The Cardinal of the Kremlin

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

As did THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER and RED STORM RISING, THE CARDINAL OF THE KREMLIN cuts swiftly between its intertwining plots. The first strand: A high-ranking Soviet officer, an American spy for years, is jeopardized by a botched message pass; the man, code named CARDINAL, is monitoring the Soviets’ development of a synchronized mirror array designed to focus a high-power laser into space. The second element: While on a routine observation flight, an American crew witnesses a Soviet test of the laser system; the discovery sends the Americans scurrying to find out how the Soviet system compares to American developments and to assess how the news will affect pending arms-control agreements. The third component: An Afghan rebel who hates the Soviets targets the mirror-array station, Dushanbe, for his next attack.

Clancy’s plotting is perhaps stronger and more believable than in his last novel, PATRIOT GAMES. The transitions between sections are smooth, so that, despite the swift cross-cutting, the narrative flows easily and keeps the reader turning pages. Characterization is limited; Clancy depends on a few bold strokes for definition, but somehow the technique does not yield cardboard cutouts. CIA analyst Jack Ryan is back and is as likable as ever.

Clancy has introduced a few more shades of gray into this tale; it is not simply Americans versus Soviets, good guys versus bad. Throughout the novel, the Americans are struggling to find a way to save their agent while also protecting the position of the new Soviet general secretary, who is seen as the most reasonable Soviet leader in years. In THE CARDINAL OF THE KREMLIN, the Soviets want peace as much as do the Americans. As one welcomes that idea, one welcomes Clancy’s entertaining new novel.