Literature: Without Remorse

Without Remorse is the sixth Jack Ryan book written by Tom Clancy, published in 1993. It serves as a Prequel, being the first book to chronologically happen in the Ryanverse by a wide margin (taking place at the end of the Vietnam War, when Jack was still in college).

As a first in the series, the book does not follow Jack Ryan, but rather John Kelly, who became a recurring character after his first appearance in The Cardinal Of The Kremlin. It follows his days after leaving the Navy in the final days of the Vietnam War, as he tries to return to a civilian life. However, tragedy strikes several times, and the road is paved to his eventual joining of the CIA and new identity as John Clark.


The book contains the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: Pamela Madden ran away from home and eventually became a prostitute because of her emotionally abusive father.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Colonel Grishanov interrogates Robin Zacharias in this way. Zacharias, a Mormon, was convinced to drink some of Grishanov's vodka to dull the pain from being beaten by Vietnamese soldiers, and as a result ends up spilling his information very readily afterward.
  • Anti-Villain: Colonel Grishanov is much less cruel and sadistic than the North Vietnamese soldiers who run the camp where Zacharias is imprisoned.
  • Ascended Extra: Clark was originally intended to be a one-off character in Cardinal of the Kremlin, but his popularity eventually catapulted him to his own books, Without Remorse being the first.
  • Becoming the Mask: John Kelly is given the Clark identity while working for the Central Intelligence Agency on the BOXWOOD GREEN mission. After faking his own death at the end of the novel, John Clark becomes his new permanent identity.
  • Berserk Button: While Clark was mentioned in passing to hate drugs in Clear and Present Danger, it's expanded to its full detail here. Once Pam gets tortured, raped and murdered by druggies, Kelly goes on an extended hunting trip, completely destroying those responsible.
  • Boom Stick: Kelly is a master of improvised weaponry, using a shotgun shell at the end of a stick to kill a druggie at point-blank range with no warning at all.
  • Call Forward
    • At one point, Admirals Maxwell and Podulski discuss the merits of the F-14, which is then in trials, and which Robby Jackson eventually ends up flying.
    • Jack Ryan first makes the decision to join the Marines in this book, as a way to help pay for college so that Emmett Ryan doesn't have to worry as much about the fees.
    • Peter Henderson, agent Cassius, was first recruited in this book. He later gets discovered at the end of Hunt for Red October, and turns double to help Ryan in Cardinal of the Kremlin.
    • Joshua Painter, Robby Jackson's eventual boss, is shown leading an air strike in support of the rescue mission.
    • After Kelly explains to Greer and Ritter that he's been bumping off drug dealers in his spare time, Ritter notes that there's been talk of getting the CIA involved in the War on Drugs. In Clear and Present Danger, Ritter and Mr. Clark helm a CIA operation aimed at curbing the drug trade.
  • The Chessmaster: Most of the bad guys are capable of this to some extent or other.
    • Henry Tucker, the Big Bad, had planned out all of his moves before hand for establishing his drug empire on the east coast. He also enforces this ruthlessly on his underlings, eliminating the ones who could be contemplating betrayal early on and destroying evidence to cover up his tracks.
    • Mark Charon is noted for his "coldly analytical mind" and he is certainly the only one to come closest to any kind of success. He is especially good at Xanatos Speed Chess, and it seems obvious that without him, Tony and Henry's drug operation would have collapsed. If he had been only slightly better at concealing his emotions, he might just have made it out of the warehouse alive.
  • Cartwright Curse: The book begins with John Kelly's wife being killed in an automobile accident. Once he finally moves on from the loss and begins his relationship with Pam, it isn't long before Pam is brutally murdered by her drug-dealing former pimp.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Rare heroic example: Kelly makes use of a pressure chamber to give one villain a severe case of the bends as a means of interrogation. He doesn't express any kind of remorse about it until Rainbow Six, more than 30 years later.
  • Cool Boat: Many are described in loving detail, particularly in the days leading up to the Sender Green rescue mission. Special mention goes to USS Newport News, the last all-gun cruiser in the U.S. Navy.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The rescue mission training goes over this in intricate detail, with all of the involved soldiers having their orders memorized down to the exact second that they fire their grenades, how to adapt if several of them are incapacitated in the middle of the operation, and so on.
    • Invoked by Kelly in the "full up rehearsal" of the Sender Green mission. The test is being run for the first time in front of the people that are needed to get authorization, and it goes off without a hitch, 15 seconds faster than planned. One of the people asks what the plan is if something goes wrong, and Kelly explains that he administratively "killed" 3 soldiers before the mission began, who were then carried in and carried out of the objective. The presentation of a massively successful first night-time test run, despite greater than anticipated difficulties, easily convinces Robert Ritter from the CIA to endorse the mission.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: How Kelly kills Billy Grayson, via the use of a decompression chamber to give him the bends, multiple times, over the course of a whole day. In the end all that's left of the victim is a wreck of a man who dies several days later.
  • Derelict Graveyard: Henry Tucker's operation is placed in the middle of several old World War I hulks in Chesapeake Bay.
  • Dirty Cop: Mark Charon is a Baltimore detective who's working for the local drug shippers against whom Kelly is waging his personal war.
  • Drugs Are Bad: And prostitution, and murder.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Admiral Podulski's wife after she found out he'd died of a heart attack while they were sleeping. She takes a dose of pills and lays down beside him to die.
    • Wally Hicks is given a choice by Kelly; he can either commit suicide by overdosing on drugs or Kelly will kill him with a knife. He chooses the former.
  • Faking the Dead: The culmination of the novel ends in this, with John Kelly faking his death to escape all the murders he's committed, and eventually becoming John Clark.
  • A Father to His Men: Ritter shows some signs of this. While everyone else connected to the initial planning of Boxwood Green is supporting the mission because of the national security implications of the captured soldiers being broken, Ritter does so because he believes that showing loyalty to those who were loyal to him is what a good leader is supposed to do. America sent those men into harms way, it is therefore America's responsibility to try to get them back out.
  • Feed the Mole: Bob Ritter uses this, feeding different amounts of information to different possible leaks, then using the response of the KGB officer he meets with to identify Wally Hicks as the specific leak. This actually backfires - Hicks wasn't the traitor, only the traitor's unwitting source. As a result, when Ritter has Kelly kill Hicks in revenge, the real traitor remains on the loose, resulting in the CIA not learning of Cassius until Red Rabbit and not catching him until The Hunt for Red October, both of which take place a decade later.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Sandy O'Toole is a nurse who oversees Kelly's rehabilitation after he is injured in the ambush that left Pam dead. Kelly and Sandy become friends and soon start developing deeper feelings for one another. When Kelly fakes his death and assumes the Clark identity, Sandy goes with him and becomes his wife.
  • Four-Star Badass: Admirals Maxwell and Podulski, the latter of whom was decorated with the Medal of Honor. Maxwell could have even become Chief of Naval Operations but the failure of BOXWOOD GREEN makes that politically impossible.
  • Genius Bruiser: John Kelly isn't just big and strong, but he's also exceptionally intelligent. Bob Ritter is so impressed by Kelly's ability to think on his feet that he convinces him to permanently become a CIA field agent.
  • General Ripper: Admiral Podulski is this, to a certain extent. While discussing options for liberating the Sender Green POW camp, one of his initial suggestions is to use B-52s to blast a path through. His ultimate motive for going after the camp is split between a genuine concern for the American lives at stake but also so he can use it to show that the North Vietnamese government lied, thus poisoning the peace talks enough for POTUS to authorize Operation CERTAIN CORNET, a full-scale invasion of North Vietnam. This all started because his only son and the last of his long line (descended from Polish nobility, no less) was killed flying combat sorties over Haiphong. He wants to make sure his son's sacrifice wasn't for nothing. He fails. The BOXWOOD GREEN mission is burned, and he dies of a heart attack later. And then the USA pulls out of Vietnam.
  • Heart in the Wrong Place: Discussed. Analyzing one of Kelly's victims, one of the reasons the police are sure that their killer is ex-military is because the death wounds are exactly where the heart should be, and not where the average person thinks it is.
  • Heroic BSOD: Happens twice to Kelly. Once when Emmett Ryan shows him photographs of Pam's dead body to induce him to talk, and again when he hears that Doris and her father have been murdered. He also starts the novel in a long-term one following the death of his wife Tish.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Kelly skirts dangerously close to this but ultimately doesn't cross the line. If only because he runs out of drug dealers to kill.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Pamela Madden is a deconstruction of this concept. After befriending John Kelly and getting clean from drugs, she is ruthlessly raped and murdered by her former pimps.
  • The Hunter: John Kelly deliberately fits himself into this persona while hunting the drug dealers who killed his girlfriend.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Kelly takes Pam into town so she can tell a police officer friend of his about the crimes she has witnessed. But along the way he gets curious to see the area of town where she used to work as a prostitute and talks her into showing it to him. They are spotted by a drug-dealing pimp who knows Pam, which ultimately results in Kelly nearly being killed, then Pam being raped and murdered and her body being dumped in a fountain. The guilt over this incident never quite leaves Kelly/Clark. Notably, he never, in the rest of the series, allows a civilian to get into a dangerous situation when he's in control.
  • Immigrant Patriotism: Admiral Podulski fits this to a T. After the rest of his family in Poland was wiped out by the Germans and Russians, he adopted America as his new homeland. Upon graduating from university he joined the United States Navy and was decorated with the Medal of Honor for his actions during World War II. He even becomes fastidious about his English grammar because it's the language of America.
  • Indy Ploy: Kelly's ability to think on his feet and adapt to changing situations, which served him well in Vietnam, is displayed in its fullness here. Bob Ritter takes notice of this and offers him a job with the CIA because of it.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Used several times by multiple parties, by the North Vietnamese against US prisoners of war, and by Kelly against druggies.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The hitmen who killed Doris and her father just happen to be in the wrong place at the right time when Kelly comes knocking.
  • Mugging the Monster: Note to muggers (and nosy cops) — John Clark is not the kind of person you want to mess with on a dark street at night.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Colonel Zacharias freaks out after he realizes that plans he'd been helping Grishanov devise to defend against a Chinese attack could also be used against American SAC bombers.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Kelly illustrates, numerous times, just how he earned his nickname: Snake, the one whose footsteps the enemy never hears.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Kelly's method for dispatching the druggies. He leaves behind quite the trail of bodies.
  • Professional Killer: The novel illustrates Kelly first getting into this role, which is then cultivated later on when he becomes Clark.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Admiral Greer. In addition to recognizing Kelly's value beyond his military experience, he acts as a tempering agent for Podulski and Maxwell's plans. He's also the only one of the three planners to realize that Sender Green's objective is only going to be to rescue the US personnel: Podulski's desire to turn it into an invasion of North Vietnam is, he notes internally, never going to happen.
  • Rich Idiot with No Day Job: The police (and as a result drug dealers) initially identify Kelly as a "rich beach bum" given that he leases his own island.
  • Semper Fi: The rescue force sent in to liberate Sender Green is comprised of Marines, at least one of whom Kelly knew from his days as a SEAL.
  • Smug Snake: Virtually all of the drug dealers, particularly when dealing with each other.
  • Speed Sex: The first time that John Kelly and Pamela Madden make love, Kelly isn't able to last very long due to the fact he hasn't gotten laid in a while. The second time he does much better.
  • Steel Eardrums: John Kelly doesn't appear to bother with ear protection while range shooting.
  • Torture Always Works: The information that Kelly gets out of Billy via compression chamber ends up being very useful in helping him track down the rest of the drug ring. In particular, it's noted that Kelly decided to revisit many of his previous questions after breaking Billy, getting more information since he was no longer able to effectively resist.
  • Treasure Chest Cavity/Coffin Contraband: The drug dealers smuggle heroin from Asia inside the corpses of slain U.S. soldiers being returned from Vietnam.