The Hunt for Red October

Title:                  The Hunt for Red October

Author:                 Tom Clancy

Clancy, Tom (1984). The Hunt for Red October .Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press

LCCN:    84016569

PS3553.L245 H8 1984


Date Updated:  April 29, 2015

By Reid Beddow[1]

“Underneath the freezing seas of the North Atlantic, a giant Soviet submarine, the 30,000-ton Red October, many times larger than any American sub, glides through the deep. Armed with 26 solid- fuel missiles (each with eight 500-kiloton nuclear warheads) she is headed for the East Coast of the United States. In hot pursuit are 30 surface ships and 58 other submarines—the entire Soviet Northern Fleet.”

So begins Tom Clancy’s breathlessly exciting submarine novel, The Hunt for Red October. It may be the most satisfactory novel of a sea chase since C.S. Forester perfected the form.

Its startling premise is that the Red October’s skipper, Captain First Rank Marko Ramius, wants to defect to the West, taking his ship with him. That is why the Russians are chasing one of their own. Thanks to a spy, the U.S. Navy knows Ramius’ intent. At the Pentagon they salivate at the chance to dismantle an intact Russian submarine of the latest design. But neither Ramius nor the Russians know our side knows. So the U.S. Navy must deploy to meet the Soviet fleet’s appearance in force, while at the same time it attempts to track down the Red October, establish communication with Ramius, and escort his ship to a concealed anchorage.

The scene of the action shifts rapidly, from Moscow to Washington, from Murmansk to Norfolk, from ship to ship, and back again, the tension constantly building with gratifying unpredictability.

For a landsman, Clancy marvelously evokes the cramped quarters and high morale of submarine duty. Many of his good guys are aboard the U.S.S. Dallas, an attack submarine on “Toll Booth” station, near the treacherous undersea trough off Iceland where Russian subs habitually disgorge into the Atlantic. Here Sonarman Second Class Ronald Jones stands sentinel over his listening equipment. (Off duty Jones plays tapes of Bach: this is the new Navy.) The Dallas carries a chain of passive sensors which extend 200 feet down both sides of her hull, “a mechanical analog to the sensory organs on the body of a shark.” From them, Jones picks up a strange sound, a “sort of swish.” It is the Red October hurtling into harm’s way.

Who will catch the quarry first, the Russians or the Americans? The double hunt climaxes in a series of lethal encounters as the NATO and Soviet navies converge and the world teeters on the edge of Doomsday. An attractive cast of strong characters—CIA spooks, political commissars, old sea dogs and young sailors—lends credence to the elegant plot.

Clancy’s strong suit is his facile handling of the gadgetry of modern weapons systems. Readers who don’t know the difference between Tomahawk or Harpoon missiles will lap up his depiction of a hide-and-seek world, one where killer submarines shadow missile-firing submarines above an ocean floor alive with electronic sensors flashing data to ultra-high- speed computers.

Clancy’s revels in the high technology of the arms race never bore. His chilling description of what happens when a nuclear reactor melts down, condemning a submarine crew to not quite instant and horrible death, will cause armchair admirals to shudder. The metallurgical properties of submarine hulls, ultra-low-frequency radio—all is grist for the author’s mill. Here he discusses propeller cavitation:

“When you have a propeller turning in the water at high speed, you develop an area of low pressure behind the trailing edge of the blade. This can cause water to vaporize. This creates a bunch of little bubbles. They can’t last long under the water pressure, and when they collapse the water rushes forward to pound against the blades. That does three things. First it makes noise, and us sub drivers hate noise. Second, it can cause vibration, something else we don’t like. The old passenger liners, for example, used to flutter several inches at the stern. . . . Third, it tears up the screws . . . “

This is engaging stuff, and just as we used to rejoice in C.S. Forester’s technical descriptions of 200 tars scaling the rigging of a man-of-war to shorten sail, so we warm to Clancy’s deft handling of modern naval armament. Red October makes the pigboat of the motion picture Das Boot look like a Model T.

No doubt some persons will deplore Clancy’s enthusiasm for the superpowers’ game of high-tech chicken in Davy Jones’ locker. All that is another argument: The Hunt for Red October is a tremendously enjoyable and gripping novel of naval derring-do. Evidently submariners mean it when they say, “There are only two kinds of ships—submarines and targets.”

[1] Reid Barlow in The Washington Post (October 21, 1984). Downloaded April 29, 2015


Casino Royale

Title:                      Casino Royale

Author:                 Ian Fleming

Fleming, Ian (1954). Casino Royale. New York, Macmillan

LCCN:    54001306

PZ4.F598 Cas2


Date Updated:  August 4, 2015

Bond…James Bond is the name. And the game is extreme Baccarat. Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel – premier introduction of the post WWII, fantastical cold war intrigues of Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s Master Spy, Agent 007, Bond – is a riveting read.

James Bond was created by the pen of Ian Fleming[1] in Casino Royale 1953), this fictional character was a member of the British Secret Service who undertook clandestine missions for his chief, known only as “M.” The books proved an immediate best-seller, and more than 20 movies since Dr. No in 1961 have made the series the most successful of all time, having been seen by an estimated half of the world’s population.

The extent to which the fiction was based on fact has been the subject of much debate, and several candidates have been suggested for the basis for Bond—including Fleming himself, who served in the Naval Intelligence Division during World War II and worked closely with the Secret Intelligence Service. The parallels between Bond’s organization and the real SIS are many, and the author undoubtedly drew on his own experiences, and those of his contacts, for his plots. His closest friend throughout his life was Ivar Bryce, a wartime British Security Coordination officer who completed secret missions in South America during World War II, and a double agent, Dusko Popov, whom he encountered in the gaming rooms of Estoril, Portugal, in 1941 may have been the inspiration for Casino Royale.

Although intelligence professionals are sometimes quick to disown Bond’s adventures as unrealistic, his gadgetry is studied with interest by technicians anxious to develop new communications and surveillance equipment.

I first read Casino Royale, as well as a few others in the series, while in my early teens – back when I’d only read stories in order to immerse myself in the plot – to find out what happens next, essentially – not caring a jot about writing style, descriptive detail, or character development. Back then, I found it curious that the Bond of the books was so different from the Bond of the movies (The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker being the contemporary releases of that time.) I wondered, for instance, why the James Bond in the movies didn’t have black hair and why, in the books, he wasn’t funny at all…Indeed – well, so much for my pre-adolescent review.

Now, many years later, indulging on a whim, I’m reading the series again. And I must say I am thoroughly enjoying it – but not for the same reasons I had when I was young. I’m actually nearly through it in its entirety – and must say that, though they’re all very good, Casino Royale has a palpable raw depth rarely visible in the rest. I can now see and appreciate the fine quality of the writing, the extraordinary sculpturing of an ideal action hero, and the magical lure that has begotten the most well-known, long-standing film series of all time. And, yes, these books are great fun!

“M,” head of the British Secret Service, hands Commander Bond what appears on the surface to be a posh assignment: thwarting an enemy Russian spy, Le Chiffre, in his attempt to win an exorbitant 50 million francs – KGB funds which he had lost through an ill-advised investment in a chain of brothels. Agent 007 lives an intensely hard lifestyle, and he’s known to be the best gambler in the Service. He’s therefore assigned to break Le Chiffre’s bank at the baccarat tables of the Casino Royale, in the French Riviera.

SMERSH, the Russian Secret Service in charge of all diplomatic killings for the Fatherland, is right on to Le Chiffre. Though he’s very desperate, Le Chiffre happens to be a first rate baccarat player. He plans on winning that 50 million francs at any cost, employing a couple of potent assassins enforced to help see it through.

Though James Bond must face Le Chiffre as a force of one at the baccarat table, he has his own team of assistants: Rene’ Mathis of the French branch, American CIA agent Felix Leiter, and the beautiful Vesper Lynd of the S branch of British Intelligence. Vesper is officially the very first Bond girl – and she utterly mesmerizes our master spy: he sees her as an entity of wonder.

Truly, this story does not own any of the qualities that could easily be made into a movie. There’s plenty of tension, plenty of action, and quite a lot of romance to boot. However the tension is mainly in the climatic card game, which, minus the author’s excellent descriptive prose, would appear tedious on the screen; the action is definitely intense, but includes a harrowing torture scene which should not be witnessed by the squeamish; and, well, without the advantage of being able to follow the thoughts of our hero, a film version of this story might easily cause the romance to appear as carelessly thrown in.

Vesper’s an intriguing Bond Girl, though. Her fateful role exacts a twisted surprise ending, which inevitably sets the tone and atmosphere of Bond’s future relationships with women. This is perhaps the only book of the series wherein Bond takes a good, hard look at the moral portents of his own place in his profession – sort of a teasing glimpse into the window of his heart – but only that peek – as it seems thereafter shut fast and hard. Keen, sharp, dark and moody: James Bond remains ever the quintessential Man of Mystery.

Some comments by Jay Berkeley:[2]

Near Sloane Square tube station, down King’s road to the left of the station is 30 Wellington Square. Ian Fleming never specified where James Bond lived, beyond placing his flat in a little square in Chelsea off King’s Road. It was John Pearson—who was commissioned after Fleming’s death to write Bond’s authorized biography ( an interesting literary conceit)—who located Bond at this address. If, in fact, the sleek and soigné Commander Bond had lived here during the 1950s or 1960s, he would scarcely have enjoyed the place recently. Imagine his thoughts on walking out his front door and finding himself among scores of aggressively unattractive young people, their hair hideous in shape and. colour, their ears and noses pierced with safety pins. Knowing enough about truly violent people, and being one himself, Bond might not have been alarmed by these spaced-out punk-rockers (who are mostly rather-well-behaved working-class kids). I wonder, though, whether Bond might not have moved his residence before long.

Like the area around Wellington Square, Bond also changed over the years. In the first of the Bond books, Fleming sought-to make 007 as bland as possible. In successive books he developed Bond’s quirkiness, giving him preferences and opinions that were mostly, I suspect, Fleming’s own (preferring martinis shaken and not stirred, disliking shoes that lace). In the last books, Fleming expressed through the Bond character his own depressive morbidness, revealing an attitude unimaginable to the younger Bond —or to the younger—and healthier Fleming.

The books changed in other ways. The early ones were akin to the tales of Somerset Maugham, Phillips Oppenheim, and other British writers of spy fiction of that era, with some verisimilitude as to the scale of Bond’s organization and its operations. But as the Bond books became trendy and “mass-cultch” they began to resemble the worst of science fiction. The plots (and for that matter the locales and characters) are increasingly grotesque. The first book, Casino Royale, is possibly believable. Live and Let Die is less so. By the time we get to Moonraker, we must suspend disbelief almost totally, and The Man with the Golden Gun finally goes so far beyond the believable as to be almost uninteresting.

The film Bond (whether portrayed by Connery or his successors) is the later Bond. What happened, I think, was that Fleming wrote his first book without having the movies in mind. By the time he sold Dr No to the film producers, he was thinking very much of the film audience, writing a far more gaudy character—leeringly lubricious—and a far more gaudy book. The movies, of course, are deliberate spoofs. Fleming would probably have preferred to have the movies as serious as his earlier books, but he was not the sort to argue with money or success, and the Bond films had the formula for both.

With all the trappings removed, the Bond books are basically about a Briton who wins, at a time when Britons were not winning. When Fleming has Bond defeating Le Chiffre at the gambling casino (thereby defunding him), he is putting into print one of his more telling fantasies. After the war he encouraged acquaintances to believe that he had tried to defund some German agents in Lisbon but had failed, Significantly, he doesn’t let Bond fail. Looking at all the defeats, major and minor, of the British intelligence services—at the hands of Nazis, Soviet agents, Irish nationalists, and anti-British elements throughout the Empire and Commonwealth—one sees Bond’s fictional victories in a new light.

[1] West, Nigel (2006). Historical Dictionary of International Intelligence. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, p. 35

[2] See Berkeley, Roy (1994). A Spy’s London. London: Leo Cooper, p9. 62-64