The Cardinal of the Kremlin

Star-Wars style laser weapon is centerpiece of “The Cardinal of the Kremlin” book jacket.
Lasers aim to destroy

The Cardinal of the Kremlin was Tom Clancy’s fourth bestseller in a row.

It follows what by 1988 had become Clancy’s signature blend of Cold War politics, espionage, military technology, and the presence of CIA analyst Jack Ryan.

The “Cardinal” of this novel is a Colonel Mikhail Filitov, thrice awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal for service in battle; unknown to Ryan, he’s been a CIA spy for 30 years.

Ryan is in Moscow as a technical advisor for arms negotiation. There he stumbles across information that the Soviets are very close to having a working, missile-based laser system.

Far to the east on the Afghanistan-Russia border, an Afghan freedom fighter glimpses a flash of green light that proves the Soviet technology works. He passes his observation along to the CIA along with documents taken from Russians he and his men slaughtered.

Clancy runs multiple story threads simultaneously, switching the scene from one continent to another, and the focus among dozens of characters.

You can read Cardinal for relaxation, but you can’t relax and read it. That is part of its attraction. Clancy expects each reader to do his/her duty.

You won’t want to disappoint him.

The Cardinal of the Kremlin by Tom Clancy
G. P. Putnam. ©1988. 543 p.
1988 bestseller #1; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Bourne Identity: Gripping story, forgettable characters

A sea shell pierced by a nail against a black background on the dust jacket of “The Bourne Identity”
The Bourne Identity cover art symbolizes murder attempt at sea

As he did in his previous bestseller, The Matarese Circle, in The Bourne Identity novelist Robert Ludlum tells a story that will keep readers turning pages long past their bedtime.

Bourne is the identity assumed by a man pulled from the Mediterranean “more corpse than man,” unable to remember anything about his past, including why he has a piece of microfilm with a Swiss bank account number implanted in his hip.

In Zurich, the amnesiac takes a woman hostage—every spy story requires the hero have a woman to complicate the plot—and together in Paris they begin to piece together Jason Bourne’s origins in Southeast Asia.

Ludlum is a master storyteller. Plot is his forte. Ludnum gives his characters just enough depth to be recognizable. They learn what’s necessary to advance the plot, but they don’t grow.

A day after closing The Bourne Identity, readers may wonder how Bourne, even before being shot in the head multiple times, could have been expected to remember everything he was required to remember to implement the machination of the West’s intelligence services.

Two days later, readers may even be unable to recall the names of the main characters.

But while they’re reading, they will be totally immersed in this complex, fast-paced thriller.

The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
R. Marek Publishers, © 1980. 523 p.
1980 bestseller #2. My grade: B+

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Vanished resurrects Cold War era anxieties

Letters of Vanished on novel jacket in progressively smaller letters

Vanished is a Cold War era political thriller that will sound familiar to readers who grew up in that era.

White House Press Secretary Eugene Culligan relates the events.

One election year, a good, personal friend of President Roudebush vanishes from Burning Tree Golf Club.

Investigators learn Steve Greer left the country by a circuitous route.

That raises speculation that Greer’s in trouble, and that the President may be involved, too.

The President’s party gets jittery; so does Wall Street.

The President assigns the FBI to handle the investigation, which infuriates the CIA director and raises further speculation of something shady going on.

Culligan gets nervous because he can’t get information.

The press is hounding him, but he has nothing to say because he knows nothing.

Eventually, Culligan learns everything, but not before the American public and Fletcher Knebel’s readers do.

Knebel draws all his characters well enough that they are distinguishable but not particularly memorable. The focus is the story of what happened to Steve Greer and who’s going to break the story.

The ending fits its Cold War setting, but may sound a little simplistic today.

None the less, Vanished will entertain without deadening the brain cells.


Vanished by Fletcher Knebel
Doubleday, 1968. 407 p. (Book Club Edition). 1968 bestseller #8. My grade: B.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Green Berets Covers Vietnam War With Acronyms

Robin Moore started out to write a nonfiction account of the undercover work of the Green Berets.

When it became clear the special missions in which they engaged in Vietnam were too sensitive to be reported, even in disguise, Moore decided to present the book as fiction. Even then, its publication met with negative reaction from the US Army.


The Green Berets by Robin Moore

Crown Publishers, 1965. 348 pages. 1965 bestseller #5. My grade: C-


From dust jacket cover for The Green Berets by Robin MooreCalling The Green Berets a novel is also a work of fiction.

It’s a collection of stories—the publisher calls them “brilliant, inspiring tales”— Moore collected and imaginatively expanded based on his experiences with Special Forces in Vietnam.

Moore assumes readers will know the historical background  and geography and need only modest two-page glossary of acronyms to make sense of events that involve characters named Hin and Hon, Ming and Mong, who fight for or against CIDG, ARVN, LLDB, USOM or STRAC.

I suspect the only readers today who have that kind of knowledge are Vietnam-era veterans.

Moore concludes the book by saying that regardless of the outcome of the Vietnam war, Special Forces will continue to “make friends for America” in underdeveloped nations.

Given the stories Moore tells, however, I suspect Special Forces will need to deploy a lot more chocolate bars to accomplish that.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni