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Sums of Tom

Oct 04 2013, 05:04 IST
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SummaryClancy's technically detailed novels gave a birth to a new kind of thriller

Tom Clancy, who passed away in Baltimore on Tuesday at 66, spent a lot of time in news studios on and after September 11, 2011 because in his 1994 novel Debt of Honour, a disgruntled Japanese pilot crashes a Boeing 747 into the US Capitol in a kamikaze attack that kills the US president and most members of Congress. In 2003, a CNN presenter accused his precise descriptions of US military techniques of giving secrets away to terrorists. Clancy retorted: “I never got any fan mail from Osama bin Laden, and I don't really know how many books I sold in Afghanistan.”

That said, the man who was ranked no. 10 on the Forbes Celebrity 100 list in 2002, wrote one of the best genre novels of all time with his 1984 debut The Hunt for Red October, which was turned into a blockbuster film in 1990 starring Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery. Clancy, valued at nearly $50 million a decade ago, introduced the technically detailed—weapons, subs, intelligence—thriller, so accurately that he was cited as an authority on the stuff, and not just because of his proximity to generals, spies and Republican politicians. Unsurprisingly, he was also one of the richest authors in the world. But his legacy extends beyond potboilers and CIA analyst Jack Ryan to blockbuster videogames, such as Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six series, which bear his name.

Red October may owe its fame to Ronald Reagan's endorsement and Clancy repaid the compliment several times, not least by accusing leftwing US politicians of enabling 9/11 by emasculating the CIA. What's not so well remembered is his later criticism of the Bush administration and Donald Rumsfeld in particular. Clancy's last years may not have been the best to boast a life membership of the National Rifle Association, but rest assured, when the final novel, Command Authority, is out in December, it will make a killing.

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