Tom Clancy, the author of The Hunt for Red October who basically founded the genre of the high-tech military thriller, died. He was just 66.
In Debt of Honor, published in 1994, terrorists fly an airliner into an iconic building in Washington, D.C. (It was Japanese terrorists flying into the Capitol building during the State of the Union address, wiping out the entire governmental chain of command, except for hero Jack Ryan, the sole official who by custom stays home, making him President.) I always wondered if the 9/11 terrorists got their idea from Clancy’s imagination.
Tom Clancy, whose complex, adrenaline-fueled military novels spawned a new genre of thrillers and made him one of the world’s best-known and best-selling authors, died on Tuesday in Baltimore. He was 66.
Mr. Clancy, who grew up in Baltimore, died at Johns Hopkins Hospital after a brief illness, his lawyer, J.W. Thompson Webb, said on Wednesday. Neither Mr. Webb nor Mr. Clancy’s longtime publisher, Ivan Held, president of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, said he knew the precise cause of death.Mr. Clancy’s debut book, “The Hunt for Red October,” was frequently cited as one of the greatest genre novels ever written. With its publication in 1984, he introduced a new kind of potboiler: an espionage thriller dense with technical details about weaponry, submarines and intelligence agencies.
It found an eager readership. More than 100 million copies of his novels are in print, and a remarkable 17 have reached No. 1 on The New York Times Best Seller List, including “Threat Vector,” which was released in December 2012. Prolific until his death, Mr. Clancy had been awaiting the publication of his next book, “Command Authority,” set for Dec. 3.
His books’ impact has been felt far beyond the publishing world, however. Some were adapted by Hollywood and became blockbusters starring Harrison Ford, Alec Baldwin and Ben Affleck as Mr. Clancy’s hero protagonist, Jack Ryan. Mr. Clancy arranged for his thrillers to be turned into video games that were so realistic, the military licensed them for training purposes. And on television, fast-paced espionage using high-tech tools in the Clancy mold found a place in popular shows like “24” and “Homeland.”
The enterprises made Mr. Clancy a millionaire many times over and a familiar figure on the pop culture landscape, frequently seen in photographs wearing a baseball cap and aviator sunglasses and holding a cigarette. With his riches he acquired an 80-acre farm on the Chesapeake Bay. He became a part owner of the Baltimore Orioles. He even bought a tank.
It was all a far cry from his days as a Maryland insurance salesman writing on the side in pursuit of literary aspirations and submitting his manuscript for “The Hunt for Red October” to the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis. An editor there, Deborah Grosvenor, became mesmerized by the book, a Cold War tale that takes place on a Soviet submarine.But she had a hard time persuading her boss to read it; Mr. Clancy was an unknown, and the publisher had no experience with fiction. She was also concerned that novel had too many technical descriptions and asked Mr. Clancy to make cuts. He complied, trimming at least 100 pages while making revisions.
“I said, ‘I think we have a potential best seller here, and if we don’t grab this thing, somebody else would,’ ” Ms. Grosvenor, who is now a literary agent, said in an interview on Wednesday. “But he had this innate storytelling ability, and his characters had this very witty dialogue. The gift of the Irish or whatever it was, the man could tell a story.”
They paid $5,000 for the book, publishing it in 1984.
“The Hunt for Red October” became a runaway bestseller when President Ronald Reagan, who had been handed a copy, called it “my kind of yarn” and said that he couldn’t put it down.
But its details about Soviet submarines, weaponry, satellites and fighter planes raised suspicions. Even high-ranking members of the military took notice of the book’s apparent inside knowledge. In an interview in 1986, Mr. Clancy said, “When I met Navy Secretary John Lehman last year, the first thing he asked me about the book was, ‘Who the hell cleared it?’ ”
No one did, Mr. Clancy insisted; all of his knowledge was derived from technical manuals, interviews with submarine experts and books on military matters, he said. While he spent time on military bases, visited the Pentagon and dined with military leaders, he said, he did not want to know any classified information.
“I hang my hat on getting as many things right as I can,” Mr. Clancy once said in an interview. “I’ve made up stuff that’s turned out to be real — that’s the spooky part.”