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Tom Clancy captured Cold War fear in his thrillers

Tom Clancy novels were so real, that after the Cold War thriller "The Hunt for Red October" came out, a military official suspected the author of having access to classified material. Tom Clancy says he didn't.  He died Tuesday.

By Sandy CohenAssociated Press / October 3, 2013


Los Angeles

With CIA analyst Jack Ryan, Tom Clancy created a character that spoke to audiences from both page and screen, representing the changing mood of a country facing growing geopolitical challenges.

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"Thrillers, like all art, are always a reflection of the culture," said fellow author Brad Meltzer. "No one captured that Cold War fear — and that uniquely American perspective— like Clancy. Jack Ryan wasn't just a character. He was us. He was every American in those days when we were a push-of-the-button away from nuclear war."

Clancy brought such realism and attention to detail to his novels that in 1985, a year after the Cold War thriller "The Hunt for Red October" came out, a military official suspected the author of having access to classified material.

The best-selling novelist, who died Tuesday in Baltimore at 66, insisted then, and after, that his information was strictly unclassified: books, interviews and papers that were easily obtained. Also, two submarine officers reviewed the final manuscript.

Government officials may have worried how Clancy knew that a Russian submarine spent only about 15 percent of its time at sea or how many Seahawk missiles it carried. But his extreme attention to technical detail and accuracy earned him respect inside the intelligence community and beyond. It also helped make Clancy the most widely read and influential military novelist of his time, one who seemed to capture a shift in the country's mood away from the CIA misdeeds that were exposed in the 1970s to the heroic feats of Jack Ryan.

Fans couldn't turn the pages fast enough and a number of his thrillers, including "The Hunt for Red October," ''Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger," were made into blockbuster movies, with another Jack Ryan film set for release on Christmas Day.

"Fundamentally, I think of myself as a storyteller, not a writer," Clancy once said. "I think about the characters I've created, and then I sit down and start typing and see what they will do. There's a lot of subconscious thought that goes on."

A tall, trim figure given to wearing sunglasses that made him look like a fighter pilot, Clancy had such a sure grasp of defense technology and spycraft that many readers were convinced he served in the military. But his experience was limited to ROTC classes in college. Near-sightedness kept him out of active duty.

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