Thursday, 3 October 2013

Farewell to a friend

We all have authors whom we read religiously and whose books we devour insatiably regardless of widely held critical opinion; authors whose books we snatch from a bookstore's shelves as soon as they are released.

After cursory thought, I think I've got three: Dick Francis, Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler (and my library of Cussler books only began when I read a recommendation on the dust jacket of one of his early tomes that "Cussler is the guy I read" by Clancy).

Sadly, following news on Wednesday that Clancy had passed away, aged 66, Cussler is the only one of my triumvirate who remains alive. Dick Francis died during my original year-long book challenge and I wrote about it here.

At this stage, I should clarify that I'm only referring to Clancy's 'proper' work - his books rather than the many films (don't get me started on Harrison Ford's age suitability) and video games, In fact, I'm referring solely to those books written entirely by him, and not the money-spinning series for which he contributed ideas but which were largely diluted Clancy.

Given the amount of literature that exists in the world, I am appalled when I think of the number of times I must have read the likes of The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games, my personal favourites. My copy of Patriot Games is but a mere tattered memory of what it used to be - indeed, I must write a piece on the particular enjoyment of endlessly re-reading books.

The Hunt for Red October, a claustrophobic tale of a defecting Russian submariner, was Clancy's first novel, and probably his best. An author who clearly loved being meticulous about his research, he was obsessed with detail and crammed in as much as possible, sometimes to the detriment of the story.

For The Hunt for Red October, his publisher reportedly convinced him to cut 100 pages of such technical knowledge and - judging by future bloated works after The Hunt for Red October had established his bestselling reputation and started garnering him substantial advances - as Clancy's clout in the industry increased, the quality of his work suffered as you tried to locate the merest hint of the plot within 10 pages of the in-depth make-up of an atomic bomb or the strategic importance of a missile defence system.

Let's be clear, though: I loved it. In main character Jack Ryan, the marine who became an investment broker who became a teacher who became an intelligence officer who became a spy who became vice-president who became president (and did so in a manner convincingly enough that you accepted this career path), he created a hero who combined intelligence and bravery with a clear moral compass.

Clancy's thrillers may have reflected his conservative Republican nature - Ronald Reagan apparently called The Hunt for Red October 'my kind of yarn' - and been the polar opposite of my own views, but it made for a thrilling ride and he will be much missed.

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