Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A sad year for the espionage thriller genre

Tom Clancy, best known as the author of The Hunt for Red October and Patriot Games, has died of undisclosed causes following a brief stay in the hospital. He was sixty-six years old.

This is of course a tragedy for Clancy’s loved ones. However, I—like almost everyone reading these words—knew Clancy only as an author. It is, therefore, I think, acceptable for me to briefly acknowledge the personal loss involved here. Obviously, our prayers go out to Clancy’s friends and family.

Now for Clancy the writer: As an author, Clancy is leaving the scene when he still could have had a decade or two of productive writing ahead of him.

No, Tom Clancy wasn't a kid by any measure. No one would describe sixty-six as youthful, and it is way past retirement age for many fields.

But writing is different. Few writers really catch fire before the age of thirty-five or so, and their careers can last much, much longer than those that involve more conventional forms of work.

Stephen King is almost exactly the same age as Clancy was; and he is continuing to break new ground. Haruki Murakami and Ken Follet are both 64. Edward Rutherford, a prolific author of historical novels, is 65. John Le Carre is 81 and still publishing.

So given Clancy’s prior output (he had written several dozen novels by the time of his death) it is not unreasonable to conclude that Clancy still might have had a good ten or twelve novels left in him. He was still fifteen years shy of John LeCarre’s present age, after all.

This has been a bad year for the espionage thriller genre, with the very untimely death of Vince Flynn (1966 – 2013) at the age of 47 back in June. Flynn, who died after a long battle with prostrate cancer, was at the peak of his productivity and popularity.

I preferred Flynn’s novels to Clancy’s books. Flynn was the master of the counter-Islamist terror novel. Clancy, on the other hand, cut his teeth during the Cold War, and his best works were those that featured the conflict between the US and the USSR.

However, both Flynn and Clancy were entertaining storytellers, who wrote the sort of novels that were accessible even to people who ordinarily “don’t like to read”. The world of books is poorer for the passing of these two men.

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