I am sitting here trying to think of words to describe to you just how great this novel was, but I am at a loss. I finished it last night, and all I can say is Wow!
It took me about three months to complete the 387 page book because life gets crazy. Sometimes I just don’t have the time to read. But now I’ve finished, and it feels like a great accomplishment.
I was first introduced to the story of The Hunt for Red October when I watched the 1990 movie with Sean Connery. That was several years ago, and though I’ve seen the movie many times since, I only recently realized that it was based on a book. I found my lovely hardcover for sale on social media. I met the previous owner at a Burger King and bought it from him. Then, I left it on my shelf for about seven years. Last October, I decided it would be a great addition to the blog, so I began to read.
The story is thrilling! The action is broken into eighteen chapters, each chapter representing one day. Day one begins with the celebrated maiden voyage of the newest of Soviet submarines, the Red October. Captain Marko Ramius and a group of hand-picked officers lead a crew of about a hundred into icy waters to test the newest Russian technology: an almost silent propeller system called the caterpillar that uses ocean water for movement. However, once in the water, Ramius cuts all radio communication and disappears into the Atlantic Ocean. The Russians send almost their whole Navy to search for the missing submarine. The story the Russians tell the United States is that their Navy is on a search and rescue mission – none of the vessels are hostile toward the U.S. Actually, the Russian Navy’s orders are to find and destroy the Red October.
CIA analyst Jack Ryan enters the action with intelligence from the British about the new Russian technology, though it takes a few days to actually figure out what that technology is. When news that the Red October has vanished reaches Washington, Ryan begins to research the life of Captain Ramius and his position in the Soviet Navy. What is Captain Ramius planning? Ryan concludes that the Soviet Naval officer intends to defect, but he has to convince the CIA, the US Navy, and the United States President that he’s correct. Though they are skeptical at first, they begin to make plans to find the missing submarine and bring it back to America if they can.
The Hunt for Red October is a technical novel, and there are moments when it feels like the action stalls while technicals are explained. But even the technical parts draw the reader in, building suspense until suddenly you see exactly what was going on. In my opinion, the best example of this is when the Soviet submarine E.S. Politovskiy is introduced. Clancy chooses that chapter to explain some of the inner workings of nuclear submarines, especially the reactor and the cooling system. For me, it was very technical, and at first, I struggled to understand the connection to the actual storyline. The only connection I saw was that the Red October was also a nuclear submarine and had the same reactor and cooling system. Then, suspense began to build when the engineer and political officer aboard E.S. Politovskiy disagree about stopping the sub for repairs. The engineer argues that repairs will only take a few hours. The political officer demands that the submarine continue at her current full speed ahead because orders from Moscow were to reach the American coast ASAP. Eventually, the captain sides with the political officer, pushing E.S. Politovskiy at full speed across the Atlantic Ocean without stopping for repairs. Then, Clancy takes the reader on a tour inside the cooling pipes of the nuclear submarine. We watch as a small piece of metal breaks, flows down the pipes, and eventually gets stuck, blocking the flow of cooling water. Though the pipes are blocked only a few seconds, that’s all that is needed to cause a reaction and a backward flow in the pipes. The reactor fails and overheats. The side of E.S. Politovskiy is blown out, and the submarine sinks to the bottom of the ocean. The scene was intense and finally reaches a somber conclusion when E.S. Politovskiy sinks to the bottom of the ocean.
And that event is just one chapter in the book. In the middle of the book, no less. That is when the story starts to move faster. The last few chapters are packed with action, secrets, intrigue, and just a little seasickness for Jack Ryan. Plans go awry. An accident forces Ryan to be the first American to confront Captain Ramius. There is a gunfight. There’s a battle of wits between two submarine captains – underwater, of course. And if I say any more, I will give away the ending, which is one of the best conclusions for a novel I have ever read.
If you enjoy action, even with the technical jargon mixed in, I highly recommend The Hunt for Red October. If you enjoy a sprinkle of politics, some CIA shenanigans, and a fiction that feels real, I recommend The Hunt for Red October. You will not be disappointed.