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.