National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 6-7.

Clancy, Tom.  The Cardinal of the Kremlin.  New York: Putnam, 1984.

Tom Clancy’s novels have proved so popular that they have spawned a large number and range of imitators.  Bridging the action-adventure and espionage genres, Clancy’s novels have come to define a new genre, the techno-thriller.  Most of Clancy’s novels have featured C.I.A. analyst Jack Ryan, a stalwart character whose strongly fixed moral sense complements his very flexible responses to crises.  But the readers’ attachment to Ryan has accrued over many novels.  The individual novels are driven more by intricate and suspenseful plots than by complex characterizations.  And the signature feature of the novels has been Clancy’s knowledge of or ability to anticipate cutting-edge technological advancements.

Clancy’s most well known novel has probably been The Hunt for Red October (1984), but his most conventional espionage novel has been The Cardinal of the Kremlin.  Focusing on the announced U.S. intention to develop a “Star Wars” missile-defense system, the novel ostensibly pits Ryan against the Soviet analyst Colonel Mikhail Filitov, as they compete to assess the Soviet Union’s capacity to produce its own space-based missile-defense system.  The climax of this competition is complicated by the revelation that Filitov is a double-agent, a longtime American plant within the Kremlin.

Condon, Richard.  The Manchurian Candidate.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959.

A gifted novelist who produced noteworthy work in several genres, Richard Condon has been described as the most paranoid novelist that the United States has ever produced.  Certainly he tapped a major tendency in the American sensibility of the 1960s and 1970s with his diverse novels featuring conspiracies and abuses of power that accidentally or intentionally mirrored current events.  A publicist in the film industry until the age of 42, Condon turned into a prolific writer, producing 24 novels and two books of nonfiction over the next 36 years.

Condon’s second novel, The Manchurian Candidate, focuses on Raymond Shaw, an American soldier who has been a prisoner-of-war in Korea.  Unknown to Shaw, his North Korean captors have brainwashed him and now have the ability to transform him into a programmed assassin with a simple command.  Indeed, an entire group of POWs has been brainwashed to believe that Shaw has heroically led their escape from the communists.  He has received the Congressional Medal of Honor for this contrived heroism, putting his loyalty beyond question, even when the other brainwashed soldiers—and one in particular—begin to suspect that something isn’t right.  The suspense derives from this fellow soldier’s attempt to figure things out before Shaw succeeds in assassinating a presidential candidate at a political convention held in Madison Square Garden.

The novel itself generated some controversy when it was published, but the film adapted from the novel featured riveting performances by Laurence Harvey, as Shaw, and Angela Lansbury, as well as a star turn by Frank Sinatra.  In the heightened Cold War atmosphere surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis, the film created a sensation.  Then, when President Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald and it became known that the completely unimpressive assassin had spent time in the Soviet Union, there was speculation that he, like Shaw, had been brainwashed and even that the film may have inspired the actual assassination.  Consequently, the film was withdrawn from release and not re-released for almost a quarter-century.

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Previous Posts in This Series:

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 1-3: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-1-3/

National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: 4-5: https://academeblog.org/2014/05/31/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-4-5/

 

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