Spanish see red over travesty of a Clancy thriller

The author has infuriated a whole nation with his new book - which he didn't write. Elizabeth Nash and David Usborne report
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The Independent Online
WHEN is a Tom Clancy novel not quite a Tom Clancy novel? Answer: when it is "created by ..." The bestselling thriller-writer is available as a form of franchise - and has caused enormous indignation in Spain, partly as a result.

The chattering classes of Madrid are up in arms over a bestseller with Clancy's name attached to it, which is set in the Spanish capital, and portrays Spain as a mafia-style society on the brink of civil war, where treacherous Basques, racist Catalans and swarthy Andalusians weave military plots against the king.

Balance of Power - which has Tom Clancy's name embossed in gold on the cover - tells how Spain, possibly Europe, possibly the world, narrowly escapes political disaster only through the timely, if bloodily violent, intervention of the Americans, helped by a Jesuit priest, Interpol and a gypsy part-time flamenco teacher.

"It is difficult to imagine a bigger assembly of confused nonsense in 450 pages," complained the newspaper El Mundo in a vast double-page spread. "The most miserable invention at the service of the most puerile ignorance in this pocket guidebook pseudo-Spain, embellished with dogshit on the pavements to give it more slimy authenticity."

Particularly worrying for El Mundo is that "tens of thousands of Americans hitherto completely ignorant about Spain will now think that ours is a country on the verge of collapse due to a Yugoslavia-style bloody war among ethnic minorities".

When complaints were taken to Tom Clancy, the novelist disclaimed all responsibility, saying he hadn't written the work. The paper quotes Clancy as saying: "My name heads the series to which the book belongs - Tom Clancy's Op-Center - but I am not the author of Balance of Power or any of the four other books in the series. I can't say what have been the sources of inspiration or information because I simply don't know."

Jeff Rovin, who is thanked in the acknowledgments for his "creative ideas" and "invaluable contributions" to the manuscript, said: "I can't tell you anything. I`ve signed a contract of strict confidentiality with Tom Clancy that prevents me from giving any information about this or other books."

The publisher in the United States of the Op-Center titles is Berkley Books, a division of Penguin based in New York. The covers of Balance of Power bear the headline "Tom Clancy's Op-Center" followed by the name of the book. Underneath, there is the cryptic postscript, "Created by Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik".

Which is all very confusing. If somebody creates a film, a sculpture or a theatre production, that suggests substantial personal input. Creating a book, however, seems rather more difficult to explain. If it doesn't mean writing the book, what does it mean? Who really writes the books? "Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik are the creators and that's all the information we can give out," a Berkley spokeswoman told the Independent on Sunday. "I've been told that's all we can say."

"Clancy is exploiting himself," one leading Manhattan literary agent remarked. "Personally, I think it's hubris."

Whether it is smart or just tacky, the idea of franchising oneself appears to be exclusive to Mr Clancy. Ghostwritten books by politicians, film stars and supermodels are par for the course. But nobody in the publishing world could think of a ghostwritten living writer. (Dead authors are another matter: half-finished manuscripts are regularly dusted off and completed.)

As another literary agent put it: "I just don't think many people would do it. When you look at the other big writers, they just care too much. I can't imagine Stephen King or John Grisham doing it. Can you?"

Meanwhile, a "genuine" Clancy novel is on the way, also set in Spain. Clancy has never visited Spain. So where does he get his information? "They give it to me in the American embassy."