By Tom Clancy
Berkley Books, 750 pp, 1993
I've said it before and I'll say it again.
I'm way behind on Clancy. I know it. I totally missed the boat through the
80s and 90s as his books were coming out. But I've seen the error of my
ways and am slowly catching up. The remaining Jack Ryan books, from Debt
of Honor to Red
Rabbit, are sitting on my bookshelf and patiently waiting their
I'll get to them. I promise.
But in the meantime, I must talk about Without
It was fun, a riveting read, typical
Clancy. One of the many criticisms I've seen leveled at him is that his
books are cut and dry, black and white, good versus evil. No gray areas,
no subtleties, no complexities. That's not the case with this book.
Without Remorse goes back to the
late 60s or early 70s to tell the story of John Kelly, who becomes John
Clark. Soon after the death of his pregnant wife, Kelly picks up a hot
young thing on the side of the road, takes her on his boat, and engages in
carnal relations. He takes her to his island home, where they meet Sam and
Sarah Rosen, two doctors.
Kelly and the Rosens discover that the hot
young thing - her name is Pam - is a druggie and a prostitute with a
horrifying past. Kelly at first feels betrayed but decides to stick by her
and help her clean herself up under the care of the kind Rosens.
But things don't go as planned, and Pam
gets killed and Kelly nearly so by the pimp gang she escaped from. Kelly
spends half of the rest of the novel tracking down pimps and drug dealers
until he finds the one who killed Pam. Kelly murders these scumbags in
In the meantime, he is also recruited by
the CIA to join a special operation to bring home some twenty American
POWs who the North Vietnamese claimed were dead. But they're not - they're
imprisoned and interrogated by a Russian officer. That part of the novel
is okay, made better by an American mole who tips off the Russians of the
raid. But Kelly solves that (with the help of younger versions of Greer
So that's the book. Kelly seeks revenge and
joins the CIA. The CIA thing is the cut and dry that bothers so many
folks. Americans good, North Vietnamese and Russians bad. Never mind that
that's pretty much the way it was.
The gray area is Kelly's one-man vigilante
mission. Is he doing the right thing? Sure, these drug dealers are bad
folks, but do they deserve to be murdered? And is Kelly the person to do
it? Maybe they should be left to the police, but they seem powerless to
stop them. One, in fact, is a dirty cop in the employ of Pam's pimp.
Another cop is Emmet Ryan, investigating the sudden rash of drug dealer
murders. And yes, he is Jack Ryan's father, and yes, a college-age Jack
Ryan makes a cameo appearance.
So there's lots of gray here, and Clancy
handles it well. I won't tell you how it ends, of course, but conclusions
There's also not a lot of technical jargon.
This book is the most character-driven Clancy novel yet, with the possible
exception of Cardinal
of the Kremlin. Kelly, Pam, the pimp, Greer, the Russian officer -
these are all compelling and fascinating characters. That's what makes
this book a success, not the action or cloak-and-dagger.
Next Clancy book: Debt of Honor.