Tuesday, September 6, 2011

"The Cardinal of the Kremlin"

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.


  1. Thank you for the tip, Joe. I'll try this one. I can never get past first 5 chapters of Tom Clancy's books.

  2. Great writers exploit their background or pedagogy in constructing and manipulating their works of fiction. Grisham took this into consideration and had taken advantage of it as mentioned in his book 'A Time to Kill" (yeah Joe, I took your advice). Makes perfect sense.

    I'll try to squeeze this one into my long (and overwhelming) list of must-reads.

  3. The Cold War is over so this book is OBSOLETE. Tom Clancy should write a new book: The Carabao vs. The Dragon. The story revolves around how a rising Southeast Asian country defeats China's numerical superiority with its Brains, Heart, and Pride!

  4. 1DC, I learned a lot from John Grisham and American newspapers than from Filipino newspapers and stint in college.

    I learned that witness account is not important if not independently corroborated and supported by evidences and forensics.

    Independent corroboration is difficult in the Philippines because investigators are pagarparings to the irresponsible Philippine Media that is why uinvestigators in AMerica never make pagarparings to the AMerican Media or if the AMerican Media winds about the investigation do not publish it in the papers SO AS NOT TO JEOPARDIZE INVESTIGATION AND PROSECUTION.

    Here in the Philippines anything goes. They go to America to study in Ivy-schools and NEVER LEARN A THING. They go back here lost all what they learn abroad.

    Filipinos cannot learn. It is easier to teach an old dog new tricks than Filipino old tricks. You teach them to fish and they starve praying for fish. And these are Filipinos.

  5. Proud Pinoy, that is a goot one. I'll look forward to it. It should be titled "Philippine Monkeys versus the Dragon: Attack on Spratlys with Flotilla of pumpboats manned by PMAyers"

    The Filipinos are just drum beating because Filipinos are very fatally fanatically irresponsible religious people. They believe in the story of David and Goliath. David is a Filipino monkey and Goliath is Chinky Dragon.

    This time David will hide under the skirt of Uncle Sam. David taunts the Dragon, then run to Uncle Sam which they have disowned by kicking out the U.S. Bases.

    I just love Filipinos. I just wonder where I will get my daily dose of entertainment if Filipinos did not exist.

  6. The first Clancy book I read was "Red Storm Rising." I read that in the 90s (schoolboy days). Kept me awake till it was time to wake up again for school. It was like having a war/action/techno thriller movie playing in my head.

    Then came movie adaptations of Clancy novels. Then there was brilliant move to cast Affleck as Jack Ryan.

  7. Can't argue with you, Mariano. I've heard about schemes involving the local media, how they 'benefit' from what issues they report on, how they sensationalize some and quickly focus on another to redirect the people's attention to the latest ones, etc. No wonder the media emphasize much on how proclaim themselves as the 'most-trusted' ones in news reporting... they usually do this before they conclude their shows. A dead give-away if you ask me.

  8. Mariano, Brianitus, Joe:

    What's the best movie adaptation for you guys? The one that accurately captured the essence of the book it was based from?

  9. 1DC, my favorite movie adaptation of a book is "Apocalypse Now". It is based on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", but modernized and set during the Viet Nam war. So it is an accurate re-telling only in the context of lunacy and fundamental ploy, one man going up river to bring back another. And the great lines of the climactic scene: "The Horror!. The horror!"

    I do warn you, however, that the book is difficult to wade through. Fortunately, it is short.


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