The Sum of All Fears

Title:                  The Sum of All Fears

Author:                 Tom Clancy

Clancy, Tom (1991). The Sum of All Fears. New York: Putnam

LCCN:    91011917

PS3553.L245 S8 1991


Date Updated:  June 23, 2015

I have mixed feelings about any Clancy book. He writes very well, for sure. What I resent is his ultra-right leanings and dismissal of anyone who thinks that diplomacy might be a way to avoid combat. This particular book is one of his better ones, emphasizing skills of the operators rather than meekness of the president.


The master of the techno-thriller places nuclear-weapon technology in the hands of Third World terrorists and sets the superpowers on the path to Armageddon just when everybody thought it was safe to relax. Clancy dishes out page after page of highly detailed atomic bomb assembly directions and nuclear submarine specifications, enough technodazzle to satisfy the most seriously committed technofreak, but it is plain old-fashioned plotting in the best, hair-raising, we’re-all-going-to-die-in-five-seconds-if-somebody-doesn’t-do-something tradition that keeps things cracking in the very eventful life of Jack Ryan, hijacker of submarines, friend of princes, wizard of Wall Street, true spirit of the CIA, and devoted father.

This time Ryan’s nemeses are Arab terrorists who stumble on a lost Israeli atom bomb and get big ideas; the cowardly but attractive National Security Director who shares the President’s pillow and hates our Jack; and the bottle. It is the last of these plagues that most worries Ryan’s pretty ophthalmologist wife and friends. Stressed out by his responsibilities at Langley, unwinding every night with wine-in-a-box, he’s gotten paunchy and cranky and unable to fulfill his husbandly role, and he’s become vulnerable to the machinations of his archenemy Liz Elliot, the widowered President’s favorite advisor.

A boozy, discredited Jack Ryan means that the US is in deep danger when the Arabs hire an East German physicist to upgrade their beatup but still lethal old bomb before placing it outside the Super Bowl game in Denver. With Ryan out of favor there’s no one to counter Ms. Elliot’s misinformed ravings. The pesky terrorists and their truculent Native American recruit intend the atomic explosion to stir things up between the Americans and the supposedly deranged Soviets—and they get their wish. Ignoring Jack Ryan, listening to Liz Elliot, everybody in Washington panics, the Soviets get their backs up, bombers launch, submarines crank up their missiles, and thanks to more terrorist meddling, tanks from both sides start blowing each other up in Berlin. Has Jack knocked off the sauce in time to save the world? Clancy swears he has left the critical parts out of the atom bomb directions, and we will all just have to pray that he has. They sure seem complete, though. This is quite a rouser.

Unnatural Exposure

Title:                      Unnatural Exposure

Author:                  Patricia Cornwell

Cornwell, Patricia Daniels (1997). Unnatural Exposure. New York: Putnam

LCCN:    96038460

PS3553.O692 U56 1997


Date Posted:      October 29, 2014


Whoever shot the latest unidentified female victim Dr. Kay Scarpetta’s called out to examine—whoever cut off her head, dismembered her, and bagged her torso for disposal in a Virginia landfill—may have been doing her a favor.

Though Virginia’s chief medical examiner doesn’t realize it until she’s called out to an even more horrific death scene—an inoffensive old woman on Tangier Island who seems to have died of smallpox—the earlier victim had signs of the same ravaging illness, supposedly eradicated in 1977. The violence to the first victim, and the care taken to conceal her identity, would point to murder even if Scarpetta hadn’t started to get sinister computer messages from somebody called “deadoc,” who soon goes on to order the President: “apologize if not i will start on france” [sic].

Arrayed against deadoc are the Richmond homicide squad (headed by Scarpetta’s old friend Capt. Pete Marino), the Virginia State Police, the FBI (including Scarpetta’s on-again lover Benton Wesley and her niece Lucy), the Center for Disease Control, and the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

But in true Cornwell fashion, the good guys are their own worst enemies: The state cops and the FBI are mired in turf wars; a slick state investigator’s determined to arrest the wrong perp and smear Lucy for an old lesbian affair; the USAMRIID, woefully underfunded, has furloughed so many unessential employees that there’s hardly a nurse to care for Scarpetta when she comes down with a fever she can only pray isn’t smallpox. Cornwell’s tenth (Hornet’s Nest, 1997, etc.) shows her bestselling formula—in-your-face forensics, computer terrorism, agency infighting, soap-opera romance, penny-dreadful villain—wearing a little thin. But fans, swept up in a fever of their own, won’t care a bit.

Finished reading June 15, 2014