Publisher: Sphere (Trade Paperback – 13 December 2022)
Series: Jack Ryan series
Length: 419 pages
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Prepare for another adventure from classic spy thriller character Jack Ryan as Marc Cameron once again visits Tom Clancy’s iconic universe for an amazing read with Red Winter.
Now, I am the first to admit that I have more than a few gaps in my reading knowledge, especially when it comes to some of the classic, long-running crime fiction or thriller series. Perhaps one of the most significant of these are the works of Tom Clancy, whose books, particularly those featuring protagonist Jack Ryan, are very highly regarded and have resulted in many films and other adaptations. The Jack Ryan novels have continued for years, even after Clancy’s death, with several authors contributing great new stories to the wider series. Well, I am about to dip my toe into Clancy’s universe for the first time by checking out the new Jack Ryan novel, Red Winter. Written by established thriller author Marc Cameron, who has already contributed several recent entries to the series, Red Winter was an intriguing and enjoyable read with some great spy thriller elements to it.
Berlin, 1985. The crushing stalemate of the Cold War continues as the East and the West engage in their usual espionage games. The most valuable piece on the board is an apparent Stasi source embedded deep within the CIA, providing invaluable information to the East Germany intelligence agency. However, the espionage balance is about to tip once again, when a young American embassy worker is handed a note in mysterious circumstances, apparently from a high-ranking member of the Stasi who wishes to defect to the West with a trove of information.
Unwilling to trust the CIA team in West Berlin, the traitor requests that a new face journey to East Berlin to discuss his upcoming defection. Forced to look outside the box of their usual operatives, the CIA decide to send Jack Ryan to make contact. Accompanied by a talented agent and shadowed by a deadly CIA killer, Ryan begins the dangerous journey to East Berlin to determine the legitimacy of their new source. However, there are few places more dangerous for a CIA agent like Ryan than East Berlin, and he soon finds himself surrounded by tricky foreign agents, deadly assassins and desperate informers, all of whom pose a dire risk to Ryan and his mission.
However, the plan gets even more complicated when an experimental US military aircraft crashes down in the Nevada desert, right in front of an undercover Stasi agent. Securing a vital piece of military hardware, the Stasi agent flees across America, aiming for an extraction by his masters while the FBI, Air Force and local police hunt for him. Desperately needing information on the Stasi agent in America before it is too late, Ryan must work hard to bring the defector to their side and find out where the fugitive is going. But with the KGB, Stasi, and the CIA traitor moving in for the kill, can Ryan escape East Berlin with the information he needs, or will the stolen technology allow the East to once again heat up the Cold War?
Red Winter was an excellent and highly exciting spy thriller novel that takes readers back to the classic Tom Clancy setting of Cold War Europe. Marc Cameron has produced a very entertaining and compelling read here, and I was swiftly sucked into the awesome story. The narrative itself has a lot of moving parts to it as Cameron focuses on several closely related storylines or character arcs at the same time. While much of the focus is on Ryan and his comrades as they attempt to infiltrate East Berlin and make contact with the defector, you also get familiar with several other great characters in the vicinity. This included the CIA mole, an East German singer who is being abused by a Stasi agent, members of the various spy agencies working on both sides of the Wall, and a deadly American operative who is shadowing Ryan to keep him alive. The book also shows the hunt for the fugitive Stasi agent in America, who is attempting to flee with the stolen military equipment. This American part of the book is further split between different perspectives, with the reader seeing events from the eyes of both the Stasi operative and the FBI agent hunting them.
These diverse storylines come together extremely well, and I really liked the interplay of different characters and plot lines in the second half of the book. There are some great storylines going on throughout the plot, with my personal favourite being the compelling fugitive scenes in America. The sequences set in Germany are also very intriguing, especially as Cameron provides some excellent descriptions of tradecraft and the various counterplays by the spies, as both sides battle it out for espionage supremacy. I really appreciated the dark dive into life within East Germany during this period, and the compelling looks at several East German characters who are attempting to survive added some intensity to the book. There is also an excellent look at the traitor with the CIA and their complex position and their reasons for betraying their country are an excellent part of the plot. While the first half of the book is pretty intense, everything kicks up a notch once Ryan and his colleagues arrive in East Germany. There are a ton of destructive and high-impact action sequences here which really get the blood pumping and keep the story going at a very fast pace. I deeply enjoyed the cool action sequences, especially as Cameron does a great job of writing them realistically, showcasing the talent of the professionals and Ryan’s lack of fighting ability. There are a few good twists towards the end and Cameron keeps the conclusion hopeful, but dark, highlighting that there are very few heroes in the Cold War. Red Winter was an amazing and very fun spy thriller, and I loved how this compelling narrative came together.
I also had a lot of fun coming into to this series as a Tom Clancy newbie. My only experience with Tom Clancy and the Jack Ryan books comes from some of the film adaptations, such as The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games. However, I found that this was more than enough to enjoy Red Winter, and my lack of any real knowledge of Tom Clancy’s original books didn’t really hamper me at all. While I am sure that I missed out on a bunch of clever throwbacks, Cameron did a great job of reintroducing all the key characters so that new readers can follow their storylines. There are multiple references to some of the previous events that occurred canonically before the events of Red Winter, but none of them have any major impacts on the story, and I felt that any thriller fan could dive in here with a minimal amount of knowledge and still enjoy the fantastic story within. Red Winter also apparently serves as a bridging novel between The Hunt for Red October and The Cardinal of the Kremlin, with Ryan meeting several of the supporting characters from The Cardinal of the Kremlin in advance here. I felt that this was a very clever inclusion by Cameron, and fans of Clancy’s original work are going to love seeing some of the intriguing hints of the events that are to come. This also ends up being the first canonical time that recurring character John Clark sees Jack Ryan, having travelled to Berlin to help him, although Cameron uses circumstance and training to make sure they don’t actually talk. Personally, I thought this was a great introduction to the wider world of Clancy’s writings, and I will have to try and read some of his earlier works when I get a chance.
Overall, I had a wonderful time reading Red Winter and I really enjoyed Marc Cameron’s latest addition to Tom Clancy’s spy universe. Cleverly adding to the well-established Jack Ryan series, Red Winter features some awesome spy action while perfectly showing off the dangers of Berlin during the Cold War for all spies and government agents. Fast-paced, action-packed, and loaded with some classic Tom Clancy moments, Red Winter was an intriguing and captivating novel that will appeal to a wide range of readers.