- Complete Monster: The protagonist, an ex Navy SEAL named John Kelly, runs afoul of a drug ring run by a man named Henry Tucker. Tucker smuggles high-grade heroin into the Baltimore area inside the bodies of American soldiers killed in Vietnam. He distributes the drugs via a stable of prostitutes that he controls using drugs, rape, and torture. When one of his girls escapes and befriends Kelly, he has her kidnapped, then rapes her, tortures her, and mutilates her corpse, forcing the other girls to watch, before dumping it in a public fountain. As Kelly tracks him down while murdering his people, he grows increasingly desperate, going so far as to kill his own associates out of paranoia, then attempts to kill his remaining girls when they prove to be a security risk. In the end, he is shot down like a dog without pity, and even the police admit that Kelly did something that they themselves might have done were they not bound by the law.
- Designated Hero: John Kelly does some very nasty things to get his revenge on the drug dealers. Asshole Victims they may be, it can still be rather hard to read the decompression chamber torture scene without being disgusted. To be fair, Clancy does lampshade this both in this book and subsequent novels whenever Mr. Clark's past is brought up. Jack Ryan himself subtly calls him out in Executive Orders, saying that he can't condone or forgive Clark for what he did.
- The Woobie: Pamela Madden had a really shitty life. She was driven to run away from home as a teenager due to her controlling, emotionally abusive father. She was then taken in by a pimp who knew just how to spot young girls who had run away from home. He got her hooked on drugs and started prostituting her. She endured the horrors of watching Henry Tucker and his associates rape, torture, and kill girls who got out of line. Eventually she escaped and met Kelly. The two of them quickly fell in love and it was looking like Pamela might actually have a shot at happiness, but then she was recaptured by Tucker. She was raped, tortured, killed, and her body dumped in a public fountain.
YMMV / Without Remorse