New Beginnings: Clancy Starts Over

Mar 1, 2004 (Updated Mar 3, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Good premise, good foundation for future stories

Cons:First 200 pages are tedious; poorly defined characters

The Bottom Line: For the first time since 1998, I'm actually looking forward to the next Clancy novel. That's got to be worth something.

This review includes some plot spoilers

I don’t know what it is, but I don’t enjoy Tom Clancy half as much as I used to. The Bear and the Dragon was a joke, a rehash of Debt of Honor, full of foul language and a deus ex machina climax.

Red Rabbit was a bit of an improvement, and at least featured an interesting premise, but there wasn’t much to it. After all, when you know the outcome (Pope shot but not killed), how exciting can it be?

Which brings us to The Teeth of the Tiger. Clancy starts over with a “new generation”: Jack Ryan Jr., and his cousins, Brian and Dominic Caruso. It was getting pretty obvious that Clancy was going to have to come up with something new. Since we’ll never know what the other options were, Tiger (and the new direction it provides) is a pretty good starting point.

The Plot
America is at war against terrorism. One new organization in the fight is “The Campus,” which isn’t really a government agency at all. The Campus fronts as Hendley Associates, doing business in the world of finance. It is in fact not a front at all, but simply the “white” part of the company. The Campus is conveniently located between CIA and the NSA, and is therefore in a unique position to covertly gather intelligence between the two sources, as they "beam" it across the ether.

One of the coolest “fringe benefits” of this intelligence windfall is that The Campus can use it to make real money in the real financial world. This funds operations and makes The Campus a true self-funding operation. I thought this was a clever and reasonable decision on Clancy’s part.

Gerry Hendley runs The Campus. He’s a former senator who was on good terms with Jack Ryan, the former president of the United States. Ryan established The Campus as a way of dealing with terrorism on an extremely covert level. As it happens, early in the book, Jack Jr. noses around Hendley Associates and tumbles to the truth of what’s going on there…or close to the truth. His role is as an analyst, watching how suspected terrorists are moving money around.

Meanwhile, The Campus is ready to train its first two field operatives, and identifies Brian and Dominic Caruso, fraternal twins. Brian had proven himself as a Marine captain in Afghanistan, while Dom took care of a brutal kidnapping in a very direct way. They are asked to join The Campus because they appear to have no qualms taking lives and know how to take care of themselves.

The other plot point involves “Mohammed,” who in the early stages of the book comes to an agreement with Columbian drug lords. In exchange for opening a conduit in Greece for further distribution of cocaine throughout Europe, the drug lords will help smuggle some of Mohammed’s friends into the U.S.

The first 200 pages develop the three major plot lines: Jack Jr. settling into Hendley/The Campus; the Carusos training and asking a lot of questions (over and over again); and Mohammed and the drug lords pursuing their agreement. It’s rather boring. Unfortunately, it reminded me of the tedious passages in Red Rabbit.

A little excitement
Things definitely pick up once the terrorists reach America. Their task is to strike “at the heart of middle America,” to make it clear that even small-town America is not immune to terrorism. The targets are malls in Charlottesville, Virginia; Des Moines, Iowa; Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Provo, Utah. Interestingly, on page 208, Sacramento is mentioned as a target instead of Provo. I guess Clancy’s editor didn’t catch that.

As it happens, the Caruso brothers happen to be at the mall in Charlottesville when it’s attacked. They also happen to be carrying handguns. They manage to kill all four terrorists, but not before significant damage is done. The attacks in Des Moines and Colorado Springs are moderately successful (for the terrorists), while the attack in Provo was mostly thwarted. I live just a few miles away from Provo, and when I read this part of the book, I was a mere away from the very mall where the action takes place. It was rather interesting.

Once the Carusos eliminate the terrorists at the mall, they no longer doubt their role at The Campus. They are quickly dispatched to Europe where they covertly eliminate a number of terrorists.

What I liked
Clancy has created a good foundation for future novels. The premise of the Campus has a lot of potential. Tiger just got things going; Clancy could have written 400 or more pages to “wrap things up,” but I think he’s wise to leave us anticipating the next book.

Tiger is a quick read, and unlike some of his recent efforts was able to hold my interest.

I suppose 1/2 or even a full star on my 3-star rating for this book is based on the potential of future stories. In a vacuum, Tiger is 2 stars at the most.

What I didn’t like
With Clancy’s most recent books, I often notice that I’m reading a book. That is, the immersion factor is not as good as it used to be. Too often, things that Clancy writes seem awkward. I get the feeling that he’s writing about himself. Like when Jack Jr. goes shopping for Brioni suits, it just feels like Clancy has a couple in his closet. Or when we learn Jack Jr. drives a Hummer2, you just know there’s one in Clancy’s garage. It just feels too autobiographical. I would really like to know if anyone else feels the same way.

There was a time (The Cardinal of the Kremlin through Executive Orders, for example) when it seemed Clancy could do no wrong. For some reason, he’s lost a bit of magic. I think he makes things too easy for his characters. For example, Ding Chavez was introduced in Clear and Present Danger. Ding grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in LA, but cleaned up his life and joined the Army. Wow, by The Sum of All Fears, Ding, who never went to college, is finishing up a masters degree from George Washington University. And, he later marries the daughter of John Clark. She just happens to be a doctor. Life is not always a bed of roses, Clancy! Why do all of your characters have to be:

A) Rich
B) Extremely intelligent
C) Infallible
D) All of the above?

In Tiger, Jack Jr. is 23, and he seems a little too perfect. Sure, he comes from a wealthy family, and his dad was even President of the United States, but he doesn’t seem to act like a 23-year-old. I know some 23-year-olds can be very mature, but the Jack Jr. character is not completely believable.

The Carusos are a little better, but as Clancy insists on using nicknames for both of them (Aldo and Enzo, I can’t keep them straight), they seem a little too jokey at times.

Clancy also dropped the ball as far as developing the “management” of The Campus. Except for Gerry Hendley, I really don’t know who’s who. I don’t know who has what credentials. It’s not like the glory days when you knew Bart Mancusso was a top-notch Naval officer; and you knew John Clark was one mean customer; and you knew the Foleys were great assets to the CIA. I just don’t know these guys. I don’t care. Tony Wills is apparently Jack Jr.’s trainer on the “black side” of Hendley, but he’s mentioned with no introduction. And, wasn’t Tony Wills the running back in The Sum of All Fears?

Finally, the whole cousin thing is a bit forced. I see no reason for it. Clancy introduced Ding Chavez out of the blue. Over time, Ding became one of my favorite characters (except for the part about his master’s degree). Why couldn’t he have crafted two non-cousin characters? Heck, stick with the twins idea if you want, but don’t insult my intelligence.

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