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Literature / Red Rabbit

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The eleventh Jack Ryan novel written by Tom Clancy, and the third one chronologically, it was published in 2002 and takes place around 1982.

Taking place shortly after the ULA's attempt on Ryan's life, Jack Ryan has just moved to England to work as a liaison between MI-5 and CIA. At the same time, The Pope has sent a letter to the Soviet Union warning that if they do not cease their oppression of Poland, he will resign the papacy and return to Poland, threatening to destabilize their hold and weaken communism. This letter causes Yuri Andropov, chairman of the KGB, to plot an assassination against the Pope.

The protagonist is Major Oleg Zaitsev, a KGB head clerk in the communications department at headquarters in Dzherzinsky Square. He gets qualms about some of the messages he has to encode, he has issues with the way the country is being run and he wants out. The story follows how he gets to the other side.


Red Rabbit provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Anonymous Ringer: Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are never explicitly named, and Pope John Paul II is only first-named in one instance.
  • Artistic License – History: Clancy writes the events of the novel as taking place in the fall of 1982, and with Mikhail Suslov's death taking place before the attempt on the Pope. The assassination attempt took place in 1981, while Suslov died in the spring of 1982. Not to mention that the Transformers, mentioned several times, didn't air until three years after the actual attack on the Pope and two years after the events of the book.
  • Assassins Are Always Betrayed: This was Strokov's plan after his Turkish hitman shot the Pope, but Ryan got him before that could happen.
  • Brawn Hilda: The "Worker Woman" on the morning exercise show that Ed Foley Jr. watches. As Foley Sr. remarked, she was probably married to a Red Army paratrooper and could probably kick his ass.
  • Call-Forward
    • When discussing the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, one of Ryan's coworkers notes that the Afghans are helpless in the face of Soviet helicopters unless an equalizer is brought into play, like the newly-developed Stinger missile, much like the ones that the Archer wields in The Cardinal of the Kremlin.
    • Zaitsev's information is also what gets the FBI started on their search for agent Cassius, whom they double in The Hunt for Red October.
  • Catchphrase: "I serve the Soviet Union" gets said so many times that it's not even funny.
  • Defector from Commie Land: The titular Rabbit is a KGB agent who wishes to defect with important information.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: in a dream, Zaitzev watches Politburo members personally order the Pope shot several times; the Pope looks at him and asks him why he didn't do anything to stop it. Combined with his earlier misgivings, this kicks off his decision to defect to the British and Americans in order to warn them.
  • Faking the Dead: Due to the sensitivity of information being brought by a defecting Zaitsev, CIA decides to fake the Rabbit family's deaths so that the Soviets don't know what happened. Considerable effort is spent obtaining corpses that died from smoke inhlation, as well as rendering differing features unrecognizable.
  • Foregone Conclusion: the Pope will be shot, and he will survive, as dictated by history.
  • Found the Killer, Lost the Murderer: Averted. Jack Ryan catches an Eastern Bloc assassin moments before an attempt on the Pope's life, but fails to realize that there was a hired gun until he opens fire. In this case the assassin in hauled off, while the gunman is found dead in a car later on.
  • Glorious Mother Russia: Having the luxury of being written a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, Clancy takes the time to get several details right that otherwise was just speculation in his previous works.
  • Historical Domain Character: Besides Reagan, John Paul II, and Thatcher, the novel names Yuri Andropov, Leonid Brezhnev, and Mikhail Suslov on the Soviet side (all dead by the time of the novel's writing)
  • Interquel: Red Rabbit, written in 2002, takes place between Patriot Games, written in 1987, and The Hunt for Red October, written in 1984.
  • It's Personal: a mild case of this for Jack Ryan after he finds out the Pope is being targeted for assassination. He's a Roman Catholic himself, which means the KGB's target is not merely an innocent civilian or a friendly political figure, but the head of his church.
  • Just in Time: Subverted. Ryan manages to successfully stop Boris Strokov right before the assassination attempt... only to have the Turkish gunman shoot the Pope and be apprehended. Though considering that it's based on the actual event, there was a limit to how successful he could be.
  • Leave No Witnesses: The Turkish gunman being the witness in this case, so the act can't be traced back to his sponsor, the Soviet Union.
  • Mirror Character: The Pope and (CPSU ideologue-in-chief) Mikhail Alexandrov, the high priests of their respective belief systems, which they accept absolutely and unquestioningly despite the absence of material proof (Marxism-Leninism being repeatedly compared to a religion). Unlike many examples of this trope, it is firmly not meant to imply equivalence. The Pope is portrayed as a decent man who served his community honorably through Nazi and Soviet occupations and is willing to risk martyrdom for the sake of his fellow Poles, while Alexandrov is an out-of-touch aristocrat who plots the murder of people simply for being politically inconvenient, making him more of an Evil Counterpart than Worthy Opponent to the Pope. Meanwhile, Marxism itself is denounced as an empty, harmful, and ultimately false religion.
  • Number of the Beast: The operation designation for the plot to murder the Pope is 15-8-82-666.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Chronologically, the first instance of this by Ed and Mary Pat Foley, as a part of their covers.
  • Professional Killer: Boris Strokov, the Bulgarian hitman utilized by the KGB to kill the gunman after he completes his job.
  • Retcon: Prior to this novel, the first time that Ryan has been to Rome was in The Sum of All Fears.
  • Russian Guy Suffers Most: The novel takes the time to remark on the low standards of living in the Soviet Union, particularly their political problems. When meeting Zaitsev for the first time, Mary Pat Foley remarks in her mind that the guy is probably in his early thirties, but looks older than that due to Soviet life.
  • Series Continuity Error: A couple, thanks to it being an Interquel.
    • The president here is clearly Ronald Reagan, an actor, but in The Hunt for Red October the unnamed president spoke of his past prosecuting mob bosses.
    • Also in that book, Ryan behaves as though Ramius and his crew are the first defectors he's met.
    • And as mentioned above, this is the first time Ryan visits Rome, but so was The Sum of All Fears.
  • Spy Fiction: The first Jack Ryan novel to feature it in-depth as the major focus since The Cardinal of the Kremlin.
  • Spy School: The novel mentions the KGB's "Sparrow School", where female agents were trained to seduce men.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Ed Foley, a CIA operative on mission in Moscow, strikes up a conversation about ice hockey with a man he believes to be a KGB agent. He begins to doubt his judgement when the man turns out to be a passionate ice hockey fan, but soon realizes that KGB agents aren't so different, and that there must be KGB agents who like watching sports as much as he does.
  • Vodka Drunkenski: Virtually everybody in the Soviet Union.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: The original plan was for the Turkish gunman to die by another's hand so that he could not tell the authorities that he was hired by the KGB to kill the Pope.