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Literature / Without Remorse

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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.


A film adaptation was produced by Paramount, starring Michael B. Jordan as Clark and directed by Stefano Sollima (Sicario: Day of the Soldado). It was released by Prime Video on April 30, 2021.

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 disgusted by the cruelty and sadism of the North Vietnamese soldiers who run the camp where Zacharias is imprisoned. He even puts his own career at risk by arguing that Zacharias and the other prisoners should be allowed to begin new lives in the Soviet Union rather than being killed by their captors.
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  • 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.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: One of the Ogden's sailors correctly deduces that Kelly is going in alone, ahead of the main rescue force, based on little more than seeing what equipment has been brought on board and the fact that the Ogden is in radio contact with a submarine. He even takes the initiative to make a suppressor for Kelly's rifle and tune up his SCUBA equipment because of his deductions.
  • 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.
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  • 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 agent 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.
    • While trying to win Colonel Zacharias' trust, Colonel Grishanov tells him that he doesn't truly believe that America and Russia will ever go to war, and that the danger posed to his country by the Chinese concerns him far more. In The Bear and the Dragon, China does indeed invade Russia.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: After Robin Zacharias is severely beaten by his NVA captors, Gerasimov gives him vodka to help numb the pain (and also loosen his tongue). Zacharias, being a devout Mormon who doesn't drink, at first resists because but then relents after Gerasimov tells him that it's for medicinal purposes. Gerasimov is amazed by how quickly the alcohol starts to take effect on Zacharias, and deduces that Zacharias has never drank a drop of alcohol in his life and thus never built up a tolerance for it.
  • 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. Ultimately averted - John and Sandy develop a relationship over the course of the novel, and chronologically later books reveal them to be Happily Married decades later.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • Colonel Zacharias and the other American prisoners suffer this at the hands of the North Vietnamese jailers. Very much Truth in Television.
  • Confess in Confidence: One of the girls who Kelly rescues tells her family priest about her experiences. He encourages her to step forward, knowing that her own crimes (prostitution and being a drug courier) are minor compared to testimony against a drug lord and multiple murderer. Unfortunately, before he can can get her to officially agree to testify, he tells a cop he knows that he's counseling a murder witness. Said cop tells a dispatcher in Baltimore, who tells Charon, who tells Tucker, who tracks down the girl and has her killed.
  • 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.
  • A Day in the Limelight: After several secondary character appearances as Tom Clancy's designated field operative, Kelly/Clark gets a story of his own for the first time.
  • Demoted to Extra: Jack Ryan, the usual hero of the Clancy novels, gets precisely one scene, which primarily serves to prove that the Lt Ryan that is investigating the killings that Kelly is doing doesn't share Jack's surname by coincidence (he's Jack's father).
  • 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.
  • Double Tap: Kelly makes extensive use of it, largely because of his SOG/SEAL training, with his Colt .45. When he goes hunting, he configures the pistol as a .22 with a home-built suppressor with a little help from a machine shop and a conversion kit, relying on the double-tap headshot due to the .22's relative weakness. This tips off the investigating policemen that they're dealing with an experienced professional. When he switches it back over to .45 configuration, he changes to two in the chest, one in the head, a sign that he's discarding subtlety for the last push.
  • 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.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous:
    • Aside from Kelly - himself a retired SEAL - the BOXWOOD GREEN rescue force is composed of Force Recon Marines. Justified, as the rescue is exactly the sort of mission to which an elite unit would be assigned.
    • The POWs are stated to be high ranking officers with detailed knowledge of US nuclear war plans and other secrets of interest to the Soviets. Col. Zacharias, having served with the Strategic Air Command prior to joining the Wild Weasels, is especially valuable.
    • Baltimore PD Lt. Emmet Ryan is a former 101st Airborne Division paratrooper - from Easy Company, no less! Dr. Farber, his psychiatric consultant, is a former Army Ranger.
  • Faking the Dead:
    • The the novel ends in this, with John Kelly faking his death to escape all the murders he's committed, and eventually becoming John Clark. The spectacular nature of his boat capsizing also results in his corpse not being recovered, though this isn't particularly uncommon for deaths at sea. He also has help from the CIA in replacing his fingerprint records.
    • The SENDER GREEN prisoners are stated to have been reported as dead by the North Vietnamese. In the case of Zacharias, the troops who capture him even photograph him next to his backseater, taking care to make both of them appear equally dead.
  • A Father to His Men: Admirals Podulski and Maxwell. While they push for the Boxwood Green mission because of the national security implications of the captured soldiers being eventually broken, they also do so out of loyalty to the prisoners. America sent those men into harms way, it is therefore America's responsibility to try to get them back out.
    • CIA official Ritter dismisses the security risks - after all, if the captured officers reveal America's war plans, the US government and military will just change the plans - but totally agrees with the admirals about the need to "keep faith with your people."
  • 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 wounded 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. Later the USA pulls out of Vietnam.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: Colonel Grishanov of the Soviet Air Force plays the good cop to Major Vinh of the North Vietnamese Army's bad cop in order to win the American prisoners' trust. Subverted in that none of this is an act. Grishanov despises his North Vietnamese allies, considers their bad-cop methods to be an impediment to his own efforts, and works hard to stop or at least limit them.
  • 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.
  • Historical Domain Character: Vo Nguyen Giap is one of the officers involved in belaying the orders to kill the American prisoners of war at Sender Green after the failed rescue attempt.
  • Home by Christmas: Zacharias is thinking this right before getting shot down.
  • 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.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: 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.
  • Iron Woobie: Clark, in spades.
  • 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.
  • Line in the Sand: At the briefing for Boxwood Green, the Marines are informed that they won't learn the details of the mission until after they volunteer. Most of the older Marines, who've already served multiple tours in Vietnam and now have families of their own, decide not to go because of this. It's noted that if they had known that it was a rescue mission for Americans left behind in Vietnam, every single Marine would've volunteered.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: The Russians are able to thwart the planned assault on Boxwood Green, but Kelly still captures Grishanov, which provides Ritter with enough political leverage to ensure that the prisoners are kept alive and later released. When Grishanov is released, even though his notes on the interrogations are confiscated, he can probably reproduce a lot of the data from memory, but it doesn't matter - all the information is high-level strategic stuff that the Americans don't expect to need to use unless WWIII breaks out, and since they know he had compromised the prisoners, the plans will be changed well before the Russians are in a position to try to exploit them.
  • Missed Him by That Much: Clark leaves Wally Hicks' apartment just before Peter Henderson (aka Agent Cassius, the actual spy who leaked BOXWOOD GREEN to the KGB) arrives.
  • The Mole: Chronologically the first appearance of Agent Cassius, the KGB's Washington insider.
  • Motive = Conclusive Evidence: Averted. Once Ryan and his partner realize that Kelly, a man with the skill necessary to be the Invisible Man, has a very good motive to be killing drug dealers, they connect the dots and conclude that he is the killer they're hunting - but they also admit that they don't have any actual evidence that would stand up in court.
  • 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.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: several cases.
    • Grishanov says this verbatim to Colonel Zacharias, and genuinely feels it. It's both technically true in that they have similar career paths, and more deeply true in that he sees them as kindred spirits with a similar soldier's code.
    • Henderson and his KGB handler. The latter plays up the similarities between them, saying that it's important for reasonable people like the two of them to work together in the service of world peace and to counteract the influence of hard-liners on both sides. Of course, he doesn't believe a word of it and is just trying to portray treason in a more palatable light.
    • In the eyes of both Grishanov and Ritter, the United States and Soviet Union in some ways. It's pointed out that both are superstates rich in land, space, and resources, and so little reason for either country to attack the other. Main characters on both sides have personal histories rooted in World War Two and the trauma inflicted by the fascists. Their intelligence officers both adhere to a rudimentary code of honor in dealing with each other (Grishanov in his treatment of the American prisoners, the CIA in its treatment of Grishanov). Finally, both experience similar predicaments as global superpowers; the Soviet Union's support for regimes with questionable Marxist credentials (like North Vietnam) is compared to the democratic United States' dubious alliances with Latin American dictatorships.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Bob Ritter's rescue of an agent from behind the Iron Curtain is mentioned several times. Exactly what happened is never discussed, but whatever Ritter did was epic enough to earn the professional admiration of everyone who brings it up - even a KGB officer.
  • Outside-Genre Foe: Kelly is this to Henry Tucker and Tony Piaggi. Throughout the book, both of them assume that the murders or disappearances of Tucker's employees must be part of a power play by someone else in the Baltimore underworld, eventually coming to believe that one of Piaggi's disgruntled underlings is guilty. Only at the very end do they discover that they're actually being targeted by the revenge-driven, very angry, and Navy SEAL trained ex-boyfriend of one of their victims.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: Kelly's method for dispatching the druggies. He leaves behind quite the trail of bodies.
  • Post-Rape Taunt: Billy flings one at Kelly about Pam, mixing in with Would You Like to Hear How They Died?. Really dumb of him, considering at the time he's Kelly's prisoner and Kelly is actively torturing him.
  • Prequel: To the Jack Ryan series. Jack himself has a cameo appearance as the teenaged son of one of the detectives investigating John Kelly's Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Professional Killer: The novel illustrates Kelly first getting into this role, which is then cultivated later on when he becomes Clark.
    • Also discussed and deconstructed by the villains when Henry Tucker speculates that he's being targeted by a "professional." His Mafia associate Piaggi reflects that this is mostly a Hollywood created illusion. The Mafia doesn't have an elite class of hitmen - it remembers which of its employees are good at (or at least unaffected by) killing and goes to them when needed, but those employees don't do it for a living and spend most of their time doing more mundane and profitable work. He doesn't want to admit any of this to Henry, though, so he just ends up saying "it isn't one of mine."
  • The Profiler: Dr. Farber, a psychiatrist with whom the Baltimore police consult about the sudden string of murders in their city.
  • 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.
  • Real Person Cameo: General Giap, commander-in-chief of the North Vietnamese Army, makes a brief appearance. James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's chief of counterintelligence, does not appear but is named as one of the people running the search for the mole inside the CIA.
  • 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.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: the premise of the book. Kelly spends the book killing his way to the top of the drug dealing/white slavery ring that killed his girlfriend.
  • 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.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Kelly demonstrates his almost-impossible stealth abilities during a test halfway through the book. Having volunteered to be the spotter for the Sender Green mission, the Admirals in charge (and the Marines doing the mission) decide that he has to prove himself by getting to his planned position on a hill overlooking the simulated prison camp. However, the Marines will be guarding the hill, know that Kelly is coming, and have a huge incentivenote  to find and stop him. After about 4 hours, they conclude that Kelly failed, since they haven't seen him, and one of the men on the hilltop asks for a light. Podulski lights the cigarettes and is scared to death to see that the man is Kelly, who announces that he's been there for two and a half hours without them noticing.
  • Steel Eardrums: John Kelly doesn't appear to bother with ear protection while range shooting.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: Pamela's brutal and horrifying murder is the inciting incident for most of the novel's plot.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: Kelly disguises himself as a homeless bum while stalking Baltimore's drug dealers, resulting in the police having a description of him that boils down to 'a wino'.
  • 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.
  • Torture Is Ineffective: Played with. While the physical torture doesn't directly break Colonel Zacharias, it definitely softens him up for Grishanov's softer and more friendlier tactic of treating him like a human being.
  • Treasure Chest Cavity/Coffin Contraband: The drug dealers smuggle heroin from Asia inside the corpses of slain U.S. soldiers being returned from Vietnam.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: Lampshaded. Kelly fully acknowledges the futility of his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. But...
    Part of him recognized the emptiness of his efforts at revenge. But empty or not, it was something he would have.
  • Vigilante Man: Played with. Clark considers this after he begins his crusade against Henry Tucker's drug ring, even offering a romanticized depiction of how the original vigilantes of the Roman Empire operated. He's honest enough to admit to himself that this doesn't really describe what he's doing, though.
  • Worthy Opponent: Grishanov considers Colonel Zacharias in particular and the American prisoners in general to be this, coming to like and respect them far more than his own North Vietnamese allies. Less so from the other side of the relationship - Zacharias warms up to Grishanov, but this is undone when he finally realizes that Grishanov is using him and has managed to trick him into revealing a treasure trove of information on U.S. Air Force practices.


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