When I used to work at a grocery store they had a spinner rack of books. Every now and then I would buy one because I love to read. This one it took me years to finally get to. I bought on the strength of the co-creator, Tom Clancy. I’ve heard all kinds of good things about his writing. He’s created books that were turned into movies and ideas that were turned into video games. He’s a pretty big name in storytelling. One of the books I picked up was Tom Clancy’s Op-Center, the first in the series, and later picked up a couple more as well as the first volume from a spin-off series, Net Force. I thought these would be interesting reads, even though I’m not usually into stories of political intrigue. I wish I had actually read this book before I bought the others.

It should be noted that various sources on the internet credited the author as Jeff Rovin, despite him only getting an assistance acknowledgement in the book itself. While the creators are credited as Clancy and Steve Pieczenik (his constant and rather controversial collaborator) there is no actual author listed on the book. If you want to see my chapter by chapter review of the book that I did for my other site, here you go. It will better explain why I didn’t enjoy reading this book but I will summarize my thoughts here.

The first book in the series establishes the National Crisis Management Center, colloquially referred to as Op-Center, and it’s team. This is actually where the problem starts as this team is not the most likeable group, but I’ll come back to that. The Center’s mission is to deal with crises around the world through intelligence and their own small military strike team. This is actually their third mission and thus far they are only one for two, with their last mission ending in disaster as they’re still new. This new mission involves a bombing in South Korea, which is made to appear to be from the North. However, our heroes, including who I’m assuming are guest characters since one of them dies in this book, suspects from the start that it’s a set-up. There’s a conspiracy on both sides looking to restart the Korean war so they can resume killing each other as well as talk of reunifying Korea. With Op-Center itself compromised, their agent in the area having just lost his wife to that bombing, and the only other help coming from a member of South Korea’s government investigating body, can the conspiracy be stopped or will there be a second Korean War?

Paul Hood, the head of the center, is decent enough, but the rest are a tad jerkish. He’s also dealing with his son having breathing problems and going to the hospital while he’s stuck dealing with the crisis. His second in command, Mike Rodgers, goes off on his own with the strike team, leaving a perfectly good member behind so he can relive his glory days as a soldier or something. Hood’s Chief Political Officer (as well as Rodgers) want his job. His press secretary wants to sleep with him despite him being married because her ex-husband cheated on her. The psychological consultant doesn’t like him because he isn’t comfortable with psych evaluations alone. The other characters are decent enough but the IT guy, Matt Stoll, is the only other character besides Hood I like. Most of their side of the story, however, seems more about introducing the cast for the series rather than having them do anything of note besides talking about the situation. I guess they can’t just spring into action (except they send their strike team out almost immediately) but it makes their side boring, especially when so much time is spent talking about aspects of the personalities and personal lives that have no bearing on this story, just potentially the series as a whole. I could just read the story bible and be more entertained.

All the interesting stuff happens with the only two other good characters in the story. Op-Center agent Gregory Donald, whose wife Soonji died in his arms after the bombing, and KCIA agent Kim Hwan (one of at least three Kims in this story, only one of which is a woman), aren’t immediately convinced the North is involved and tries to figure out what’s really going on. This is when the story gets interesting, with Op-Center only being useful in the last third of the book and even that may be too long a count. The villain’s name is also Kim, last name Lee, but there were so many Kims and Lees in this book (either Korea has a real short baby name book or the trio behind this book couldn’t find any more Korean names) that I ended up calling them Hwan, Eyepatch (Lee wore an eyepatch and since he wasn’t named for a few chapters the nickname stuck) and lady-Kim. When the conspirators learn that Hwan and Gregory weren’t fooled and could be a threat to their Korean War II plot they start trying to eliminate them. This was the interesting part of the book and I kind of wish this was the only story.

What really frustrated me however was the chapter system in this book. Chapters could be as long as maybe 5 pages while some were as short as one chapter. There were two chapters that made it to a proper 11 page count but most of them were very short. That’s because the chapter changed with each scene, even if they switched to characters only a few feet away, except on the rare occasion that they didn’t. Each chapter had to start with a timestamp and location, which was unnecessary, and it just didn’t work for me. That’s a personal concern on the other hand, not a critical critique, but this is the more personal review.

The writing itself, when not bogged down with filler about a character’s trip to Lake Tahoe at age 8 or something (not an actual example but it wouldn’t have surprised me), is quite good, at least when focused on Korea and brief diversions to Japan that may or may not move the plot on depending on the chapter, and when Op-Center finally gets their act together and does something besides be dysfunctional. If the focus had been on Korea with better use of chapters I might have enjoyed this book more. However, if my complaints didn’t bother you, or the series got better and you wanted to know how the series started, it’s not a bad book. It’s just filled with mostly unlikable characters with a bad chapter system, which is why I didn’t like it. If you like Clancy (and friends) stories you might enjoy this more than I did. I’m taking a long break before tackling the other books I own in this series though.

This book is currently available for sale in the Clutter For Sale section under books.

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