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For the film, see Without Remorse (Film).

Without Remorse is a thriller novel published in 1993 by Tom Clancy and is a part of the Jack Ryan universe series. A film adaptation loosely based on the novel released on Amazon Prime Video on April 30, 2021.

While not the first novel of the series to be published, it is first in plot chronology. The main setting of the book is set during the Vietnam War, in the American city of Baltimore. The book focuses on the development of one of Clancy's recurring characters, John Kelly/John Clark while providing the character some back-story. The book serves to give a history of Kelly's life and explains how he becomes John Clark.


The book alternates between multiple story arcs, involving: Kelly's back-story and his personal crusade against a large drug ring responsible for killing his girlfriend Pam; the capture and imprisonment of U.S. Air Force colonel Robin Zacharias in a POW camp; major heroin dealer Henry Tucker who is the story's main antagonist, as well as his Mafia connection Tony Piaggi, and their employment of a corrupt policeman named Mark Charon. Other story arcs in the book introduce characters such as detective Emmett Ryan and his partner who are investigating the recent murders of a string of drug dealers.


John Kelly and two other UDT men are performing a maritime demolition of an oil-rig irreparably damaged by Hurricane Camille. While driving to pick him up after the job, Kelly's pregnant wife Patricia Kelly is killed in a car accident caused by damaged brakes in a large truck.

Colonel Robin Zacharias, a United States Air Force F-105 pilot, is shot down along with his back-seater John Tait during a Wild Weasel strike over North Vietnam. Tait is killed but Robin is captured and reported killed in action, then transferred to a secret POW camp established by the Vietnamese communists to elicit aid from the Soviet Union. Among the prisoners are some who possess the highly-classified knowledge, beyond the scope of the Vietnam War. Zacharias, for example, had helped develop SAC War Plans, choosing targets, routes, and methods. He is interrogated by Colonel Nikolai Grishanov, who asks the prisoners to call him by his nickname Kolya. Grishanov manages to get more information out of the prisoners with kindness and a little vodka than the Vietnamese camp commander Major Vinh had gotten with privation and abuse. Eventually, someone up the chain of command of the NVA decides that the prisoners are not worth keeping and that they can be quietly killed, with plausible deniability. Grishanov then starts to make urgent requests to his superiors that the POWs be brought to the Soviet Union to live out the rest of their lives. While Zacharias is being moved to his cell, a U.S. Buffalo Hunter pilotless drone photographs him, and Admiral Dutch Maxwell recognizes his face. Maxwell, along with two other admirals, develops a special-operation plan entitled Operation BOXWOOD GREEN that will send Marines into North Vietnam to rescue the prisoners.

Six months after his wife's death, Kelly meets a girl named Pamela Madden, who has escaped from prostitution and serving as a "mule" in a drug-smuggling ring run by a vicious and violent gangster, Henry Tucker. Kelly picks Pam up on the highway and becomes romantically involved with her. The day after he meets Pam, Kelly befriends two doctors, Sam and Sarah Rosen, who are both professors at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Sam of neurosurgery and Sarah of pharmacology, when they have trouble with their new motorboat. (He had neglected to replace the zinc anodes that normally protect exposed metal from corrosion, and his crumbly propellers have been scraped off by a sandbar, which is not on his outdated charts. Kelly orders new "screws" and charts, and Sam owes him.) Kelly discovers, by accident, that Pam is addicted to barbiturates.

With the help of Sam and Sarah, Kelly helps Pam recover from her addiction. While bringing her into the city for treatment and to speak with the police, Kelly becomes curious about Pam's old life and attempts to reconnoiter her previous chapters. Unfortunately, Pam is recognized by Billy Grayson, her old pimp, and they are attacked. A car chase ensues, in which Kelly's Scout jeep is at a disadvantage to Billy's more powerful Plymouth Roadrunner. At one point, Kelly lures Billy into a vacant lot and gets him stuck in deep mud. However, Kelly makes the mistake of slowing down and stopping; he is shot twice with a shotgun and Pam is kidnapped. A press photographer later finds Pam's dead body displayed in a fountain. Kelly recovers in a hospital with the help of Sam Rosen. At this point, Nurse Sandy O'Toole is asked to take a special interest in Kelly.

When Kelly is shown a picture of Pam's body and is informed of her abuse during and after death (she was raped by several men, then strangled) he decides to take revenge and vows to take down the people responsible. Kelly starts a rigorous exercise regime to help heal his body so that he can prepare for his private war with Henry Tucker's drug ring. When Kelly returns to his home he is approached by Admiral Maxwell, who recruits him to spearhead a covert operation to free the dozens of secretly held POWs. Kelly is recruited because he is the only person they know of that has ever spent time in the area of the camp. (Kelly had gone behind enemy lines in the vicinity of the camp [before it was built], to rescue Maxwell's son. Political considerations prevented him from receiving the Medal of Honor for saving an admiral's son, but he received a Navy Cross and a promotion as well as excellent references.)

Kelly next sets up a safe house in Baltimore and goes incognito as a wino to perform recon on the drug pushers. He first kills Pam's first pimp in New Orleans, then several minor drug dealers and eventually learns the location of Billy, a subaltern in the drug ring and one of those who had killed Pam. He captures Billy and rescues Doris Brown, who is a "mule" as Pam was. Tucker had ordered all the girls who were his couriers to be killed since they were security risks. Kelly takes Billy to his island and interrogates him in his recompression chamber to get further information about the drug ring. Kelly leaves Doris with Sandy because he must leave to lead the mission to rescue the POWs. The plan fails, as the Soviets catch wind of it courtesy of a loose-mouthed anti-American White House intern who told his prep-school friend, a Senate aide who is a mole for the KGB. Kelly does manage to kill the escaping Major Vinh and captures Grishanov, who the U.S. use to negotiate the transfer of the prisoners to the Hanoi Hilton, where they will be confirmed as alive and eventually returned. The presence of mind Kelly shows in capturing, rather than killing, Grishanov impresses the CIA officers involved in the operation, particularly since it ultimately leads to the survival of Zacharias and the other POWs.

He then visits Sandy and discovers that Doris has been murdered thanks to a corrupt policeman on Tucker's payroll. Kelly determines the location of the drug ring's first lab, used for "cutting" heroin, in a derelict ship near his own island home. It is abandoned after Kelly raids it, executing the men who murdered Doris and releasing Xantha Matthews, another of the "mules" whom Tucker had ordered to be killed. Kelly deduces from the formaldehyde smell of the bags containing the heroin, and from the country of origin, that it is being smuggled into the US hidden inside corpses of American soldiers.

Kelly is then brought into a meeting with Admiral James Greer and high-ranking CIA official Robert Ritter, who want Kelly to join the agency. Kelly states that there is one major problem, and points to the newspaper that has a front-page story of the raid on the derelict ship. The CIA then begins to plan Kelly's fake death by first switching his prints with the captured Kolya's, while allowing him to finish what he started. The first job given to Kelly by the CIA is to remove the mole. Kelly gives the mole a choice, either commit suicide with the heroin he's collected or Kelly will kill him with his knife. Kelly next tracks the new drug lab to a warehouse in a sleepy industrial district, which the smugglers plan to use as long as their source (and the war) holds out. He sets up a sniper post in a nearby building and lays siege to the warehouse, killing two Mafia hoods. Mark Charon shows up at the scene and, upon learning of the situation outside, attempts to murder Tony Piaggi and Tucker, only to be fatally shot by Piaggi. Moments later, Kelly enters the room where the two drug dealers are holed up and kills them both.

Emmett Ryan figures out who the undercover was and tracks Kelly to his boat. However, he allows Kelly a one hour head start before he alerts the Coast Guard. Kelly then gets into a boat chase and then purposely capsizes his boat in order to fake his own death and kill off his John Kelly identity. He then uses the diving gear he prepared on his boat to swim under the Coast Guard vessel and onto Admiral Maxwell's sailboat, where the Admiral picks him up. Now known as John Clark, he has married Sandy (who is pregnant), and the book ends with the release of the POWs after the end of the war.



  • Zacharias is the father of a B-2 bomber pilot who makes a brief appearance in Debt of Honor.
  • The Coast Guard officer who'd tried to pursue and arrest him, and who believed him to be dead in the "accident," would unexpectedly meet up with Clark many years later—in the chronology of the "Ryanverse"—within the pages of Debt of Honor.

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