'Command Authority' Review: Tom Clancy's Last Novel Retains Conservative Appeal

'Command Authority' Review: Tom Clancy's Last Novel Retains Conservative Appeal

It is hard to believe Command Authority is the last novel that will come from Tom Clancy’s computer.

What makes this realization even harder is the fact that this book represented an improvement over Threat Vector, the late author’s previous work, and that it obviously was setting up another book in the future. Clancy, who died Oct. 1, could still deliver great novels.

In Command Authority, John Patrick Ryan Jr., who had been working at “The Campus,” an off-the-books intelligence operation that carries out covert assassinations of terrorists and other enemies of the United States, has taken a new job. An investigation on behalf of a client who lost his company due to shady actions by the Russian government soon thrusts Jack Jr. back into the shadowy world.

Meanwhile, his father, President John Patrick Ryan, Sr., is meeting an old frenemy at the White House–only to find that this frenemy has been poisoned with polonium-210. As his friend lays dying in a hospital, Ryan Sr. learns that Russia’s new president is not letting a failed invasion of Estonia put a stop to his territorial ambitions.

Command Authority, co-written with Mark Greaney, immediately shows flashes of the old Tom Clancy, including the accuracy in the technical details that one comes to expect, as opposed to Threat Vector, where some details were missed (notably describing the Chinese naval variant of the Flanker as the J-5, which was actually the designation for their copy of the MiG-17).

The novel does show one slip in continuity (Teeth of the Tiger had described Campus chief Gerry Hendley as being from South Carolina, not Kentucky), but it is a marked improvement over Threat Vector in making sure the small details don’t throw off the reader.

Clancy’s novels, while never overtly political, did take stands many conservatives support, most notably, in the form of a strong military and support for our troops and the intelligence community. In this novel, it largely holds, with the only real mention of politics being Ryan cancelling appearances at GOP fund-raisers to handle a growing foreign policy crisis.

Clancy’s skill in taking on the changing world remains very strong. Command Authority deals with Russia’s turn towards the dark side. The country’s new president is not only hostile to the United States, he has ties to organized crime, including a nasty Russian mafia gang called the Seven Strong Men. When the chairman of the SVR is killed in a bombing, the new Russian president soon hands that organization’s functions to the FSB, bringing back the old KGB in all but name.

The novel also takes a trip into the past, featuring Ryan’s first encounters with the beginnings of the criminal organization that would have people in the highest levels of power in Russia thirty years later. This trip also gives us the chance to once again meet familiar Clancy characters, like James Greer.

Ultimately, it falls to Jack Jr., an “off the books” MI-5 agent, and the other operatives from “The Campus” to thwart the FSB/Seven Strong Men alliance.

The conclusion of the book, which is for all intents and purposes, a draw, does a superb job in setting up a potential re-match between Ryan Sr. and the new Russian president–a re-match we may never see.

On a personal note, Clancy’s novels stood as something for me to aspire to as a writer myself.

At one time, the author himself pointed me towards his old agent as I was trying to get my first novel published, and he often provided me advice about writing. A line from one of my favorite songs goes, “There is no way I am backing out, I’ll find an angel here somehow.” In that sense, he truly was one.

With Command Authority, we are reminded of the genius of the author who invented the techno-thriller. We also get a chance to enjoy a final work from an author who left us too soon.