Sunday, January 22, 2012

Dead or Alive (Tom Clancy with Grant Blackwood)

Book cover of Tom Clancy's Dead or Alive

I’m not sure I want to read any more fiction written by Tom Clancy.

I was about 12 when I read Tom Clancy’s first novel The Hunt for Red October. A year or two later the even thicker Red Storm Rising came out with its multi-layered, multi-location third world war narrative.

Since then I’ve dipped in and out of his work, noticing the increasingly acknowledged collaboration with other writers, and following the adventures of Jack Ryan, his friends and family.

Yet, picking up a cheap copy of Dead or Alive in a sale in Waterstone’s Waterstones before Christmas, I found it a thoroughly dissatisfying read. Yes the plot is spelt out in an addictively page-turning manner, but the values and ethics of the world in which the characters live is no longer an appealing place to rest my imagination.

Every hundred or so pages, another group of extremists are clinically shot while they sleep or ‘neutralised’ rather than captured if they’re judged to be of little value to intelligence officers. It is rare for an American operative to die. (They have better odds of living than red-shirted Star Trek characters.) Yet when it happens, the pain for their family and colleagues is investigated and agonised over in a way that is ignored for the bad guys.

After the death of his twin brother in a joint mission, Dominic’s suffers a mini-breakdown, becoming more aggressive than usual while interrogating a terrorist and eventually impulsively killing him with a shot through his eye. Loss leads to increased fervour and zeal. Yet this reaction is never attributed to the people the American teams kill.

I don’t normally overanalyse novels, and certainly don’t expect fiction to be complete and balanced. Terrorists and those tackling terrorism live and die in dark, murky circumstances, with ethics that are all grey and never black and white. But Dead or Alive made Clancy (and his co-author Grant Blackwood) seem like an apologist for the worst extremes of western military gung-ho behaviour. Maybe his characters will urinate on enemy corpses in the next book? I’ll not be reading it to find out.

It’s a little like services on Remembrance Sunday that solely focus on the actions and lives of local soldiers and neglect to pause to consider the deaths and casualties on all sides of conflicts.

Update – just stumbled on another blog’s review which dissects the role of women in Dead or Alive.

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