Top mysteries challenge review: The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

(The challenge really should be called the best crime a books challenge, since the American list also features thrillers, but it’s too late to change it now).

I loved thrillers when I was a teenager, and read everything I could get my hands on by the likes of Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley and Ken Follett. Since then, the thrillers I have read have mostly also been mysteries, caper stories or police procedurals, and it wouldn’t be stretching it too far to say that this one is a caper story – albeit a deadly serious one that deals with treason.

Year of publication: 1984
Series and no.: Jack Ryan, #1.
Genre: Thriller, military.
Type of hero: CIA man.
Setting & time: USA, the Soviet Union and the Atlantic ocean, contemporary.

A Soviet submarine captain and his officers steal the Red October, a nuclear submarine, and sail it towards the USA with the intention of defecting and handing the USSR's most advanced nuclear missile submarine to the Americans. CIA analyst Jack Ryan is brought in when the Soviet fleet suddenly starts sailing towards the USA at full speed and from that and some intelligence information he rightly deduces the captain’s intentions and gets sent to sea to monitor the submarine’s progress and help make it possible for the USA to keep the sub and any crew members who want to defect. A cat and mouse (or maybe shark and tuna?) game follows, with the Soviet fleet in hard pursuit of the Red October and the Americans and British keeping a close eye on them.

This is a fine thriller, long but never dull. The technical information that it is necessary to include so that someone with relatively little knowledge of such things can understand what is going on is parcelled out in small doses so that it never gets to be tedious. Most characters are only given a minimum of fleshing-out, but in most cases that is all that is needed, because the story is very much plot driven. I only wish that the exposition passages about some of the key characters, especially Ramius, had been kept short and the information parcelled out in small doses like the technical information. Not a book for the claustrophobic. 4 stars.

Books left in challenge: 87

Place on the list(s): MWA # 84.
Awards and nominations: None I know of.


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