"Locked On" comes to us as the latest production out of the Tom Clancy studio of researchers and assistants. He wrote this one with an intelligence studies wonk (or so Mark Greaney's bio on the book flap would attest) with firearms and combat training from around the world. The novel picks up the Jack Ryan family saga without missing a beat from "Dead or Alive": Ryan Sr. is trying for a return to the White House while son Jack has become deeply enmeshed in the anti-terror forays of The Campus, the off-the-books covert intelligence unit staffed by alums of various other Clancy novels.
If you recall, Richard Nixon's memoir was called "Six Crises." Clancy's Jack Ryan books might be called The Endless Series of Crises. In this novel there's a plot by a rogue Pakistani general to destabilize the Pakistani civilian government so he can take control; there's a plot to destroy Moscow with a nuclear weapon; and there's a plot by a weakened Democratic president named Kealty to undermine Jack Sr.'s campaign in the last weeks before the election.
There's even a romance plotline that portrays Jack Ryan Jr. becoming putty in the hands of a beautiful CIA operative from Texas who has ulterior motives when it comes to young Jack, an aspiring black ops expert.
Each plotline comes to us mainly in a series of tightly written action scenes, the first of which opens with a boom as Russian special forces in stealth helicopters descend on a remote village in the Caucasus to snatch the military leader of an Islamic rebellion. Next, in a relatively calm scene, two operatives from The Campus are monitoring a meeting between a mysterious new Middle Eastern troublemaker and some supposedly benign Egyptian politicians. Which leads to a complicated attempt on the part of seasoned Campus operatives to disrupt an Islamist terrorist attack in the heart of Paris.
So there is a lot going on in this long, long novel, which, paradoxically, reads as smoothly as a fast-paced daily newspaper story. The action scenes alone come across beautifully, as visual as anything on a movie screen, with the added enticement of crisp, accurate and hard-driving prose. As in the following scene in the Four Seasons in Paris: "Ding Chavez got slightly ahead of Dominic as they sprinted up the fourth-floor hallway. Both men doffed their rain parkas and let them fall as they ran on, got their hands on their sub-guns, and unslung the ropes from their necks. When he arrived at the door to room 401, Chavez just shouldered right through it, smashing the bolt out of the doorjamb and sending the door flying in. He fell to the ground and Caruso leapt over him with his HK trained toward movement on the bed."
And of course, there are square-on views of espionage and wartime gadgetry, including robotics, hidden cameras, signal lights, weaponry, aircraft, spacecraft and — Lord help us! — nuclear payloads.
Ultimately, it's Clancy's gift for taking three novels' worth of plotting and knitting it into a single continuous and compelling story that makes this new offering so successful. He certainly hooked this reader. Imagine my surprise when I found myself, old Democrat that I am, rooting for the Republican candidate for president. That's how good Clancy has become.
Alan Cheuse's latest novel is "Song of Slaves in the Desert."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun