapter is watching two families move into new homes. The most suspenseful element is waiting for Ryan to find a decent cup of coffee. And the biggest thrill is a midnight jaunt across the Yugoslavian border, seen from the inside of a shipping crate.

Bloated behemoth

The plot is straightforward enough. It's 1981, and the KGB has decided to murder the pope, which appalls a communications officer at Moscow Center. He decides to defect so he can warn the West about the plan.

And then ... that's precisely what happens, without a single twist or turn to raise the stakes on either side.

One unsettling question that occurs to the reader is why it takes Clancy so long to tell his story. "Red Rabbit" could have been a nifty little page-turner. Instead, it's a bloated 618-page behemoth that barely generates enough narrative energy to stumble from one page to the next.

Most of what Clancy writes has nothing to do with the story. Nor can it even charitably be classified as "character development," since there's very little to differentiate between one character and the next.

Take Zaitzev, the would-be defector. As he makes his decision to bolt and spill the beans, Clancy fills page after page with his private thoughts.

Tom Clancy
Tom Clancy

"He'd never heard of any senior political figure in his country," the author writes, "... standing on a matter of principle and telling his peers that they were doing something wrong. No, the system precluded that by the sort of people it selected. Corrupted men only selected other corrupted men to be their peers, lest they have to question the things that gave them their own vast privileges."

Such thoughts might serve to give the character some individuality, if Clancy didn't have several other characters -- including the KGB chairman -- parrot the same sentiments. "Red Rabbit" drips anti-Soviet dogma.

Changing history -- wrongly

The book is an effort to recapture the early glory of the Jack Ryan franchise. It's set in the months after the action of "Patriot Games."

And that is, perhaps, its greatest failing. Clancy has elected to write historical fiction, using actual events to frame his fictional action. The most immediate problem is that the action in "Patriot Games" took place shortly after the royal wedding of Charles and Diana. They were married after the attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II. Thus, the historical timeline is irreconcilable with the fictional one.

Clancy seems not to care that he's violating the first commandment of the genre: "Thou shalt not change history." Indeed, he compounds the sin by gratuitously tossing in references to a World Series that won't happen for another two years.

"Red Rabbit" isn't merely a disappointment. It's an indictment of Clancy as a writer. It exposes his weaknesses in plotting and characterization. It also exposes his arrogance. He blithely punches holes in his own story, then papers them over with reams of rhetoric. Perhaps he believes the reader won't notice.

Maybe his diehard fans don't. But this book is unlikely to increase their number.



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