Melbourne crime writer James Phelan says he has always been in awe of Tom Clancy. Photo: Rebecca Hallas
I'm one of millions of Tom Clancy mourners – 17 of his 28 books appeared on the New York Times best-sellers list, with over 100 million sales around the world. He's made several big-budget Hollywood movies. Countless video games bear his name. And as a writer, I owe my career to the guy.
Clancy's books started my love for reading thrillers. The first book of his I read was Patriot Games, which I read in the early 1990s, a paperback edition with Harrison Ford on the cover - proof that movie tie-ins help sell books. The Phillip Noyce directed film was good; the novel was better. I was hooked, and I've read every Clancy novel since.
To sum up why his books, in fiction and non-fiction, sold so well, it's because they worked on so many levels. They entertained. They teach about geopolitics, the military, espionage and tradecraft. He wrote about families, and those lives reflected the broader American family. Clancy's writing showed me how to construct a thriller.
Sean Connery as Captain Marko Ramius in the film adaptation of Tom Clancy's book, The Hunt For Red October.
His first novel, 1984's The Hunt for Red October, gave us something new. The technical details were superb. We'd seen nothing like it. It was techno-porn. Clancy's narrative engine was fast while managing to be all encompassing in creating a fictional universe. And the real test of good fiction, dialogue, rang true, often as poignant and witty as the best of novelists.
Later in his career, Clancy's politics became increasingly overt. His stance on government, guns, Islam, and the post Cold War world, catered to a thriller readership shifting to the right. But that was Tom: ever prescient in all his views. I'm a firm believer that novels are informed about the time and place that they are written in, and his work did that and more.
I wrote my first novel in 2001 and was nearly finished on September 11. As I watched the events unfold in New York, I knew that the world had irrevocably changed. I also thought of Tom Clancy. His 1994 novel Debt of Honor, had a terrorist fly a passenger airliner into the Capitol building.
Tom Clancy in 2002 at the launch of his book Red Rabbit at Book Soup in West Hollywood, California. Photo: Getty Images
Tom was one of the first people to be interviewed that morning, and was asked by the TV reporter if he felt responsible for the 9/11 attacks. He replied that no-one can be held responsible for the acts of crazy people.
That was his greatest strength – calling things how he saw them and being unapologetic about it. Clancy started the techno-thriller sub-genre, which did for the geo-political thriller what Robin Cook and Scott Turow did for medical and legal thrillers. Clancy was beyond learned on military history.
Reading his books, I felt I was learning something as much as being entertained, and that is what sparked a calling for me to become a thriller writer. He created for himself a platform to share his world-view, wrapped into one of the world's biggest fiction franchises.
Clancy had been a bestselling author since 1980s, with Clear and Present Danger being the biggest selling novel of that decade. Many of his novels followed his eponymous hero, Jack Ryan, a family man, a self-made man with a keen professional interest in history, the military, espionage, and politics.
Like all fictional protagonists, there was much biography in the character - Ryan was an extension of his creator. Clancy was a Maryland insurance salesman, working for his father in law. Before full-time work at the CIA, Ryan worked in finance for his father in law. Clancy, and his character Ryan, lived in Baltimore. They saw the world in the same way. Clancy died in Johns Hopkins Hospital - a place where his protagonist's wife, Cathy, worked as a surgeon.
In June this year we lost thriller writer Vince Flynn, a dear friend of mine and the heir apparent to Clancy. Flynn and I often talked about Clancy's early work; awed at his achievements.
Just two weeks ago I was with hundreds of fellow thriller writers in Albany, New York, for the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention. Thousands of fans attended. The mood was festive. Clancy's name came up in several discussions, most times by authors who, like me, would not be here today if not for him. I know that they are mourning a much-loved writer.
James Phelan's 6th thriller, The Spy, is published December (Hachette). Command Authority, Clancy's next novel, is also published December (Penguin). @RealJamesPhelan