Trouble has a way of finding President Jack Ryan and his son, Jack Jr., the legendary heroes of the late Tom Clancy’s clandestine spy thrillers, who are back for another go in Tom Clancy Firing Point by Knoxville’s Mike Maden.
The constant trouble is understandable in President Ryan’s case. After all, he’s the leader of the free world and as such must deal with innumerable threats around the globe. But Junior, a senior analyst at a covert intelligence agency known as The Campus, can’t seem to catch a break either. Of course, crisis and intrigue are exactly what readers would expect from a Clancy-style thriller, and Maden delivers in spades as both characters are immediately thrust into explosive situations — Junior quite literally.
After a bungled attempt to apprehend a mercenary killer, Junior recuperates by vacationing in Barcelona, Spain. “Jack had loved his time in Madrid but he was utterly captivated by Barcelona,” Maden writes. “He could see himself living in this city, despite recent events.” Barcelona’s charm is marred by civil unrest arising from conflict between the Catalans and the Spanish government, and Junior soon realizes that the city might not have been the best choice for a restful vacation.
After a chance encounter in a bar with an old Georgetown flame, Renee Moore, whom he hasn’t seen in seven years, the two arrange to meet for dinner. But as Junior leaves, a suicide bomber detonates an explosive, killing dozens inside. Junior rushes to Renee, who lies mortally injured amid the debris, in time to hear her voice one word before dying: “Sammler.”
Along with a Spanish intelligence operative and the use of his own team at The Campus, Junior begins a quest to find those responsible for the bombing and avenge Renee’s death. A terror group, Brigada Catalan, initially takes responsibility for the act, but something about their admission doesn’t feel right. The group usually acts in more of a political form of protest and steers away from violence.
Renee’s secret ties to the CIA also raise more questions than answers, including whether she could have been the target of the attack. Or, alternatively, Junior himself may have been the target as the son of the president.
And then there’s the question of who, or what, Renee meant by the word “Sammler.”
“He couldn’t stop thinking about Moore and the light fading from her dimming eyes,” Maden writes. “Such a waste. A brilliant and beautiful woman who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. … If Brigada Catalan was responsible for Renee’s death, he’d do everything he could to help…track them down.”
At the same time, President Ryan has problems of his own. Six ships in the South Pacific have been lost under mysterious circumstances over the last eight weeks. An old friend reveals that his container ship company has experienced one such loss already and paid a $20 million ransom to avoid a second catastrophe. The series of events has the makings of piracy on the high seas, but President Ryan wonders if the Russians or even Chinese may be responsible. And if such is the case, to what end?
Both Ryans ultimately question whom they can trust. “Something his dad once told him when he was little came to mind,” Junior reflects. “Never trust the man who tells you to trust him.”
Maden expertly weaves the two storylines across alternating chapters, constantly raising more questions, mystery, and intrigue while never allowing for a lull in the action. He knows how to draw out the suspense and keep tantalizing readers to come back for more, leading them to wonder how the storylines will intersect (as they always do) in time for the riveting climax.
In his fourth time out as one of Clancy’s surrogates, Maden writes with authority and skill. Each story thread is supported by expertly researched information — from the political landscape in Spain to global dynamics and high-tech weaponry — without drowning readers in too much exposition and jargon. Clancy fans should be more than happy.
G. Robert Frazier is a former Middle Tennessee newspaper reporter and editor now working as a book reviewer and aspiring screenwriter. He has served as a script reader for screenwriting competitions at both the Austin Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. He lives in La Vergne.
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