“Without Remorse” by Tom Clancy [Review]

When best-selling author Tom Clancy died at the age of 66 back in October 2013 [1], I realized that I’ve never really read any of his books.  I mean I watched the Hollywood version of his most famous military techno-thriller “The Hunt for Red October” (which was an amazing movie with Sean Connery).  So I decided to start working through his books in chronological order.  

I started on “Without Remorse“.  It’s an old novel but I got to say it’s a great thriller that has all the killing, espionage and military talk that is trademark Clancy.  Some directors want to get a remake of this book off the ground now that a Jack Ryan reboot is in the works (the one with Kevin Costner and Chris Pine in Jack Ryan:  Shadow Recruit) [4].  

John Clark/John Kelly

Picture Above:  Willem Dafoe as John Clark in the movie version of Clear and Present Danger.


The Background

The main character is John Kelly whose CIA name is John Clark.  He’s a more hands on, dark and grittier version of Jack Ryan.  It’s that aspect that I like about him the most.  

Don’t get me wrong, Kelly is still human, makes mistakes and his biggest flaw is “caring too much”.  Of course putting bullets through people who deserve it doesn’t bother him as much as it would bother Jack Ryan.  

There were two main plot threads in this novel.  One involved Boxwood Green:  a mission to rescue nineteen or twenty POWs (prisoners of war) in North Vietnam.  The second was about Kelly getting revenge for the death of his girlfriend.  Both lines run parallel until they finally cross near the end.  

It was the revenge plot that was the most intriguing as several people Kelly save end up getting killed and he blames himself for failing them.  He goes to make the world a better place the way he thinks it should be done and that’s where the title comes in.


What Did I Love About This Novel?


The Characters

Clancy makes Kelly out to be a highly skilled and very smart guy who is flawed in his own sort of way.  He’s certainly not Superman.  He’s a guy who gets attacks of conscience after he kills but keeps on going because it’s “his mission”.  

Kelly describes himself as a surgeon who cuts out cancer in one scene and it’s an apt description of what he’s doing.  He takes out the bad guys but tries not to hurt the innocent.  

The events in the book and the backstory for Kelly make him a believable character.  He’s not completely fearless — the guy is scared of rats with their beady little eyes.  He’s humble and he still thinks of himself as a simple chief petty officer (compared to the navy admirals he’s working with) even though he’s highly talented.  


I was delighted with the minor side characters in Kelly’s revenge thread of the story.  I mean you have detectives Ryan (Jack Ryan’s father) and Douglas trying to figure out who’s knocking off the drug pushers.  

Then you’ve got the drug pushers pointing fingers at each other thinking someone’s betraying them.  Tucker and Tony end up taking out the wrong man with the help of their mole in the Baltimore Police.  

No one has a clue that John Kelly is behind it all until the last half or quarter of the book.  It is fun to read their reactions and analysis of “who really did it?”.  


The Content

The military talk was quite detailed as expected of Clancy’s work.  You get the knowledge oozing out of the characters’ mouths — the lingo is all there.  It’s not hard to imagine the spy craft going on behind the scenes of the last days of the Vietnam War. 

The way Kelly learns how to make home-made silencers (in his own fully decked out machine shop) make for interesting segments.  

One of the more thought-provoking scenes was the one where Kelly interrogates Tucker’s lieutenant and leaves him “brain dead”.  If you read it you’ll understand why I thought it was ingenious.  I would never have guessed someone would use such a method.  


The Pacing

The Boxwood Green scenes with the rescue mission was more planning and build up than actual combat.  They served more as a lull between the violence in the revenge plot scenes.  

The most suspense and havoc occurs when Kelly comes back to Baltimore between Boxwood Green work.  It gets tense when Jack Ryan’s father, Emmet and his cop partner Douglas close in on Kelly, making the link between him, the death of Pam, his girlfriend and the drug dealers.  The climax at the end is both bloody and satisfying.  


What Did I Dislike?

Other then speed reading through the Boxwood Green scenes there was little to hate about the story.  It’s no wonder some directors and producers are trying to turn this book into a movie. [2]



The book kept me wanting to find out more.  It was a definite page turner and I found it hard to put down.  If you’re looking for a thriller to read then Clancy’s Without Remorse is a good book to start with — I highly recommend it.  

I’m thinking about how Clancy’s books and writing change over the years as I plow through his work.  I’ve already started on Patriot Games, which was turned into a Hollywood movie with Harrison Ford back in 1992.  [3]



[1] Julie Bosman, “Tom Clancy, Best-Selling Master of Military Thrillers, Dies at 66,” New York Times, October 2, 2013.  Accessed Nov 4, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/books/tom-clancy-best-selling-novelist-of-military-thrillers-dies-at-66.html?_r=0&pagewanted=all

[2] IMDB, “Without Remorse,”  Accessed Nov 4, 2013, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0499097/

[3] IMDB, “Patriot Games,” Accessed Nov 4, 2013, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0105112/.

[4] IMDB, “Jack Ryan:  Shadow Recruit,” Accessed Nov 4, 2013, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1205537/.

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Author, copywriter and fiction writer. Creator of the Solid State Sigma series. Currently lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in the Beaches, East York.

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  1. […] Tom Clancy’s very first novel (Without Remorse) with John Kelly was better by far in this regard.  Kelly was the focal point in all the important […]

  2. […] Rabbit was not one of Tom’s better works.  Compared to “Without Remorse” or “The Hunt for Red October” — the plot was plodding and the characters weren’t all […]

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