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Book review: <i>Patriot Games</i> by Tom Clancy

Wow. Way to hit an all new low in reading! I recall the TV ads for the movie adaption of Patriot Games from way back when, and I remember the huge deal the segments made about how you can identify a woman by her breast size VIA SATELLITE. Oh my God. And now, having read the damn thing, I realise they made a big deal of it because it may have been the high point of the novel. And I mean that in a very relative sense. So there go a couple of hours of my life that I will NEVER GET BACK.

The story

The annoyingly handsome and clever and brave Jack Ryan is hanging out in London with his annoying doctor wife Cathy and their mildly less annoying daughter Sally (she’s only four, she’ll grow up to be annoying) when Jack sees something amiss... a car has been stopped and there are bullets flying everywhere. Being the brave ex-marine/CIA researcher/naval history professor that he is, he immediately hurls his way into the crossfire and proceeds to save the Prince and Princess of England, while managing to take out one of the enemy, get shot, and allow another enemy to escape. And of course, his wife is newly pregnant.

Jack recovers from his injuries to find the royal family gushing all over his cleverness and gets a knighthood. He returns to the United States after the trial, where he has developed something of an interest in the ULA, a fanatical group of Irish terrorists, believed to be responsible for the Ryan-foiled-attack. When he discovers that the terrorist who was arrested for the attack escapes from under heavy guard, he decides to head back to the CIA to research the group.

Although the ULA have never made a move in America, the terrorist who escaped is so blinded with fury by Ryan having spoiled their plans that he decides to head after Jack and take out his whole annoying family with the help of a group of never properly explained black freedom fighters (?). Sadly, this attempt fails, and Jack gets all macho about protecting his family. Then the Prince and Princess of England pop over to America and Jack’s place for dinner, and lo and behold, a group of targets have congregated on a dark and stormy night ripe to be picked off by the terrorists. Yawn.

The style

I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this, but I truly hated this book. It bored me to tears. It took me a month to get through because I read ten and a half other books during this time, and also I could only read it five minutes at a time without wanting to throw it away. However, I’m sure you want to know the intricacies of why it is just so darn awful. So allow me to begin...

Tom Clancy’s writing style is embarrassingly bad. For a start, there is his lame attempt at trying to differentiate the English characters in the book by giving them weird and completely unnatural speech patterns. All in all, no points for characterisation. Jack’s motivation is slim at best in a general sense. The book is written in third person limited perspective, the majority of perspective being Jack’s but, even then, his character is frustratingly unrevealed. He is too brave, too handsome, too charming, etcetera. He is a caricature of a person, and when at least a hundred pages are devoted to Jack’s soul searching about life, the universe, and terrorists, his two dimensionality is unacceptable.

In fact, all the characterisation is similar. Everyone is a stereotype. Cathy, the strong independent doctor type, manages to be reduced into the stereotype of an annoying woman whose aim in life is procreation. The attempts to show her as a person in her own right are defeated by the macho-ness of the entire rest of the book. All the men are too manly, gun-toting, and focused on their general masculinity and cleverness for being members or ex-members of the armed forces. All the women are pathetic. And Clancy dwells for ridiculous periods on the motivation of two-bit characters never to be seen again. For example, he devotes the entirety of page 289 to the motivation behind Dr Shapiro, who saves Sally’s life, and ends up on a pointless and wandering diatribe about how Shapiro hates Edgar Allan Poe and equates him with all the evil Shapiro faces every day. And how frequent is the appearance of this character? About three pages in the whole book.

Clancy also dwells for ridiculous periods on Jack trying to understand the motivations of the terrorists. While this could have fleshed out the story and made it interesting and well rounded, Jack only gives the most superficial of glances to terrorism, while blathering about it for pages. Turns out the most important thing about terrorists is how they threatened his family. Great analysis, award-winning CIA man. You would expect more from a researcher/historian.

There is also the little matter of Clancy’s continual attempts to break down the stereotypes about the CIA, FBI, police etc. He continually harps on about how THESE FBI/CIA guys aren’t the bumbling stupid ones from the movies, but EVERY SINGLE MAN is an elite and highly intelligent fighting force who is there for the sole purpose of making everyone’s lives better. That’s right, I’m sure if you so much SUGGESTED “CIA” and “conspiracy” in the same sentence, Clancy would seize up with horror. The problem is that Clancy doesn’t seem to understand that subtlety is the key in these situations where you are trying to break down stereotypes; forcefeeding the reader will only turn the reader against you.

Finally, the whole novel was littered with poorly written irrelevancies. I will now quote one which I found particularly irritating:

Breckenridge was passing out life jackets to everyone aboard, which seemed a sensible enough precaution.

Oh! Of course! Wouldn’t have the cleverness to know that life jackets were a sensible precaution if it hadn’t been mentioned, thanks Tom! If this sort of crap hadn’t been put in there, he could have had a 200 page thriller that actually moved. Anyway...

Who is this book for?

People with absolutely nothing better to read, who are into the kind of simplistic tripe presented in these kinds of action adventures, or who are masochists. Or, buy it as a gift for someone you dislike immensely.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Anything else. Seriously, do yourself a favour. Compared to this, James Patterson should win a Pulitzer.

In short

Title: Patriot Games
Author: Tom Clancy
Publisher: Berkley Books
ISBN: 0425109720
Year published: 1987
Pages: 503
Genre(s): Adventure novel, Fiction, Thriller
Review Type: 


Tom Clancy wrote the stuff about the FBI, CIA, etc. the way he did to give people a new look behind the scenes. Not every agent is really like that, but most are, they really do care about the public,etc. and they do their job well. I really don't know why im writing this but i can't really write what im thinking at the moment. the book was great, giving negative feedback is always easier than giving positive feedback. tom clancy was just giving what the country needed at the time, the country was in a recession during the late 1980s and he just came out with this book at the right moment. i really have no clue wht im writing, but it does make sense.

You probably don't know a good book if one hit you in the face. Tom Clancy has got to be the greatest author in the action/adventure genre. You sound as if you read 80 pages, got bored, and stopped because you don't have the patience to read a good book. Go back to reading Twilight and learn about pedophile vampires and shirtless werewolves and leave the real books to people who actually enjoy reading.