Mark Greaney understands this chaotic and violent world better than anyone currently in academia or, seemingly, in the media…
True Faith and Allegiance: A Jack Ryan Novel (New York: G.P. Putnam, 2016)
If I want to understand the things that transcend this world and inhere in all persons, I read Russell Kirk. If I want to understand the nearly incomprehensible chaos of the present day, I read Mark Greaney. Kirk always gives me a liberal education, Mr. Greaney a vital one.
For those of you who don’t know (and I envy you, if you have yet to read him for the first time), Mark Greaney is a bestselling novelist, and his many books adorn the shelves of your neighborhood Barnes & Noble as well as your local airport bookstore shelves. By the grace of God, he inherited the Tom Clancy universe of Jack Ryan. He actually writes two series, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and his own creation, The Gray Man. In the former, he continues the story lines that began with Clancy’s first novel, the masterfully gripping, The Hunt for Red October (1984), and ended with The Teeth of the Tiger (2003). With Teeth, Clancy more or less rebooted the Ryan universe, moving the plot lines from the father to the son, Jack Ryan, Jr. Then, for seven years, Clancy was painfully silent. Finally in 2010, Clancy began to publish Jack Ryan novels again, but only as a “co-author.” Clancy passed away on October 1, 2013. Since his death, the Clancy fiction universe has continued under Mr. Greaney and Grant Blackwood.
Mr. Greaney’s other series, “The Gray Man,” serves rather effectively as a sort of counterpoint to Clancy’s patriotic but endangered world. In the Clancy world, we learn of America, America’s agencies, and America’s agents. Though corruption exists in this world, the heroes that populate it are generally rather amazing super-hero-like patriots, fighting in defense of an expansive republic under siege. It should be noted, however, that Clancy’s universe was not a neoconservative one. Clancy was hawkish, but never imperial.
In Mr. Greaney’s other world, the world of The Gray Man, things are far less clear-cut. Possibly the best-trained man ever in the CIA, the protagonist Court Gentry has gone rogue. For all intents and purposes, Gentry is a one-man platoon, a poor Bruce Wayne, hated by all, but still managing to do the right thing. He especially has a soft spot when it comes to protecting children. Still, Gentry often fights using questionable means, and the U.S. government is certainly not an ally or even a force for good in the Gray Man’s world. The CIA and other government agencies pursue him mercilessly. One might best think of Gentry as a good anti-hero, especially when compared to Jack Ryan or Jack Ryan, Jr.
So, let me lay my cards out on the table.
Mark Greaney is a genius. There’s no doubt that Tom Clancy could tell a tale well, and he did so in a way that always invited the reader to explore the most technical details of a submarine or the latest destroyer. And, of course, we always empathized with Jack Ryan, the historian-scholar turned CIA analyst turned, through a fluke of Japanese terrorism, president of the United States. Ryan was (and remains) the embodiment of the Reagan-esque patriot superhero.
As with all things of the twentieth century, though, Clancy had it relatively easy, though we didn’t know it then. The Cold War, for all its evils, still had rules, and the greys of good and evil were far less dramatic than they are now. The communists were horrible, but even they understood the limits of what was possible in this world of sorrows. Ideologies narrowed the possibilities of evil, even if ideology is and always will be evil. Mr. Greaney, somehow, understands this chaotic and violent world of 2016 (and 2017) better than anyone currently in academia or, seemingly, in the media. As with all of his Clancy/Jack Ryan stories, he asks the most important questions in True Faith and Allegiance, and he ably presents the myriad evils in this present world, evils that come from every direction and every fundamentalism known to humanity.
Without giving too much of the plot away, I can state that the novel deals with an amoral Romanian opportunist: “Alex Dalca was a new man, fortified with skills that could have been used for good or evil. He would have been an incredible asset to any intelligence agency in the world, including the United States, if not for one fatal flaw. Alexandru was in it for the money, and he had no concept of the pain he caused others in acquiring that money.” Importantly for the plot of True Faith and Allegiance, Dalcais is also a computer expert who has discovered a wealth of five-year-old data taken from a U.S. government server during one of the American government’s invitations to hackers to try to infiltrate its systems. Even the foreign company that successfully hacked the American server doesn’t know it had succeeded a half-decade earlier. The information, unfortunately, contains every application for security clearance since the mid 1980s. Using this data, Dalca targets very specific government employees, beginning with the stolen data and then following the trails of each person across Facebook and other social media. He then sells the information on the Dark Web to state actors as well as to terrorist cells.
Not surprisingly, this creates havoc for the United States, as precisely-targeted individuals are being murdered, here and abroad. No one seems capable of figuring out just exactly how the targeted individuals are being revealed so specifically to foreign agents. That is, until Gavin Biery, the IT Director for an off-the-books spook house, and Jack Ryan, Jr., figure it out. (Biery, by the way, has been in the novels for quite a while, and he’s a great character.)
If I go into any more detail than this, I risk ruining the story for you, and I most certainly do not want to do so. Let me note again: Mr. Greaney is a genius. Not only does he understand the Clancy universe beautifully, but he really gets the modern world in the way most simply do not. He’s willing to admit that the world is chaotic, and he’s more than willing and able to show through fiction exactly how that chaos plays out in a real world. Of course, there’s also that great, Reagan-esque patriotism that pervades the entire novel. After reading several of Mr. Greaney’s novels (I’m not a completist yet, but close), I can state that not only is he an excellent writer, he’s also an equally excellent thinker. His tales are gripping as well as thought-provoking. What more do any of us want?
Immerse yourself in Mr. Greaney’s worlds. Now!
And, an exclusive with Mark Greaney: Three questions, three answers. If you’ve not guessed it yet, Mr. Greaney is as personable and gracious as he is interesting and talented.
Birzer: Thanks so much for talking with us, Mark! An honor. So, three questions. You’ve noticeably increased the role of women in the Clancy universe. Most have served as spouses, girlfriends, and daughters—Mary Pat Foley and Andrea Price-Day, being notable exceptions. With the increased role of Adara, do you see the Clancy universe taking a turn from anything that had come before?
Greaney: Mary Pat Foley has always been one of my favorite of Tom’s characters. She’d been in his books since she was a CIA case officer in Moscow with her husband, Ed, in Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988), and it was fun to age her, and give her the top job in all U.S. intelligence. It’s also important in the books to give Jack Sr. some close, trusted confidants, people who not only can help him navigate the world, but also people who can disagree with him and tell him when he’s wrong. Mary Pat is one of the “old guard” who can do just that. Adara is a different case; during research for the books I’ve met some females in military and law enforcement who have really impressed me, and I thought it would be interesting to explore this dynamic. She started out as a minor character, but her role has grown, and she’s an integral part of the team now.
Birzer: How do you keep the events of the Clancy universe in your head? Especially considering the divergent countries, wars, politicians, etc.?
Greaney: Keeping the universe together in my head is a tough part of my job, but I think it makes the stories more interesting if the universe mirrors our own as closely as possible, so that helps. I research reality and fold it into the fiction wherever possible, and sadly, there are a lot of real threats against America these days, so I haven’t gone wanting for plot ideas.
Birzer: Finally, you clearly are a brilliant storyteller. How much do you balance telling a good story with giving some of your personal viewpoints (all of which, I tend to agree with, by the way)?
Greaney: Everything has to be centered on entertaining readers; an author who gets too preachy is going to drain the fun and excitement out of his or her book. But at the same time, an author of a political and military thriller doesn’t have the luxury of straddling the fence to try to appeal to everyone’s opinion at the same time. The book has to take a stand, so the author has to do his best to get it right, and to sell his stance on an issue without being preachy or dismissive of other viewpoints. I try to be both convincing of my opinion and empathize with those who have a different view, instead of just shoving my opinions down the readers’ throats.
Birzer: Thanks, Mark. You certainly have a loyal reader in me, and I very much hope that all Imaginative Conservatives embrace you and your books.
Mark Greaney’s personal website is http://markgreaneybooks.com.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.