When you see the name “Tom Clancy” on the spine of a book, you know what you are getting. That would be several hundred pages of edge-of-your-seat reading, torn from the pages of today’s (or, more often than not, next month’s) headlines. LOCKED ON, co-written with Mark Greaney, is the sequel to 2010's DEAD OR ALIVE and is yet another Clancy book you will not want to miss.
"Almost the size of three books, [LOCKED ON] has enough plots to sustain at least four. Yet it is almost impossible not to want more. Why? The ending."
The novel returns to the world of the Campus, a highly unofficial, off-the-books intelligence agency made up of a small but highly effective group of intelligence and field operatives that include Jack Ryan, Jr. Ryan the Younger, though only in his mid-20s, has moved nicely, though quietly, out of the shadow of his father. As the book opens, the son is privately training with a former Special Forces operator, honing his skills so that he can move from the extremely important but rather sedate analysis work he does into something a bit more hands on. Meanwhile, Ryan, Sr. is running for President, seeking a second (non-consecutive) term against Ed Kealty, the incumbent who is in the pocket of a billionaire socialist who seems to be keen on quietly dismantling the United States and its institutions from the ground up.
Of course, there is more to LOCKED ON than what is occupying the overachieving Ryan family. In fact, the first hundred pages spins off six or so plots and sub-plots that dip, swerve and intersect with each other over the course of a brick of a book that in lesser hands would drag but that, under the guidance of Clancy and Greaney, move along at the literary equivalent of a Mach 7.
The capture of an Islamic terrorist by a Russian Special Ops team takes place in western Dagestan. The Campus finds itself in the middle of a violent firefight in a landmark hotel in Paris; a quiet coffee shop in a sprawling street market in Cairo is the site of a clandestine meeting with international repercussions; and a Pakistani general hatches a plot to blackmail the world using nuclear warheads and a fanatical terrorist.
Complex? You bet. Complicated? Absolutely. LOCKED ON is not Clancy’s first rodeo, however, and he and Greaney keep the narrative flowing smoothly by frequently switching points of view among the several different storylines and keeping the subject matter accurate without getting bogged down in detail. At the same time, occasionally they take a step back from the explosions and karate to matters that are no less intense, such as a presidential debate or a quiet dinner where a plot that borders upon treason takes form. Reading this book is almost like watching a horse race: one wonders which plot will be resolved first, how quickly and at what cost.
There is also the issue of character attachment. Readers of DEAD OR ALIVE know there is no guarantee that everyone who is introduced in the first half of a Campus book will make it to the end of the second half, either intact or functioning above room temperature. Yes, this is a big, complex thriller --- make that a Thriller --- but you’ll want to devour it in a single sitting.
Almost the size of three books, it has enough plots to sustain at least four. Yet it is almost impossible not to want more. Why? The ending. While LOCKED ON is complete in and of itself, the conclusion leaves a slender but enticing plot thread hanging, which readers are sure to want resolved sooner rather than later. Hopefully we won’t have to wait an entire year to see how things play out.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 16, 2011