So, I just finished listening to Tom Clancy's Red Rabbit. I read a lot of Clancy in high school - they were large, adultish looking books, they were about war, and you could be sitting calmly in class reading a semi-decent sex scene. Clancy wrote a book in which an airliner is used by a terrorist to crash into the U.S. Capitol, so he got a lot of credit in the post 9/11 world.1
In the End of History, Clancy stories about a more dangerous world held a fascination. In an actually more dangerous world we see how Clancy has been refighting the last war, Thinking about a clash between a secret cadre pulling the strings in China/India/Japan/Iran and the U.S. in which Japan, India, and Iran try to distract the U.S. in various ways so China can seize a large chunk of Russia, completely ignoring how such a group would come together or possibly exercise power in a type of 'Risk Board Thinking.' The only non-state actors are a group of eco-terrorists based in the U.S. When Muslin terrorists set off a bomb in the U.S., the real problem is making sure the President doesn't launch nukes at Russia.
Red Rabbit (written 2002) is set during Tom Clancy's comfort period, the cold war. Unfortunately, it bears the marks of its time travel. The narrator lectures on how the CIA is much more competent than people think, if only we knew of their successes. Everyone knows the Soviet Union is about to collapse, despite it coming as a surprise in the real world.
This is the plot: The KGB decides to kill the Pope, a guy in the KGB decides to defect, Jack Ryan sits in the same truck with him as he is snuck out of the S.U., then Jack Ryan tries to stop the Pope getting shot, and basically fails.
But that's not what the book is about. The first quarter of the book is about Jack Ryan moving to England and talking about how Engly it is, and Ed and Mary Pat Foley moving to Moscow and talking about how Sovi it is. The next quarter is a bunch of Russians pushing paper to kill the Pope, with all (all!) of them pausing to briefly consider that Marxism-Leninism (always said by my narrator in a particularly haughty accent MARS SCHIZM LENA JISM). Then, the Russian Protagonist, Zeitsev (the Rabbit) decides that he doesn't want to kill the pope. He'd rather defect. Sorry, I just don't buy it. I live in a country where the largest single religious faction is the Catholics, so I've gotten plenty of Rah Rah Pope in my life, and if I were at CIA and they said 'the Pope is causing political trouble for us, let's whack him' I'd do it. Zeitsev was raised in a country that's actively anti-religious, he's not a secret Christian, and Mother Church in his country is the Orthodox, not the Catholic. So his motivation is a no go for me.
As the 'Jack Ryan series' has progressed, the U.S. government gets more competent - in Cardinal of the Kremlin, Jack Ryan is the only competent person in the government, In Clear and Present Danger, Clark appears as a guy that's super competent at killing people, and by the time we get to Rainbow Six, all the named characters (Robbie Jackson, Dan Murray, Clark, Ding, the Foleys) are in the top jobs, so the Gov't can do no wrong. Chronologically, Red Rabbit takes place before Hunt for Red October, but the 'super competence' juice has sunk in completely.
This causes serious plot problems. Before the Foleys can have sex in every room of their apartment (Clancy has them screw an unusual amount), Ed is contacted by the Rabbit and both Foleys proceed to have several conversations with him totally unobserved, apparently Golovko, the Clancified future KGB chief hasn't gotten his juice yet. The Rabbit tells the Americans that their communications are compromised, but that the British are not. He also tells them that there is a high level spy in Britain. He refuses to tell them about the Pope till they get him out of Russia. Since Ryan is in England, they send him to Romania to get the Rabbit on what is the most boring fetch quest ever. Ryan meets the Rabbit and his family, they take a truck to Yugoslavia and an airliner back go England. Because the Brits are super duper competant. The Russians don't realize the Rabbit is gone since the Americans subbed a bunch of burnt up corpses and started a fire in the Rabbit's hotel room. Because the CIA doesn't want people to know they have the Rabbit, they won't try to stop the Pope getting shot, so Ryan goes down there, has a gun in the back of the putative assasin, but the assasin has hired a flunky to take the shot, so the Pope still gets shot. The story ends with Ryan bitching about having a long plane flight from England to Virginia so he can drop off the Rabbit at CIA headquarters.
Oh, and it turns out that American communications aren't compromised, so there was no need to involve the Brits. Oh, and there's a bunch of Rah Rah Catholocism.
That's super boring. This is Patient Etherised's Red Rabbit:
Zeitsev is a secret Catholic, descended from Americans that came over during the '30s and reverted to Catholocism after they saw how bad it was. They're thoroughly back-crossed so he looks Russian. He approaches the chief of Moscow station that's NOT Ed Foley. The Chief of Station gets made because someone saw Zeitsev reverse pickpocketing him, but they didn't see that it was Zeitsev, and Ed Foley has to arrange a crash meeting with Zeitsev while Zeitsev is still under vague suspicion, the meeting taking place in front of the KGB headquarters as Foley pretends to bug Zeitsev for a story. Zeitsev tells Foley the Americans have a spy high up in their espionage community, so the Brits are involved, despite having a spy high up that passes on diplomatic and political intel. The Zeitsev family goes to Slovenia to do the escape, the bodies get switched, but when they try to cross the border to Yugoslavia, they are challenged by the Secret Police. The Rabbit has been sold out by the British Traitor, Ryan's officemate, Harding!!! Dan Murray plays a tense game of cat and mouse with the latter day Philby as he tries to make his way to an East Bloc embassy, finally throwing himself into the Thames. Ryan, the Rabbit et al. make a run for the Aegean Sea, bugging out to a backup spot on some rugged terrain. After a tense day of listening to their radio, they hear from a sub in the area and are picked up by Seals on boats (so it's a repeat of Cardinal in the Kremlin, so what?).
Zeitsev tells Ryan about the Pope Shoot (heh heh) and the probable identity of the assasin. CIA has no files on him, so Ryan takes Zeitsev to Rome for a visual ID. At the same time, the KGB has realized they got the wrong bodies! (This is not so much a missed opportunity as an actual hole). Despite being burnt, the bodies show very low blood carbon monoxide (it would diffuse out of the body in the week of transit and storage + since the bodies can't breathe they wouldn't re carbonate in the fire) also, the blood types don't match (blood is routinely typed, and the Americans didn't ask what Zeitsev's was). Dental records are checked and the discrepancy revealed.
The assasin is notified, but they decide to risk it anyway. In St. Peter's Square, as the Pope begins circulating and blessing the crowd, Zeitsev identifies the assasin to Ryan who puts a gun in his back. At that point, a second assasin emerges from the crowd, shoots Zeitsev and aims for Ryan. Ryan turns his gun on assasin #2, then assasin #1 shoots at the pope while the crowd closes in.
We close with Jack taking Zeitsev's widow and daughter to Disneyland.
1. Debt of Honor / Executive orders.