Picks and Pans Review: A the Cardinal of the Kremlin

updated 09/12/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/12/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Tom Clancy

That tearing sound you hear is credibility being strrrrrrrrretched from here to Timbuktu. This thriller's title, for instance, refers to the code name of a Soviet World War II hero who becomes the Defense Ministry's second-ranking man. In the years after the war, however, his two sons die, one in the Hungarian uprising and one in a tank accident. Then his wife dies of a broken heart. So naturally Col. Mikhail Filitov decides to become a spy for the U.S. As this novel begins, he has given away every important Soviet military secret for the last 30 years. Now one would think this would have led to total American domination of the U.S.S.R. or at least to the opening of an NFL franchise in Uzbekistan. But nyet. The world remains in crisis, and a complex crisis it is. Clancy does a remarkably clear job of keeping his plots and subplots straight, considering that they involve lots of intelligence agents, two Star Wars laser-weapon projects, the Afghan war, a frustrated lesbian, a Gorbachev-like Soviet premier, a kidnapping, an escape and a number of characters (and scenes) recalled for duty from Clancy's novels The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games. Too many of those plots, though, are resolved by the Soviets' awful gullibility. The KGB chief of station in Washington, D.C., for instance, is fooled by an American agent's obviously fraudulent public tantrum into believing that the agent—Clancy hero Jack Ryan—is ready to turn. This might matter less if Clancy had better fulfilled his Red October franchise, which was based on his ability to entertainingly toss around high-tech jargon. Here he delves into Star Wars weaponry, but murkily. After a test firing, a Soviet colonel thinks: "If they'd been able to put out a slightly different frequency the day before—one that penetrated the atmosphere more efficiently—the thermal blooming might have been reduced by 50 percent or so. But that meant controlling the superconducting magnets better. They were called wigglers because they induced an oscillating magnetic field through the charged electrons in the lasing cavity. Unfortunately, the breakthrough that made the lasing cavity larger had also had a unexpected effect on their ability to control magnetic-field flux." Clancy in fact has become an explainaholic, often going into unnecessary detail. When a Soviet agent buys an outfit in a New Mexico store, for example, he writes that her paying cash was a "reason for the discount she got, since credit card companies got a percentage of the sales figure in return for a guarantee of payment." (Maybe Clancy and Robert Ludlum could collaborate on a novel called The Master-card Statement.) Clancy tries to give many of his characters depth and sometimes succeeds. The Foleys, a married couple who are also the top CIA agents in Moscow, are a colorful touch. There are too many ludicrous turns of plot, though, and enough verbal clutter to be a pain in the neck, which is the part of the body connecting the shoulders and the head. (Putnam's, $19.95)

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