Without Remorse

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Without Remorse
Without Remorse cover.jpg
Mass market paperback cover
Author Tom Clancy
Country United States
Language English
Series John Clark
Publisher G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date
August 11, 1993
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 639
ISBN 0399138250
Followed by Patriot Games

Without Remorse is a thriller novel, written by Tom Clancy and published on August 11, 1993. Set during the Vietnam War, it serves as an origin story of John Clark, one of the recurring characters in the Jack Ryan universe. Without Remorse introduces Clark as former Navy SEAL John Kelly, and explains how he changed his name. The book debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

Former United States Navy UDT "frogman" John Kelly, who recently lost his pregnant wife Patricia in a car accident, picks up a hitchhiker named Pam on his way to his home in Battery Island. They quickly become lovers, and over time Kelly finds out that Pamela Madden is a runaway who became a drug mule and prostitute; she had just escaped from her drug-dealer/pimp Henry Tucker. Kelly, along with the help of doctors Sam and Sarah Rosen, help her rehabilitate from barbiturates. Weeks after recovering, Kelly and Pam go to Baltimore for follow-up treatment, and pass through a neighborhood where her pimps work. One of them recognizes Pam and pursues them in a car chase. Kelly is gravely wounded by a shotgun blast, while Pam is recaptured and later tortured, gang-raped, and killed.

Meanwhile, a U.S. target drone recognizes Air Force colonel and F-105 pilot Robin Zacharias as a prisoner of war in a secret camp administered by the NVA. Since Zacharias possesses highly classified technical knowledge and has been declared killed in action, Admiral Dutch Maxwell arranges a secret rescue mission for him as well as other American POWs held in the camp. Unbeknownst to them, Soviet colonel Nikolay “Kolya” Grishanov has been interrogating the prisoners; he later lobbies his government to transport Zacharias and his fellow prisoners into the Soviet Union, citing their intelligence value. However, friction between the Soviets and the North Vietnamese is leading the latter to decide to kill the POWs.

Meanwhile, Kelly recovers from his wounds with the help of Dr. Sam Rosen and his head nurse, Sandy O’Toole. Vowing to exact revenge on the people responsible for Pam’s death, he wages a private war on Tucker’s drug ring, eliminating some of its players and saving some drug mules in the process. He recruits Rosen and O’Toole to help rehabilitate one of the rescued prostitutes named Doris. He later obtains more information on the drug ring from brutally torturing one of Pam’s pimps, Billy, using a pressure chamber designed to simulate deep-water diving conditions; he is then left to die from severe decompression sickness.

Later, Kelly is approached by Maxwell to lead the rescue mission on Zacharias and other American POWs, since he knew the area from his days in the UDT and had previously gone behind enemy lines to rescue Maxwell’s son. Kelly takes a break from his stateside mission of revenge and proceeds to Vietnam. Unfortunately, a KGB mole informs the Soviets of the rescue mission, which is disastrously compromised. However, Kelly captures Grishanov while escaping from the camp. The Soviet colonel is then used as leverage to negotiate the transfer of Zacharias and his fellow prisoners to Hanoi Hilton, where they will be confirmed as alive and eventually returned.

Upon returning from Vietnam, Kelly finds out that Doris and her father had been brutally murdered and continues his mission of revenge. He finds out that the Asian heroin processed by Tucker’s drug ring was smuggled into the U.S. through inserting them into the corpses of dead American soldiers, and also deduces that a corrupt police officer is on Tucker’s payroll. Meanwhile, the CIA try to recruit him following his actions in Vietnam, but due to Kelly’s difficult position, they agree to help him escape his legal woes in return for the assassination of the mole who had burned the Vietnam operation. Kelly kills the supposed mole, who is an aide to the National Security Advisor, inadvertently leaving the real mole, a Senate aide and anti-war activist, in place. He then rushes to complete his vendetta, finally killing Tucker and his mafia associate as well as the related death of a corrupt police officer named Lieutenant Mark Charon.

Emmet Ryan, the lead police investigator in the series of killings on drug dealers in Baltimore, has finally identified Kelly as the murderer. He confronts him on his boat, where Kelly confesses his crime. He bargains with the detective for one more hour of liberty before being arrested; Ryan agrees. However, Kelly later fakes his death by blowing up his boat. He is then rescued by his CIA superiors, who then recruit him under his new identity as John Clark. He quietly resumes contact with O’Toole and marries her. Three years later, Zacharias and his fellow POWs are released after the end of the American involvement in the Vietnam War.



  • John Terrence Kelly: Former Navy SEAL, later a full-time operative for the Central Intelligence Agency under the name John Clark.
  • Pamela "Pam" Madden: Kelly's lover. Drug mule and prostitute who escaped from Henry Tucker. Later tortured, raped, and murdered by Tucker, Billy Grayson, and two other drug dealers.
  • Sam Rosen: Professor of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. Later mentioned in Red Rabbit (2002) as the surgeon who fixed Jack Ryan's chronic back pain.
  • Sarah Rosen: Pharmacologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Sam Rosen's wife.
  • Sandra "Sandy" O’Toole: a Vietnam war widow and Nurse-Practitioner at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Later marries Kelly under his Clark identity.
  • Henry Tucker: Pimp and leader of the Baltimore drug ring. Later killed by Kelly in a drug lab in Baltimore.
  • William “Billy” Grayson: Drug dealer working for Tucker. Later tortured by Kelly using the decompression chamber, dies from severe decompression sickness.
  • Doris Brown: Pam's fellow drug mule and prostitute. Rescued by Kelly and helped by the Rosens and O'Toole in rehabilitation, but later murdered by Tucker's men in Pittsburgh.
  • Emmet Ryan: Lieutenant at the Baltimore Police Department (Homicide Division) and Jack Ryan's father. Jack himself also appears briefly to announce his decision to join the Marines to his parents.
  • Mark Charon: Lieutenant at the Baltimore City Police Department (Narcotics Division), on Tucker's payroll. Later killed during a siege by Kelly along with Tucker.
  • Manuel “Portagee” Oreza: Quartermaster First Class for the United States Coast Guard, Kelly's friend. Pursued Kelly when he faked his death, believes him to be dead. Does not encounter him in Clear and Present Danger (1989) despite both being deeply involved in the events of that book, but finally discovers the truth as a minor subplot in Debt of Honor (1994).


  • Colonel Robin Zacharias: fighter-bomber pilot for the United States Air Force who helped in the formulation of the Strategic Air Command war plans. Shot down and captured by the North Vietnamese Army during a Wild Weasel attack on their SAM sites.
  • Colonel Nikolay Yevgeniyevich “Kolya” Grishanov: The sole interrogator at the POW camp holding Zacharias.
  • Vice Admiral Winslow Holland "Dutch" Maxwell: Assistant chief of naval operations (Air) for the United States Navy. Formed the rescue mission (codename "Boxwood Green") and personally recruited Kelly to take part in the operation.
  • Rear Admiral Casimir Podulski: Aide to Vice Admiral Maxwell. Involved in the planning and execution of Boxwood Green, and later died in his sleep after its failure.
  • James Greer: Rear admiral for the U.S. Navy who started working for the CIA. Supervised Boxwood Green and later recruits Kelly into the agency.
  • Robert Ritter: Senior executive in the operations division of the CIA. Supervised Boxwood Green and also recruits Kelly into the agency.
  • Walter "Wally" Hicks: Aide to the National Security Advisor. Misidentified as the KGB mole by Ritter and was killed by Kelly under the pretense of a heroin overdose.
  • Peter Henderson: Minor Senate aide, revealed to be the KGB mole (codename "Cassius") that burned Boxwood Green. Appears in the next novel Red Rabbit; later caught by the CIA in The Hunt for Red October (1984) and made as double agent. He was later offered his freedom in The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988) due to the importance of secret information on the Soviet Union that he brought.


Without Remorse is said to be inspired by David Morrell’s novel First Blood (1972), as well a string of action films that feature violent and “psycho” Vietnam veterans of the 1980s. Clancy subverted the cliché by framing Kelly’s rage and frustration as “pro-social”. Moreover, it gave him a platform to express his disgust with the U.S. government for neglecting Vietnam veterans, who “understand the arts of war”.[2]

Regarding the message of the novel, Clancy said: “The central question in this book is: What is justice? And how is justice applied? What if you’re in the situation where a great wrong has been done and the law does not respond to it? Now, is your duty as a citizen just to forget about it and permit society as a whole to make that mistake? Or is your duty as a citizen to become the instrument of justice, if you can do so in a controlled and structured and just way? Do you have the moral right to become the instrument of justice yourself?”[3]


Clancy started working on Without Remorse in 1971. He later went back to the previously abandoned story in 1992, spending about four months on the novel. He explained the process: “You gotta tell a good story if people are going to read it. I think you have an ethical obligation to deal with those issues as truthfully as possible. So, there’s an educational aspect to what I do.”


Commercially, the book debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list for the week of August 29, 1993.

Critically, Without Remorse received generally positive reviews. Dallas Morning News hailed it as "Mr. Clancy's best", while the San Diego Union-Tribune praised it as "a non-stop emotional roller coaster".[4] However, Kirkus Reviews gave it a mixed verdict, stating that it is "twice as long as the two rather creaky storylines can bear, but the millions of midlevel, desk-bound, action-loving bureaucrats whose adventurous wishes Clancy so faithfully fulfills are unlikely to complain."[5] Publishers Weekly also gave it a mixed review, bemoaning Clancy's "attempts to rationalize this amoral crusade with passages of introspection by characters who are either noble warriors or human scum" as well as "failings of style and moral judgment"; however, they agree that "this overlong, often melodramatic novel seems destined to follow its predecessors to the top of the bestseller lists."[6]

Film adaptation[edit]

Savoy Pictures originally bought the film rights to Without Remorse soon after the novel was released for $2.5 million.[7] There were several attempts to start work on the film, but it was always dropped soon after. It is currently on hold, with the intent to launch first the film adaptation of another Clancy novel featuring Clark, Rainbow Six (1996).[8]


  1. ^ "BEST SELLERS: August 29, 1993". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 July 2018. 
  2. ^ Greenberg, Martin H. (2005). The Tom Clancy Companion (Revised ed.). pp. 28–31. 
  3. ^ Carlson, Peter. "What ticks Tom Clancy off?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 July 2018. 
  4. ^ "Without Remorse (John Clark Novel, A)". Amazon.com. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  5. ^ "WITHOUT REMORSE by Tom Clancy". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  6. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Without Remorse by Tom Clancy". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  7. ^ Fleming Jr., Mike. "Paramount Confirms Christopher McQuarrie Taking On Tom Clancy's 'Without Remorse'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 12 July 2018. 
  8. ^ "Without Remorse Movie (Development)". Movie Insider. Retrieved 12 July 2018.