How to Make Sense of Clancy’s Convoluted Chronology in Jack Ryan Series

It’s been over 20 years since The Naval Institute Press first published ‘The Hunt for Red October’ as one of its fiction offerings. Written by a insurance salesman from Maryland, this novel’s depiction of a Soviet submarine’s officers’ plot to defect to the United States became a runaway bestseller and made Tom Clancy a one-man multimedia enterprise.

Readers of Clancy’s novels discovered that, with the exception of ‘Red Storm Rising’, all of the books are really part of one huge storyline – what has come to be known as the “Ryan-verse”, named for Clancy’s central character, John Patrick Ryan, Sr., ex-CIA analyst/senior official, former National Security Adviser and ultimately President of the United States. In fact, the trend begins in the first novel, since there are references to ‘Patriot Games’ in ‘The Hunt for Red October’, when a naval officer makes an offhand remark about Jack’s connections with the British government and refers to him as “Sir John Ryan.” However, the novels were NOT published in chronological order; instead they sometimes jump back and forth between two separate periods in Ryan’s life: his CIA career and his eventful stint as President of the United States.

Ryan’s CIA Career

Even though ‘TheHunt for Red October’ is the first novel to have been published (by a publisher that specializes in books about naval history, strategy, and references), it really is the third in the convoluted chronology of the Ryanverse. To follow Ryan’s eventful career in the Central Intelligence Agency from the beginning, the place to start is ‘Patriot Games’, which tells the tale of how Ryan, then an ex-Marine, ex-stockbroker who teaches history at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, foils an Irish terrorist group’s attempt to kidnap the Prince and Princess of Wales (and their baby) in the very heart of London. Jack is wounded but kills or wounds the assailants, only to become the target of their revenge. Given an honorary Knighthood by the Queen and catching the attention of CIA Deputy Director (Intelligence) Adm. James Greer, Ryan reluctantly joins the Agency as an analyst and assigned to London as a member of a liaison group to the British Secret Intelligence Service.

‘Red Rabbit’ deals with Ryan’s assignment to London and focuses on a daring mission to assist the defection of a KGB communications center officer who has discovered that KGB director (and future Soviet leader) Yuri Andropov has ordered the murder of Pope John Paul II before the man’s spiritual leadership and personal charisma manages to create unrest in communist-ruled Eastern Europe. Although Ryan and a small team of British agents manages to help “Rabbit” and his family get to the West, they fail to prevent the shooting of the Pope. Nevertheless, “Rabbit’s” defection proves to be a major coup to both American and British intelligence, and Ryan suggests a non-military strategy to help hasten the USSR’s collapse.

Ryan’s career gets a real boost in ‘The Hunt for Red October’, when he unexpectedly becomes a key player in Operation MANDOLIN, a mission to assist Captain First Rank Marko Ramius and his co-defectors in their attempt to take the Soviet Typhoon-class Red October to the United States. Although he is not a field agent in the Operations Directorate, Ryan uses his pluck and Marine training to save the day, discovering (and shooting) a Soviet GRU (military intelligence agency) mole who is determined to stop Ramius and his fellow defectors.

After this major coup, Ryan is reassigned to Langley, home of the Central Intelligence Agency. Now he is an assistant to DDI Greer, who is clearly grooming the rising analyst for bigger and better positions, maybe even his own job when the veteran spook finally retires. So in ‘The Cardinal of the Kremlin’ Ryan travels to Moscow as part of the American strategic nuclear weapons reduction negotiation team. There he meets Sergei Golovko, also a rising star in the KGB hierarchy, and eventually will become entangled in a complex web related to both the race to develop “Star Wars” space-based defensive technology and yet another defection, this time that of a senior Soviet official named Cardinal.

‘Clear and Present Danger’ breaks from U.S.-Soviet confrontation storylines as Clancy turns his attention to other pressing issues such as the war on drugs and the use of military assets in what is a law-enforcement issue. Although other characters (some introduced in earlier novels, such as John Clark, first mentioned in ‘The Cardinal of the Kremlin’ ) take active roles in the secret missions in Colombia, it’s Jack Ryan who must first rescue a small group of isolated American soldiers from a Colombian wilderness and then uncover a highly covert and illegal operation approved by a slimy National Security Advisor. Sadly, too, Jack loses his boss and surrogate father, Adm. Greer, when the older man dies of cancer. (At the tail end of this book, he runs afoul of Elizabeth Elliott, international affairs adviser to then-candidate J. Robert Fowler, beginning a chain of events that will have aftershocks in Clancy’s next novel.)

As Jack reaches his highest post at CIA – Deputy Director, Central Intelligence – his career is placed in jeopardy when J. Robert Fowler becomes President and chilly Elizabeth Elliott becomes both National Security Adviser and Fowler’s paramour. Liberals way to the left of Clinton/Gore, they not only deny Ryan any credit for an innovative Middle East peace plan, they also panic when a mixed bunch of terrorists (not the Neo-Nazis seen in ‘The Sum of All Fears’ film)detonates a nuclear bomb in a major American city and nearly plunges the world into a Soviet-American nuclear war. Once again, Ryan defuses the nuclear crisis by convincing the Soviet leader that this is a setup. He then steps up to the plate and stops Fowler from launching a nuclear missile at the hometown of the nuclear plot’s true mastermind, effectively ending President Fowler’s administration and his own career at the CIA.

Rise to the Oval Office

After a two-year semiretirement, Jack Ryan returns to government service in ‘Debt of Honor’ which deals with a second Pacific War between Japan and the U.S. For most of the book Ryan is National Security Adviser, but when the Vice President is forced to resign after a sex scandal, President Roger Durling taps him for the job…a job he is barely confirmed for in Congress when a Japanese airline pilot dives his 747 onto the Capitol, killing most of the people inside and elevating Jack to the Presidency.

The events of the Ryan Administration are chronicled in both ‘Executive Orders’ and ‘The Bear and the Dragon’, during which the reluctant yet determined President must face political trickery by his enemies, a deadly plague and two major military conflicts far from American shores.

The Next Generation

‘The Bear and the Dragon’, for the time being, ends the Jack Ryan chronicles, which also include two separate “John Clark” novels (‘Without Remorse’ and ‘Rainbow Six’). However, 2003’s ‘The Teeth of the Tiger’s central hero is John Patrick Ryan, Jr., a young man with the same talent for covert operations as his distinguished father.

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