The Cardinal of the Kremlin (Jack Ryan #4) by Tom Clancy.
In a rolling sea off the coast of South America, a target disappears in a puff of green light. In the Soviet hills of Dushanbe near the Afghanistan border, an otherworldly array of pillars and domes rises into the night. To the two greatest nations on earth, no contest is more urgent than the race to build the first Star Wars missile defense system, and no one knows that more than the two men charged with assessing the Soviets’ capabilities: Colonel Mikhail Filitov of the Soviet Union, an old-line warrior distrusted by the army’s new inner circle of technocrats, and CIA analyst Jack Ryan, hero of the Red October affair.
Each must use all his craft to arrive at the truth, but Filitov gets there first — and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Because Filitov, code-named Cardinal, is America’s highest agent in the Kremlin, and he is about to be betrayed to the KGB. His rescue could spell the difference between peace and war, and it is up to Jack Ryan to accomplish it — if he can — as, in a breathtaking sequence of hunter and hunted, Filitov’s life, and Ryan’s and that of the world itself literally hang in the balance.
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I’ve been disappointed by many of the previous books in the series but this was very good. There is much more of a storyline and much less mind numbing technical and military detail. Altogether there are three strands to the story with a CIA, Russian and Afghan element. I would have liked to have seen more development of the Afghan storyline but it’s there for a plot line purpose and just serves that.
Refreshingly in this story Clancy spends much less time degrading Soviet society and highlighting its faults. It still comes across as a corrupt and faulty society both socially and politically but more as part of the story and not rammed in the reader’s face. Additionally, the book is chock full of strong characters and a good number of these are on the Soviet side this time. The most notable is the old war hero Misha but the young soldier Bondarenko and the KGB investigator Vatutin are also excellent characters. In many ways the Soviets are the stars of this book while Ryan himself is in more of a supporting role.
I also particularly enjoyed the espionage of the first half of the book. There is a great sense of pace and tension as well as a good insight into the operations of both the CIA and KGB spy networks, how the agents operated and how they passed along information while staying undetected. Considering the disappointment of Red Rabbit this was a much better and more enjoyable book.