This is my favorite Tom Clancy novel for entertainment value. It was published in 1988.
Tom Clancy is not always the easiest writer to follow. For one thing, he is a military techie, so his novels are wrapped up in scheming strategy, strewing layer upon layer of complexity, that upside down soon becomes inside out. It takes some wading.
This one lacks such intense military strategizing, focusing instead on spywork. I find it simply fun to read. Clear. Crisp. A plot that is complex, but can be tracked. Indeed, not tracked. It takes over the pages, which somehow flip by faster than a hypersonic torpedo.
The story is set during the waning era of the Soviet Union, when those within the Soviet power hierarchy had their doubts as to the legitimacy of their history and heroes, and the integrity of their own institutions.
The Soviets and the Americans are trying to negotiate down the insane number of nuclear missiles in their respective arsenals. Mucking things up are initiatives by both countries to develop laser defensive weapons: satellite killers and missile killers. The Americans are spying on Soviets to figure out how the Russians can generate so much power with so little electricity. And Russians are crawling all over American soil to find out why the Americans can aim their lasers better.
The focal point of the American spy network in Russia is a former war hero who works high up in the Defense department. He has been passing the Americans secrets for 30 years. The reader gets inside his mind to understand how a man who is so intensely patriotic can work against the interests of his own country. He is the "Cardinal"
At this same time, the Russians are losing a war of attrition in Afghanistan and we find ourselves rooting for the same Afghan guerrilla fighters who operate today under the banner of "terrorists".
Perspective is where you find it, historically.
The story is 8/10 plot. It is 1/10 moralizing and 1/10 technology. The latter part of the book is fantastic as no fewer than four conflicts must get resolved: (1) the Soviet kidnapping of an American laser expert, (2) extracting the "Cardinal" from Russia, (3) an Afghan attack on the laser development complex in Southern Russia, and (4) extracting two women from Russia by submarine (I won't reveal their identities so that I won't spoil a fine surprise in the reading).
We meet the standard players in Clancy's Jack Ryan series: Jack Ryan, Admiral Greer, antagonist Bob Ritter, the Foleys, a husband and wife super-spy team who get burned in Russia; the strong silent special forces solo man Clark, submarine Captain Mancuso and even a return visit from "Red October" Captain Marko Ramius, who in my mind looks and acts a lot like Sean Connery. We discover a Russian hero in Colonel Bondarenko, who must defend the Soviet laser complex against another of our heroes, "The Archer", an Afghan Muslim who can sling a stinger missile with the aptitude of William Tell.
So if you are having one of those days when you are not doing anything, tell your friends to leave a message at the tone, and grab this book.
It's really great.