Threat Vector is the fourth book in the Campus books starring Jack Ryan Junior. For those unfamiliar with the series, the series takes place in the same universe as the majority of Tom Clancy's work, starring the son of his CIA-analyst-turned-President hero, Jack Ryan (Senior). Masquerading as a member of an innocuous brokerage firm, Jack Ryan (Junior) conducts assassinations of terrorists and other off-the-books missions with his cousins as well as several friends of his dad. This is all made legal by the power of a number of blank pardons issued by his father before he left office during his first term as President.
Remember when Tom Clancy's books were paragons of accuracy and realism?
All kidding aside, I enjoy the Campus series as a delightfully off-kilter spy series about a bunch of heroic do-gooers against EVIL terrorists. It's a series you can turn your brain off for and still enjoy the lengthy descriptions of actions, locals, and likable protagonists. Tom Clancy novels are an acquired taste of jingoistic movie action fiction which don't attempt to aspire to anything higher than being really fun contemporary spy fantasies--and I'm okay with that. The right-wing preaching is actually considerably toned down from Dead or Alive and Locked Down, perhaps because Jack Ryan is now President of the United States and all is well in the world.
The premise is the Chinese government is going bankrupt. Decades of expansion are about to lead to a devastating retraction and its current President is desperate to avoid a coup by his enemies using trumped-up charges. Allying with the military, he discovers they intend to force him to go to war in order to secure Tawain. Meanwhile, the Campus is under surveillance by a new and powerful enemy in Center.
Possessing computer hacks into much of the United States' infrastructure, Center is capable of inflicting devastating damage and have a network of coerced operatives across the globe. Faced with a foe able to uncover their true identities and operations, the Campus' leadership must decide whether or not it will proceed given the risks to its operational security. Jack Ryan Junior is unaware his girlfriend Melanie is spying for the FBI while all this goes down, the young woman being blackmailed into serving as an operative for an unscrupulous agent.
The treatment of China is of an oppressive communist dictatorship seething with resentment against America as well as possessing a personal desire to destroy President Ryan. This is not unexpected given past treatment of them in The Bear and the Dragon but may put off some readers. Tom Clancy makes notes to include dissidents, Asian heroes, and Asian American agents to show he's not racist but his anti-People's Republic of China slant is on every page.
Computer hacking is handled in a manner which is both amusing as well as informative. The authors clearly want to use the right kind of lingo and technical jargon but it comes off as a somewhat silly at times. Still, A for effort. I was reminded of the original Splinter Cell game due to Georgia (the nation, not the state) crippling the United States with the use of computer hacking techniques but if a plot is good, it shouldn't be shied away from.
The villains, as always, are mwah-ha-ha evil with the Chinese antagonists including a warmongering psychopath as well as his sociopathic computer hacker terrorist leader subordinate. They have the man who tortured John Clark in Locked On and a child-pornography-loving creepy FBI agent assisting them as well. That's in addition to their henchmen in the form of Libyan secret police, Russian mafia toughs, and a Hong Kong Triad.
If you're looking for moral ambiguity or villains with convictions, this is not the place to find it. I disliked the treatment of character Melanie Kraft this time around as I was quite pleased to have another strong female character in the books. Here, she's reduced to a weak puppet of her FBI handler and a horrifying secret is introduced to make her more pliable to the villains. I was hoping she'd find some way to extirpate herself from the problem by the end but, sadly, that falls to Jack Ryan Junior.
The action in the book is, as always, highly entertaining and I enjoyed the various twists and turns throughout the book. As much as I disliked the retcon to Melanie Kraft's character, I enjoyed her dealing with the shame and unease she has about her father's treason. It's just a shame this is a quality that's unforgivable for her but would have been overlooked for any of Tom's male heroes. After all, they've all done things which are highly illegal and threatening to national security.
I like Center and his henchmen as a set of villains even if I find the idea of a computer terrorist organization working for the PRC hiding with the Triads ludicrous (even if they lampshade how ludicrous it is--it's still ludicrous). There's also a well-written subplot about John Clark struggling with his decision to retire despite the fact, it turns out, it's not as fun as he'd imagined.
In conclusion, Threat Vector is a fun spy fiction adventure weighed down by the portrayal of the Chinese government as well as its outdated techno-jargon. I also disliked the treatment of Melanie Kraft, a character I really came to like in Locked On. The book is still enjoyable, though, mostly for the action and entertaining characters.