Situational Ethics – Review of “Without Remorse” by Tom Clancy

Situational Ethics?

Former Navy SEAL and Vietnam veteran John Kelly is a man on a mission.  Having lost his wife and unborn baby, John had begun to look forward to a future with Pam despite her rocky past. But the drug dealers obliterated his dreams and the dirtbags responsible for torturing and killing her can’t run far enough or fast enough to escape his retribution.

On the same timeline the Pentagon has enlisted his help in a daring mission to rescue twenty Americans from a notorious POW camp in North Vietnam. It’s a high-risk operation but John Kelly knows the terrain and surrounding area and he has the skills and experience to pull it off. The mission is planned, the troops are trained and retrained, and support and recovery units are all coordinated. When they get the GO signal, John Kelly, aka Mr. Clark, will infiltrate the POW camp alone, with a near zero margin for error.

As Kelly is pursuing his mission to avenge Pam’s horrific death he temporarily suspends hunting down the perpetrators so he can concentrate his efforts on the POW rescue. His conscience won’t allow him to do otherwise. Make no mistake, John Kelly is an honorable but dangerous man when the situation calls for it. Almost an antihero but not quite. However his need for vengeance presents a moral dilemma. Yes, he can exact retribution, but at what cost?

“Without Remorse” is an early Tom Clancy work, originally published in 1993 and is the first of the John Clark novels. The setting is prior to the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, which is evidenced by the liberal use of cigarettes and absence of technology as we know it today. But the intricate and multi-layered plot with a mind-boggling cast of characters is pure Clancy. And Kelly/Clark is a much more nuanced character than I expected. Even so, with our protagonist at the heart of the action I had no trouble keeping track of who, what, where and when. However, at 700 pages, the pacing fell off from time to time and got a little draggy. Clancy was a leader in spy fiction and his contributions are timeless. Still and all, a fine spy yarn for sure. Four stars.

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