Long before he was President or head of the CIA, before he fought terrorist attacks on the Super Bowl or the White House, even before a submarine named Red October made its perilous way across the Atlantic, Jack Ryan was an historian, teacher, and recent ex-Marine temporarily living in England while researching a book. A series of deadly encounters with an IRA splinter group had brought him to the attention of the CIA's Deputy Director, Vice Admiral James Greer--as well as his counterpart with the British SIS, Sir Basil Charleston--and when Greer asked him if he wanted to come aboard as a freelance analyst, Jack was quick to accept. The opportunity was irresistible, and he was sure he could fit it in with the rest of his work.And then Jack forgot all about the rest of his work, because one of his first assignments was to help debrief a high-level Soviet defector, and the defector told an amazing tale: Top Soviet officials, including Yuri Andropov, were planning to assassinate the Pope, John Paul II.Could it be true? As the days and weeks go by, Ryan must battle, first to try to confirm the plot, and then to prevent it, but this is a brave new world, and nothing he has done up to now has prepared him for the lethal game of cat-and-mouse that is the Soviet Union versus the United States. In the end, it will be not just the Pope's life but the stability of the Western world that is at stake. . . and it may already be too late for a novice CIA analyst to do anything about it."Clancy creates not only compelling characters but frighteningly topical situations and heart-stopping action," wrote The Washington Post about The Bear and the Dragon. "Among the handful of superstars, Clancy still reigns, and he is not likely to be dethroned any time soon." These words were never truer than about the remarkable pages of his breathtaking new novel. This is Clancy at his best--and there is none better.From Publishers WeeklyThere's not a shot fired until page 602 in Clancy's lumbering new thriller, and readers up on their history will know the outcome of that shot on page 17. What comes in between is a slow-moving but, given Clancy's astonishing flair for fly-on-the-wall writing, steadily absorbing imagining of the back story behind Mehmet Ali Agca's (real-life) failed attempt on the life of Pope John II in 1981. By going back 21 years, Clancy provides a fresh adventure for a young Jack Ryan, but Ryan fans (and presumably Ben Affleck) may be surprised to learn that Ryan is, until the final scenes, only a supporting player here. The book's main heroes are the husband-and-wife team of Ed Foley, CIA station chief in Moscow, and his agent-wife, Mary Pat, and Oleg Zaitzev (code-named Rabbit), the mid-level employee in the KGB communications department who for conscience's sake decides to defect to America when he's asked to encrypt messages that reveal a plot, under the auspices of then-KGB chief Yuri Andropov, to kill the pope in response to the pontiff's secret letter threatening to resign the papacy and to return to Poland to resist Soviet domination. In real life, the pope wrote such a letter, and analysts have long speculated that the Soviets, via Bulgarian controllers, dispatched Agca to kill him. It's utterly fascinating to read Clancy's playing out of that likely scenario is there a writer in the world who brings so much verisimilitude to scenes both high (Politburo meetings) and low (details of spy craft and everyday Soviet life)? But while Clancy delivers a believable and encyclopedic version of real-life events, the suspense is minimal a disappointment when other writers (Forsyth in Day of the Jackal, for one) have shown that there can be enough tension in a fated-to-fail assassination plot to give a stroke to a yoga master.Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. From Library JournalWith changes at the Vatican, the situation in Communist Poland is going from bad to worse. The new Pope is killing Russia-and Russia is killing the Pope. CIA analyst Jack Ryan becomes involved when a conscientious KGB officer defects to save the pontiff and get a piano for his wife. Despite being a mere desk jockey, Ryan rescues the KGB agent, captures an assassin, and provides an annoying personal travelog. His reflections on insignificant details such as the poor quality of coffee in England receive far too much attention. And speaking of coffee, narrator Scott Brick might have benefited from a little caffeine prior to launching his plodding presentation. Not recommended.Ray Vignovich, West Des Moines P.L. Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.