In Rainbow Six, Tom Clancy features the character John Clark (a.k.a. John Kelly) who appears in several of his Jack Ryan novels and is the central character in Without Remorse.
Rainbow is a secret, six-nation task force created to combat terrorism led by Clark, who is “Six” to the military he commands.
Rainbow’s members have barely met each other when their services are required. First, former members of the Bader-Meinhoff gang take hostages in a Swiss bank in what appears to be a robbery.
Hard on the heels of that incident, Rainbow is called to Vienna when a financier’s home is seized by intruders who demand insider codes to international trading.
Next there’s an attack on a Spanish version of Disney World that was prepared to repel thieves, but not to deal with armed men demanding the release of political prisoners.
Meanwhile, some very influential Americans are developing a terrorist scheme designed to work without a public announcement of demands.
Normally, Clancy invents situations that are plausible. Here the ultimate terrorist scheme is so preposterous it wouldn’t attract adherents among residents in a mental institution. And the ending of Rainbow Six, is, as one character says, “like something from a bad movie.”
Patriot Games is a thriller about good guys trying to stop terrorists before they can do bad things.
Jack Ryan, an ex-Marine and naval history professor at Annapolis Military Academy runs afoul of an ultra-nasty IRA splinter group while on vacation in London with his ophthalmologist-surgeon wife and four-year-old daughter.
When the disaffected IRA members stage a terrorist attack on the Prince and Princess of Wales right in front of him, Ryan responds saving their lives and making a deadly enemy.
With the British on high alert after the attack, the terrorists decide to strike in America, where Irish terrorists have never struck.
A planned visit by the royal couple to America and to their new friends, the Ryan family, offer the terrorists an ideal target.
A terrible thunderstorm just as the terrorists’ strike adds to the drama.
What makes the Patriot Games unusual is that author Tom Clancy focuses heavily on the different psychological characteristics of the good guys—U.S. military, the CIA, FBI, police, and their British counterparts—and the bad guys.
There’s nothing particularly startling about Clancy’s observations, but the personal angle makes a pleasant change from descriptions of weapon systems and intelligence analysis procedures.
In The Little Drummer Girl, John Le Carré abandons George Smiley’s British gloom for a world of international terrorism.
Le Carré fashions a tale about a Palestinian responsible for deaths of Jews throughout Europe. The Israelis know him by the coil of surplus wire left with his crude bombs and by the professionalism with which he eludes detection.
They have no idea who he is, but they have a plan to find out.
The Israelis offer a young English actress called Charlie the role of her life.
The Israelis invent a character for her: the role of a dead terrorist’s lover. They drill her in the facts they know of him and the story they have concocted.
Her job is to get inside the terrorist organization and bring its leader to the Israelis.
Charlie has not only to play her character, but once she’s involved, she has to play other roles, the psychological equivalent of portraying a Russian nesting doll.
The “nestedness” of Charlie’s character requires close attention from readers. Sometimes Charlie isn’t sure which character she’s playing.
Le Carré lightens the load with apt, sometimes even hilarious, character descriptions, but never lets readers forget that terrorists and anti-terrorists each kill people.
The Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carré
Knopf. 1983. [Book Club ed.] 429 p.
1983 bestseller #4. My grade: A-
The Fifth Horseman is a thriller merging 1970s international news and hometown fears in a narrative that still feels contemporary.
Libya’s Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has devised a plot to trigger a nuclear bomb hidden somewhere in New York City if the Americans don’t get Israel to abandon territories seized from Arabs.
Getting the bomb into New York and getting directions to the White House falls to Kamil and Whalid Dajani and their sister, Laila.
The trio had vowed vengeance for the loss of the family’s West Bank home.
Whalid studied nuclear physics and went to work for the French nuclear program.
Whalid’s political views softened; Kamil’s and Laila’s became harder.
Laila, disguised, delivers the terrorists’ threat.
Gaddafi gives the U.S. 36 hours to comply. Should the U.S. attempt to evacuate the city, Gaddafi will detonate the bomb immediately.
Americans scrambling to respond to the nuclear threat discover they have few options other than to find the bomb and disarm it without news of the crisis leaking out.
Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre had been news reporters before joining forces to write books. Their first-hand observation of political appointees shows in their depiction of inept bureaucrats trying to solve an immediate problem.
That in itself still renders The Fifth Horseman terrifying.