August 9, 1993
Avid readers of Clancy's bestselling techno-thrillers ( The Hunt for Red October et al.) know agent John Kelly, code-named Mr. Clark, as Jack Ryan's ``dark side.'' Here, in 1970, Vietnam vet Kelly gets involved in a secret operation to rescue 20 American pilots from a North Vietnamese prison camp. Betrayed by someone in Washington, the mission ends in apparent failure. Clancy balances the military movements with a dark narrative of Kelly's tragic personal life. While mourning the death of his pregnant wife in a traffic accident, Kelly picks up a young hitchhiker named Pam, a prostitute and drug ``mule'' fleeing her cruel masters. The pair fall in love and set out to bring down the drug lords, but an error on Kelly's part leads to Pam's horrible demise at the hands of the vengeful criminals. After his own recovery from a shotgun blast, Kelly begins methodically to murder his way through the drug ring. Clancy attempts to rationalize this amoral crusade with passages of introspection by characters who are either noble warriors or human scum, but the technique doesn't wash. Although full of failings of style and moral judgment, this overlong, often melodramatic novel seems destined to follow its predecessors to the top of the bestseller lists. BOMC selection.