Clancy yarn's plot of gold

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 November, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 November, 1998, 12:00am

This 740-page door-stop will last most people through a week of sun-baking at a beach resort during their Christmas holidays, or many weeks of evening reading before then.

It is a fast-moving tale which skips across continents and plots, and drops in marvels of military technology without missing a beat.

Ex-Navy Seal John Clark has been made head of a new, covert international anti-terrorist team called Rainbow. His junior colleague and protege Domingo 'Ding' Chavez - now married to Clark's daughter and expecting their first child - becomes strike team leader under Clark's command.

The action lights up almost from page one. Even as the new American-led team heads for England, where Hereford is to become its new home base, terrorists - oblivious to the commandos among their passengers - attempt to hijack the commercial flight.

Mid-air heroics kick-start Rainbow Six, providing a springboard for Tom Clancy to launch a series of terrorist incidents which span Europe, then the globe.

Organisations of the 1970s, such as the Baader-Meinhof and Action Directe gangs, resurface. Carlos the Jackal fretfully paces his French prison cell as his former brothers-in-arms wage war to free him.

Political ideologues from the days of East Germany-based terrorist attacks are called out of retirement and radical IRA members launch their own assaults on Rainbow Six. And amid all this, as is often the case with a Clancy tale, another plot is unfolding - a deeper and more horrifying plan hatched by a handful of top medical minds and backed by a private fortune. The deadly virus they have created is waiting to be released.

Clancy juggles the separate plots, splicing details of the dark undercurrent throughout the book. Aspects of paramilitary training, leftover traces of Cold War intelligence-gathering techniques and the latest in anti-terrorist technology are scattered through his story.

If it seems to spin out of control at times, it takes only a brief review of recent news events to acknowledge that maybe Clancy's imagination doesn't fly so far from reality.

The disastrous Munich Olympics may have been a lifetime ago, but the Aum Shinri Kyo's devastating sarin nerve gas attack on Tokyo commuters was sobering for many of Hong Kong's MTR users.

The cult's refusal to be eradicated, and firm belief that only the chosen few should remain on Earth, draw a parallel with the ultimate threat the Rainbow team confront.

Characters are drawn swiftly - and not too deeply - by Clancy's pen and are all male, but the plot is as compelling as ever, his action as pacy.

Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy Michael Joseph, $280