Book Review: The Hunt for Red October

In the world of literature, there are thrillers and there are thrillers. That is to say, there are thrillers that have no brains and there are thrillers that do. Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October is decidedly of the latter kind.

The Krasniy Oktyabr (Red October) is a Typhoon-class nuclear missile submarine equipped with an experimental silent propulsion system: it’s the newest, most advanced machine in the entire Soviet fleet. But shortly after the sub departs from Murmansk, the CPO of the Soviet Navy receives
a letter from it’s commander, Marko Ramius,
declaring the unthinkable: Ramius is heading west.
And he’s taking the Red October with him.

And the chase… is… on!

Without a doubt, the most striking feature of Clancy’s debut novel is it’s authenticity. As another reviewer quipped, “[The Hunt for Red October] is so detailed I’m pretty sure I could pilot a Russian submarine.” I can only imagine how much time and energy were expended in meticulously researching every aspect of the story. Sure it’s fiction, but as far as the reader is concerned, this high-stakes pursuit of a runaway sub really did happen. No suspension of disbelief required.

I was also pleasantly surprised by caliber of Clancy’s writing. The man knows how to spin a yarn, and spin it well. The prose wasn’t dense or watered-down; it was crisp, intelligent, suspenseful, and fit the story like a glove.

The cast of characters – while rather expansive – is good. Clancy’s protagonist, Jack Ryan, probably ranks among my favorite heroes in literature. He’s no James Bond, but that’s part of his appeal: he’s just an average guy doing his job. Ramius’ character is well-drawn and more than succeeded in gaining my sympathy. Then there’s Jonesy: how could I forget him? He’s a sonarman with a taste for classical music. What a guy.

Unlike another thriller I read recently, the sexual content in Red October is minimal. There is some violence (including a tense shootout and a rather grisly assassination) but nothing too extreme. The biggest issue is probably the language, which is quite salty and occasionally very strong. The phrase “Swear like a sailor” has a lot of truth in it, you know.

All in all, The Hunt for Red October is a fantastic military thriller, and I have little doubt that older audiences, particularly guys, will find it completely engrossing. I, for one, hope to visit Clancy’s world again sometime soon, and if any of his other books are half as good as this one, I know I won’t be disappointed.

14 thoughts on “Book Review: The Hunt for Red October”

  1. Before the Summer of Seven Crichtons, I had the summer of probably five or six Clancys, starting with Red October. I tore through it and Patriot Games, then Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears, all of which were quite thrilling.

    His more recent titles have gotten less and less thrilling and more predictable, but his early work is really top notch for its genre. Red Storm Rising is just plain awesome.

    Great review! It brought back fond memories of my newly-married days. (Yes, I connect books to periods of my life. College was all James Clavell…)

  2. Excellent piece! I loved your word crisp.

    We only know Jack Ryan through the movies. But I can’t count how many times we’ve watched The Hunt as a family. What I will carry with me to the end of my life is the Soviet men singing. I go weak at the knees when a group of men sing.

    1. Thanks, Carol!

      I was first introduced to Ryan through the movies, too. :) If you liked the film Red October, then I think you’d really enjoy the book, seeing as how there’s a lot more to the story.

  3. Several years ago, I read a few Tom Clancy novels–one of them was Patriot Games (I can recommend both the book and the movie.) Yeah, I kind of crushed on Jack Ryan. One thing I loved about the character was his intense love for his wife. If I remember correctly, the only bedroom scene was involving Jack and his wife, and it was as full of love as anything else.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! :)

      One of the things that’s always appealed to me about Jack Ryan was his love for, and commitment to, his wife and family. Unlike James Bond, who’s always hopping from one woman to the next.

  4. I’ve never read the book, but I think Papaw read it some years back when he
    could still see enough to read. Love and miss you. Keep up the good work.

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