Book Review: True Faith and Allegiance
by Mark Greaney
US Navy Commander Scott Hagen, captain of the USS James Greer, is back in America at the beginning of Mark Greaney’s new book True Faith and Allegiance, the latest installment in something its publisher rather ominously refers to as “the Tom Clancy universe.” Tom Clancy’s name is blazoned across the cover in type that’s twice as big as the book’s title and four times as big as Greaney’s own name, but Clancy died back in 2013 and had no hand in this book’s nearly 800 pages of thrills, squints, and chewy patriotism. It’s perhaps the most high-profile current example of the newly-vigorous publishing phenomenon of hiring new writers not to bring a single manuscript by a dead author to completion but rather to simply continue writing that dead author’s books. Brandon Sanderson wrote three or four of Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” novels before bringing the whole series to an appropriately cataclysmic and ambiguous ending (and could have kept right on going without a peep of protest from Jordan’s legion of fans); two or three wringers have been brought in to keep two or three of the late Robert Parker’s franchises popping with fresh books; Robert Ludlum’s novels continued for decades after his death in 1907, and long-time series authors like W.E.B. Griffin and Clive Cussler are transitioning their fictional empires as smoothly into the hands of the next generation as the late Dick Francis did with his racetrack whodunits.
In almost all these cases (Parker being the obvious exception), the most noticeable feature of these zombie franchises is also the most embarrassing: the successors are handily better writers than their predecessors. It makes sense in a way – the original authors were mostly either flukes who got very lucky or thoroughgoing hacks without any higher literary talents to speak of, whereas their younger successors tend to spring from the softer soil of writing workshops and literary aspirations. But in any case, readers who don’t care about provenance and just want to keep enjoying some of their favorite characters ad infinitum are in luck (unless their favorite character is James Bond, but that’s a sacrilege of an entirely different catechism): thanks to writers like Mark Greaney, such things are possible.
The favorite character in question here is of course not Commander Hagen for all his stand-up virtues; it’s Jack Ryan, the brainy-but-heroic CIA op who starred in half a dozen of Clancy’s most popular novels and who’s President (of the United States, that is) in True Faith and Allegiance. He’s the star of any Clancy production, even a zombie-Clancy production, but despite what Hollywood might want its ticket-buyers to believe, presidents don’t make plausible action heroes – and since Greaney collaborated with Clancy on the author’s last three novels and has written four in series since Clancy’s death, he understands this better than anybody. So in addition to President Ryan, the book’s heroes include both Commander Hagen and Jack Ryan Junior, an Operations Officer for the intelligence group known as “The Campus.” Junior is a chip off the old Glock, as fond of involuntarily being pressed into action as his dad was, and every bit as prone as all other Clancy characters to inventorying everything he sees:
With just a few minutes before his jump, Jack looked across the cabin of the Cessna Grand Caravan at the two other men who would be involved in today’s exercise. Dominic Caruso was head to toe in black – even his parachute harness, his goggles, and helmet. His chest rig was filled with thirty-round nine-millimeter magazines, and he wore a SIG Sauer MPX submachine gun with a silencer strapped behind his right shoulder.
But Ryans père and fils notwithstanding, True Faith and Allegiance is mostly Commander Hagen’s book. One of the main plots kicks into motion when a CIA operative masquerading as a Canadian businessman is apprehended in Tehran, which in classic Clancy fashion (although here without the signature Clancy botching) sets off ripples throughout the interlinked worlds of international politics and spycraft. And that larger plot, you can bet your last SIG Sauer MPX, will end up connected to the crackerjack scene with which Greaney opens the book: Commander Hagen, in civvies, at an outdoor Mexican cáfe with his family in New Jersey, notices a man standing in the street staring at him. The man eventually walks off, but Hagen, his senses sharpened by having spent a lifetime living inside the Tom Clancy universe, doesn’t like the smell of it; he tells his family to get up and head for the restaurant’s rear entrance. They’ve only just started on their way when the suspicious man returns, this time brandishing a rifle and firing into the restaurant crowd.
Clancy heroes are unkillable, but even so, taking a few rifle rounds to non-vital organs is going to sting come winter. Hagen remains stoical about the damage he must endure in order to defeat the gun-wielding maniac, and again in true Clancy fashion, Hagen spares some time even in the middle of a firefight to do a little well-placed snickering at lily-livered liberals:
He had no weapon of his own. This was New Jersey, so even though Hagen was licensed to carry a firearm in Virginia and could do so legally in thirty-five other states, he’d go to prison here for carrying a gun.
It was of no solace to him at all that the rifle-wielding maniac ahead was in violation of this law by shouldering a Kalashnikov in the middle of town. He doubted the attacker was troubled that in addition to the attempted murder of the one hundred or so people in the garden café in front of him he’d probably also be cited by the police for unlawful possession of a firearm.
And naturally, we’ve got to have villains. In the Clancyverse, these always come in pairs: chinless bureaucrats in Washington (closet liberals, the lot of them) and calculating madmen of foreign disposition. In True Faith and Allegiance, Greaney gives readers a corker of an evil jihadist mastermind, fond of ladling out generous helpings of eee-vil exposition for his many minions:
“Now you will all return to America. Not to your mosque, not to your friends, not to your Muslim way of life. No. You will got to safe houses we have arranged, you will live quietly, establish your peaceful, nonthreatening routines, give all those around you no reason at all to be suspicious of you.
“A month from now … chaos. Three months from now … the armies of the West will be leaving to fight in the caliphate. One year from now, inshallah … the permanent retreat of the West, devastated and demoralized, the bodies of their dead left behind to fertilize our fields. They will run and they will never return.”
Greaney mixes all these elements together in a big book that never for an instant feels long. He’s five times the storyteller that Clancy was, and he especially excels at the very thing Clancy did worst, the sustained action-sequences that are the lifeblood of the thriller genre. If it might be slightly the case that Greaney is hampered by the strict protocols of Clancy’s zombie-pieties, it hardly slows him down in these pages. And in his own terrific thriller series, the “Gray Man” books that started back in 2009, he’s under no such restrictions: Gunmetal Gray comes out in February.