Long-time fans of Tom Clancy will, by now, have a good idea of what to expect with this Jack Ryan doorstopper. The Russian president, Valeri Volodin, is concocting a get rich quick scheme that will put the world on notice as he covertly manipulates the globe's oil supply and prices. Naturally Ryan, former CIA analyst turned President of the United States, knows what's up and attempts to use his powers as leader of the free world to stop the former Soviet KGB agent from upending the whole planet. Mark Greaney takes this plot and complicates it six ways to Sunday with a dozen subplots and twice as many characters, setting the men of The Campus (and, sadly, it is largely still a boy's club with nary a strong woman in sight...) toward their targets all around the world and hitting a broad macro view of what a modern war with Russia would look like. There's secret agents, assassin siblings, money laundering, kidnapping, diplomacy and, when that fails, warfare by land, sea, and air.
The strange part is, for all that appears to be going on, this book often feels like nothing is happening for long stretches. Commander-in-Chief is a slog to read. Although I continue to be an advocate for Greaney's work in this particular franchise, this entry is the weakest of the bunch. So much of the page count is spent building toward the inevitable war everybody knows is coming, but by the time the war actually rolls around in the book's climax it's nothing terribly grand. A fair amount of hay is made over an advanced Russian sub armed with nukes staking out the American coastline, only to disappear from both US tracking satellite's and the novel's narrative. The kidnapping subplot drags on for longer than it should, and then gets resolved in a single page. Despite some solid action scenes and accounts of thrilling military heroics, the various subplots lose their steam fast and fizzle out in a number of unsatisfying ways.
I am still curious to see where these characters are heading, particularly John Clark, knowing that Greaney's tenure with the Tom Clancy brand has since passed (I'm a few years late and a handful of books behind with the Jack Ryan Universe). Clark, now pushing 70, is clearly ready for retirement if this book is any indication. One thing that made me smile, though, was Clark, during a morning shooting range training, thinking about how reasonable people can cope with disagreement. I couldn't help but think of Mitch Rapp, the assassin hero of Vince Flynn's series, who damn near has an apoplectic fit anytime somebody disagrees with him and threatens to murder everyone for not drinking his Kool-Aid. I like the Rapp series, mind you, but it's nice to see trained killers like Clark actually behaving and thinking like professional adults rather than bratty children with guns. It's this kind of characterization of our nation's government workers and servicemen that has always put Clancy at the forefront, in my mind.