Books by Flynn, Vince

Flynn, Vince. Act of Treason. New York: Pocket Books, 2006. ISBN 978-1-4165-4226-1.
This is the seventh novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series. I packed this thriller as an “airplane book” on a recent trip. The novel was far more successful than the journey, which ended up as a 12 hour round trip from Switzerland to England and back when my onward flight was cancelled thanks to an unexpected belch from volcano Whatchamacallit. By the time I got home, I was already more than 350 pages into the 467 page paperback, and I finished it over the next two days. Like all Vince Flynn books, this is a page turner, although this time there's less action and more puzzling out of shadowy connections.

The book begins with a terrorist attack on the motorcade of a presidential candidate who, then trailing in the polls, is swept into office on a sympathy vote. Now, just before the inauguration of the new administration, Rapp captures the perpetrator of the attack and, as he and CIA director Irene Kennedy start to follow the trail of those who ordered the strike, begin to suspect what may be a plot that will shake the U.S. to its foundations and undermine the legitimacy of its government. Under a tight deadline as inauguration day approaches, Rapp and Kennedy have to find out the facts and take direct action to avert calamity.

Characters from earlier books in the series appear here, and references to events which occurred earlier in the timeline are made, but this book works perfectly fine as a stand-alone novel—you can pick up the Mitch Rapp saga here and miss little or nothing (although there will, inevitably, be spoilers for events in the earlier books).

May 2010 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. American Assassin. New York: Atria Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1-4165-9518-2.
This is the eleventh novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series. While the first ten books chronicled events in sequence, the present volume returns to Rapp's origins as an independent assassin for, but not of (officially, at least) the CIA. Here, we revisit the tragic events which predisposed him to take up his singular career, his recruitment by rising anti-terrorist “active measures” advocate Irene Kennedy, and his first encounters with covert operations mastermind Thomas Stansfield.

A central part of the story is Rapp's training at the hands of the eccentric, misanthropic, paranoid, crusty, profane, and deadly in the extreme Stan Hurley, to whom Rapp has to prove, in the most direct of ways, that he isn't a soft college boy recruited to do the hardest of jobs. While Hurley is an incidental character in the novels covering subsequent events, he is centre stage here, and Mitch Rapp fans will delight in getting to know him in depth, even if they might not be inclined to spend much time with the actual man if they encountered him in real life.

Following his training, Rapp deploys on his first mission and immediately demonstrates his inclination to be a loose cannon, taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves and throwing carefully scripted and practiced plans out the window at the spur of the moment. This brings him into open conflict with Hurley, but elicits a growing admiration from Stansfield, who begins to perceive that he may have finally found a “natural”.

An ambitious mission led by Hurley to deny terrorists their financial lifeblood and bring their leaders out into the open goes horribly wrong in Beirut when Hurley and another operative are kidnapped in broad daylight and subjected to torture in one of the most harrowing scenes in all the literature of the thriller. Hurley, although getting on in years for a field operative, proves “tougher than nails” (you'll understand after you read the book) and a master at getting inside the heads of his abductors and messing with them, but ultimately it's up to Rapp, acting largely alone, adopting a persona utterly unlike his own, and risking everything on the hope of an opportunity, to come to the rescue.

I wasn't sure how well a Rapp novel set in the context of historical events (Beirut in the early 1990s) would work, but in this case Flynn pulls it off magnificently. If you want to read the Rapp novels in story line sequence, this is the place to start.

December 2010 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. Consent to Kill. New York: Pocket Books, 2005. ISBN 978-1-4165-0501-3.
This is the sixth novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series. In the aftermath of Memorial Day (December 2009), a Saudi billionaire takes out a contract on Mitch Rapp, who he blames for the death of his son. Working through a cut-out, an assassin (one of the most interesting and frightening villains in the Vince Flynn yarns I've read so far—kind of an evil James Bond) is recruited to eliminate Rapp, ideally making it look like an accident to avoid further retribution. The assassin is conflicted, on the one hand respecting Rapp, but on the other excited by the challenge of going after the hardest target of all and ending his career with not just a crowning victory but a financial reward large enough to get out of the game.

Things do not go as planned, and the result is a relentless grudge match as Rapp pursues his attackers like Nemesis. This is a close-up, personal story rather than a high concept thriller like Memorial Day, and is more morality play than an edge of the seat page-turner. Once again, Flynn takes the opportunity to skewer politicians who'd rather excuse murderers than risk bad press. Although events and characters from earlier novels figure in this story, you can enjoy this one without having read any of the others.

Vince Flynn is acclaimed for the attention to detail in his novels, due not only to his own extensive research but a “brain trust” of Washington insider fans who “brief him in” on how things work there. That said, this book struck me as rather more sloppy than the others I've read, fumbling not super-geeky minutiæ but items I'd expect any editor with a sharp red pencil to finger. Below are some examples; while none are major plot spoilers, I've put them in a spoiler block just in case, but also for readers who'd like to see if they can spot them for themselves when they read the novel, then come back here and compare notes.

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.  
I'll cite these by chapter number, because I read the Kindle edition, which doesn't use conventional page numbers.

Chapter 53: “The sun was falling in the east, shooting golden streaks of light and shadows across the fields.” Even in CIA safe houses where weird drug-augmented interrogations are performed, the sun still sets in the west.

Chapter 63: “The presidential suite at the Hotel Baur Au Lac [sic] was secured for one night at a cost of 5,000 Swiss francs. … The suite consisted of three bedrooms, two separate living rooms, and a verandah that overlooked Lake Geneva.” Even the poshest of hotels in Zürich do not overlook Lake Geneva, seeing as it's on the other end of the country, more than 200 kilometres away! I presume he intended the Zürichsee. And you don't capitalise “au”.

Chapter 73: “Everyone on Mitch's team wore a transponder. Each agent's location was marked on the screen with a neon green dot and a number.” A neon dot would be red-orange, not green—how quickly people forget.

Chapter 78: “The 493 hp engine propelled the silver Mercedes down the Swiss autobahn at speeds sometimes approaching 150 mph. … The police were fine with fast driving, but not reckless.” There is no speed limit on German Autobahnen, but I can assure you that the Swiss police are anything but “fine” with people driving twice the speed limit of 120 km/h on their roads.

Spoilers end here.  
The conclusion is somewhat surprising. Whether we're beginning to see a flowering of compassion in Mitch Rapp or just a matter of professional courtesy is up to the reader to decide.

March 2010 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. Executive Power. New York: Pocket Books, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7434-5396-7.
This is the fourth novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series. At the end of the third novel, Separation of Power (August 2009), Rapp's identity was outed by a self-righteous and opportunistic congressman (who gets what's coming to him), and soon-to-be-married Rapp prepares to settle down at a desk job in the CIA's counterterrorism centre. But it's hard to keep a man of action down, and when political perfidy blows the cover on a hostage rescue operation in the Philippines, resulting in the death of two Navy SEALs, Rapp gets involved in the follow-up reprisal operation in a much more direct manner than anybody expected, and winds up with a non-life-threatening but extremely embarrassing and difficult to explain injury (hint, he spends most of the balance of the book standing up). Rapp has no hesitation in taking on terror masters single-handed, but he finds himself utterly unprepared for the withering scorn unleashed against him by the two women in his life: bride and boss.

Rapp soon finds himself on the trail of a person much like himself: an assassin who works in the shadows and leaves almost no traces of evidence. This malefactor, motivated by the desire for a political outcome just as sincere as Rapp's wish to protect his nation, is manipulating (or being manipulated by?) a rogue Saudi billionaire bent on provoking mayhem in the Middle East. The ever meddlesome chief of the Mossad is swept into the scheme, and events spiral toward the brink as Rapp tries to figure out what is really going on. The conclusion gets Rapp involved up close and personal, the way he likes it, and comes to a satisfying end.

This is the first of the Mitch Rapp novels to be written after the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Other than a few oblique references to those events, little in the worldview of the series has changed. Flynn's attention to detail continues to shine in this story. About the only unrealistic thing is imagining the U.S. government as actually being serious and competent in taking the battle to terrorists. See my comments on the first installment for additional details about the series and a link to an interview with the author.

September 2009 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. Extreme Measures. New York: Pocket Books, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4165-0504-4.
This is the ninth novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series and is perhaps the most politically charged of the saga so far. When a high-ranking Taliban commander and liaison to al-Qaeda is captured in Afghanistan, CIA agent Mike Nash begins an interrogation with the aim of uncovering a sleeper cell planning terrorist attacks in the United States, but is constrained in his methods by a grandstanding senator who insists that the protections of the Geneva Convention be applied to this non-state murderer. Frustrated, Nash calls in Mitch Rapp for a covert and intense debrief of the prisoner, but things go horribly wrong and Rapp ends up in the lock-up of Bagram Air Base charged with violence not only against the prisoner but also a U.S. Air Force colonel (who is one of the great twits of all time—one wonders even with a service academy ring how such a jackass could attain that rank).

Rapp finds himself summoned before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer the charges and endure the venting of pompous gasbags which constitutes the bulk of such proceedings. This time, however, Rapp isn't having any. He challenges the senators directly, starkly forcing them to choose between legalistic niceties and defeating rogue killers who do not play by the rules. Meanwhile, the sleeper cell is activated and puts into motion its plot to wreak terror on the political class in Washington. Deprived of information from the Taliban captive, the attack takes place, forcing politicians to realise that verbal virtuosity and grandstanding in front of cameras is no way to fight a war. Or, at least, for a moment until they forget once again, and as long as it is they who are personally threatened, not their constituents.

As Mitch Rapp becomes a senior figure and something of a Washington celebrity, Mike Nash is emerging as the conflicted CIA cowboy that Rapp was in the early books of the series. I suspect we'll see more and more of Nash in the future as Rapp recedes into the background.

July 2010 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. Kill Shot. New York: Atria Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4165-9520-5.
This is the twelfth novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series, but chronologically is second in the saga, picking up a year after the events of American Assassin (December 2010). Mitch Rapp has hit his stride as the CIA's weapon of choice against the terror masters, operating alone with only the knowledge of a few people, dispatching his targets with head shots when they least expect it and, in doing so, beginning to sow terror among the terrorists.

Rapp is in Paris to take out the visiting Libyan oil minister, who has been a conduit for funding terrorist attacks, including the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing which killed Rapp's college sweetheart and set him on the trajectory toward his current career—this time it's personal. The hit goes horribly wrong, leaving a trail of bodies and hundreds of cartridge casings in a posh hotel, with the potential of a disastrous public relations blowback for the CIA, and Rapp's superiors looking at prospects ranging from congressional hearings at best to time in Club Fed. Based on how things went down, Rapp becomes persuaded that he was set up and does not know who he can trust and lies low, while his bosses fear the worst: that their assassin has gone rogue.

The profane and ruthless Stan Hurley, who trained Rapp and whose opinion of the “college boy” has matured from dislike to detestation and distrust, is dispatched to Paris to find out what happened, locate Rapp, and if necessary put an end to his career in the manner to which Hurley and his goons are accustomed.

This is a satisfying thriller with plenty of twists and turns, interesting and often complicated characters, and a thoroughly satisfying conclusion. We see, especially in the interrogation of “Victor”, how far Rapp has come from his first days with Hurley, and that the tension between the two may have at its roots the fact that they are becoming more and more alike, a prospect Rapp finds repellent. Unlike American Assassin, which is firmly anchored in the chaos of early 1990s Beirut, apart from a few details (such as mobile telephones being novel and uncommon), the present novel could be set at almost any time since 1990—historical events play no part in the story. It's best to read American Assassin first, as it provides the back story on the characters and will provide more insight into their motivations, but this book works perfectly well as a stand-alone thriller should you prefer to start here.

April 2012 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. The Last Man. New York: Atria Books, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4165-9521-2.
This is the thirteenth novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series. Unlike the two previous installments, American Assassin (December 2010) and Kill Shot (April 2012), this book is set in the present, as the U.S. is trying to extricate itself from the quagmire of Afghanistan and pay off locals to try to leave something in place after U.S. forces walk away from the debacle. Joe Rickman is the CIA's point man in Jalalabad, cutting deals with shady figures and running black operations. Without warning, the CIA safe house from which he operates is attacked, leaving its four guards dead. Rickman, the man who knows enough secrets from his long CIA career to endanger hundreds of agents and assets and roll up CIA networks and operations in dozens of countries, has vanished.

Mitch Rapp arrives on the scene to try to puzzle out what happened and locate Rickman before his abductors break him and he begins to spill the secrets. Rapp has little to go on, and encounters nothing but obstruction from the local police and staffers at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, all of whom Rapp treats with his accustomed tact:

“You're a bully and a piece of shit and you're the kind of guy who I actually enjoy killing. Normally, I don't put a lot of thought into the people I shoot, but you fall into a special category. I figure I'd be doing the human race a favor by ending your worthless life. Add to that the fact that I'm in a really bad mood. In fact I'm in such a shitty mood that putting a bullet in your head might be the only thing that could make me feel better.”

… “In the interest of fairness, though, I suppose I should give you a chance to convince me otherwise.” (p. 17)

Following a slim lead on Rickman, Rapp finds himself walking into a simultaneous ambush by both an adversary from his past and crooked Kabul cops. Rapp ends up injured and on the sidelines. Meanwhile, another CIA man in Afghanistan vanishes, and an ambitious FBI deputy director arrives on the scene with evidence of massive corruption in the CIA clandestine service. CIA director Irene Kennedy begins to believe that a coordinated operation must be trying to destroy her spook shop, one of such complexity that it is far beyond the capabilities of the Taliban, and turns her eyes toward “ally” Pakistan.

A shocking video is posted on jihadist Web site which makes getting to the bottom of the enigma an existential priority for the CIA. Rapp needs to get back into the game and start following the few leads that exist.

This is a well-crafted thriller that will keep you turning the pages. It is somewhat lighter on the action (although there is plenty) and leans more toward the genre of espionage fiction; I think Flynn has been evolving in that direction in the last several books. There are some delightful characters, good and evil. Although she only appears in a few chapters, you will remember four foot eleven inch Air Force Command Master Sergeant Shiela Sanchez long after you put down the novel.

There is a fundamental challenge in writing a novel about a CIA agent set in contemporary Afghanistan which the author struggles with here and never fully overcomes. The problem is that the CIA, following orders from its political bosses, is doing things that don't make any sense in places where the U.S. doesn't have any vital interests or reason to be present. Flynn has created a workable thriller around these constraints, but to this reader it just can't be as compelling as saving the country from the villains and threats portrayed in the earlier Mitch Rapp novels. Here, Rapp is doing his usual exploits, but in service of a mission which is pointless at best and in all likelihood counterproductive.

February 2013 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. Memorial Day. New York: Pocket Books, 2004. ISBN 978-0-7434-5398-1.
In this, the fifth novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series the author returns from the more introspective view of the conflicting loyalties and priorities of the CIA's most effective loose cannon in previous novels to pen a rip-roaring edge-of-the-seat thriller which will keep you turning pages until the very last. I packed this as an “airplane book” and devoured the whole 574 page brick in less than 48 hours after I opened it on the train to the airport. Flynn is a grand master of the “just one more chapter before I go to sleep” thriller, and this is the most compelling of his novels I've read to date.

Without giving away any more than the back cover blurb, the premise is a nuclear terrorist attack on Washington, and the details of the detection of such a threat and the response to it are so precise that a U.S. government inquiry was launched into how Flynn got his information (answer—he has lots of fans in the alphabet soup agencies within a megaton or so of the Reflecting Pool). While the earlier novels in the Mitch Rapp chronicle are best read in order, you can pick this one up and enjoy it stand-alone: sure, you'll miss some of the nuances of the backgrounds and interactions among the characters, but the focus here is on crisis, mystery, taking expedient action to prevent a catastrophic outcome, and the tension between those committed to defending their nation and those committed to protecting the liberties which make that nation worthy of being defended.

As with most novels in which nuclear terrorism figures, I have some quibbles with the details, but I'm not going to natter upon them within a spoiler warning block because they made absolutely no difference to my enjoyment of this yarn. This is a thriller by a master of the genre at the height of his powers, which has not been dated in any way by the passing of years since its publication. Enjoy!

December 2009 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. Protect and Defend. New York: Pocket Books, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4165-0503-7.
This is the eighth novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series. I usually wait a month or two between reading installments in this thriller saga, but since I'd devoured the previous volume, Act of Treason, earlier this month on an airline trip which went seriously awry, I decided to bend the rules and read its successor on the second attempt to make the same trip. This time both the journey and the novel were entirely successful.

The story begins with Mitch Rapp cleaning up some unfinished business from Act of Treason, then transitions into an a thriller whose premises may play out in the headlines in the near future. When Iran's covert nuclear weapons facility is destroyed under mysterious circumstances, all of the players in the game, both in Iran and around the world, try to figure out what happened, who was responsible, and how they can turn events to their own advantage. Fanatic factions within the Iranian power structure see an opportunity to launch a proxy terror offensive against Israel and the United States, while those aware of the vulnerability of their country to retaliation for any attack upon those nations try to damp down the flames. The new U.S. president decides to use a back channel to approach the Iranian pragmatists with a deal to put an end to the decades-long standoff and reestablish formal relations between the nations, and dispatches the CIA director to a covert meeting with her peer, the chief of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security. But word of the meeting makes its way to the radical factions in Iran, and things go horribly wrong. It is then up to Mitch Rapp and his small team, working against the clock, to puzzle out what happened, who is responsible, and how to respond.

If you haven't read the earlier Mitch Rapp novels, you'll miss some of the context, particularly in the events of the first few chapters, but this won't detract in any way from your enjoyment of the story. Personally, I'd read (and I'm reading) the novels in order, but they are sufficiently stand-alone (particularly after the first few) that there's no problem getting into the series at any point. Vince Flynn's novels are always about the action and the characters, not preachy policy polemics. Nonetheless, one gets a sense that the strategy presented here is how the author's brain trust would like to see a confident and unapologetic West address the Iranian conundrum.

May 2010 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. Pursuit of Honor. New York: Pocket Books, 2009. ISBN 978-1-4165-9517-5.
This is the tenth novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) saga, and the conclusion of the story which began in the previous volume, Extreme Measures (July 2010). In that book, a group of terrorists staged an attack in Washington D.C., with the ringleaders managing to disappear in the aftermath. In the present novel, it's time for payback, and Mitch Rapp and his team goes on the trail not only of the terrorists but also their enablers within the U.S. government.

The author says that you should be able to pick up and enjoy any of his novels without any previous context, but in my estimation you'll miss a great deal if you begin here without having read Extreme Measures. While an attempt is made (rather clumsily, it seemed to me) to brief the reader in on the events of the previous novel, those who start here will miss much of the character development of the terrorists Karim and Hakim, and the tension between Mitch Rapp and Mike Nash, whose curious parallels underlie the plot.

This is more a story of character development and conflict between personalities and visions than action, although it's far from devoid of the latter. There is some edgy political content in which I believe the author shows his contempt for certain factions and figures on the Washington scene, including “Senator ma'am”. The conclusion is satisfying although deliberately ambiguous in some regards. I appear to have been wrong in my review of Extreme Measures about where the author was taking Mike Nash, but then you never know.

This book may, in terms of the timeline, be the end of the Mitch Rapp series. Vince Flynn's forthcoming novel, American Assassin, is a “prequel”, chronicling Rapp's recruitment into the CIA, training, and deployment on his first missions. Still, it's difficult in the extreme to cork a loose cannon, so I suspect in the coming years we'll see further exploits by Mitch Rapp on the contemporary scene.

October 2010 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. Separation of Power. New York: Pocket Books, [2001] 2009. ISBN 978-1-4391-3573-0.
Golly, these books go down smoothly, and swiftly too! This is the third novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series. It continues the “story arc” begun in the second novel, The Third Option (June 2009), and picks up just two weeks after the conclusion of that story. While not leaving the reader with a cliffhanger, that book left many things to be resolved, and this novel sorts them out, administering summary justice to the malefactors behind the scenes.

The subject matter seems drawn from current and recent headlines: North Korean nukes, “shock and awe” air strikes in Iraq, special forces missions to search for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, and intrigue in the Middle East. What makes this exceptional is that this book was originally published in 2001—before! It holds up very well when read eight years later although, of course, subsequent events sadly didn't go the way the story envisaged.

There are a few goofs: copy editors relying on the spelling checker instead of close proofing allowed a couple of places where “sight” appeared where “site” was intended, and a few other homonym flubs. I'm also extremely dubious that weapons with the properties described would have been considered operational without having been tested. And the premise of the final raid seems a little more like a video game than the circumstances of the first two novels. As one who learnt a foreign language in adulthood, I can testify that it is extraordinarily difficult to speak without an obvious accent. Is it plausible that Mitch can impersonate a figure that the top-tier security troops guarding the bunker have seen on television many times?

Still, the story works, and it's a page turner. The character of Mitch Rapp continues to darken in this novel. He becomes ever more explicitly an assassin, and notwithstanding however much his targets “need killin'”, it's unsettling to think of agents of coercive government sent to eliminate people those in power deem inconvenient, and difficult to consider the eliminator a hero. But that isn't going to keep me from reading the next in the series in a month or two.

See my comments on the first installment for additional details about the series and a link to an interview with the author.

August 2009 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. Term Limits. New York: Pocket Books, 1997. ISBN 978-0-671-02318-8.
This was the author's first novel, which he initially self-published and marketed through bookshops in his native Minnesota after failing to place it with any of the major New York publishers. There have to be a lot of editors (What's the collective noun for a bunch of editors? A rejection slip of editors? A red pencil of editors?) who wrote the dozens of rejection letters he received, as Flynn's books now routinely make the New York Times bestseller list and have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. Unlike many writers who take a number of books, published or unpublished, to master their craft (Jerry Pournelle counsels aspiring writers to expect to throw away their first million words), Flynn showed himself to be a grandmaster at the art of the thriller in his very first outing. In fact, I found this book to be even more of a compulsive page-turner than the subsequent Mitch Rapp novels (but that's to be expected, since as the series progresses there's more character development and scene-setting)—the trade paperback edition is 612 pages long and I finished it in four days.

The story takes place in the same world as the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series, and introduces many of the characters of those books such as Thomas Stansfield, Irene Kennedy, Jack Warch, Scott Coleman, and Congressman Michael O'Rourke, but Rapp makes no appearance in it. The premise is simple: a group of retired Special Forces operatives who have spent their careers making foreign enemies of their country pay for their misdeeds concludes that the most pernicious enemies of the republic are the venal politicians spending the country into bankruptcy and ignoring the threats to its existence and decides to take, shall we say, direct action, much along the lines of Unintended Consequences (December 2003), but as a pure thriller without the political baggage of that novel.

Flynn's attention to detail is evident in this first novel, although there are a few lapses. This is to be expected, as his “brain trust” of fan/insiders had yet to discover his work and lend their expertise to vetting the gnarly details. For example, on p. 552, a KH-11 satellite is said to be “on station” and remains so for an extended period. KH-11s are in low Earth orbit, and cannot be on station anywhere. And they're operated by the National Reconnaissance Office, not the National Security Administration. Flynn seems to be very fond of the word “transponder”, and uses it in contexts where it's clear a receiver is intended. These and other minor goofs detract in no way from the story, which grips you and doesn't let go until the last page. Although this book is not at all a prerequisite to enjoying the Mitch Rapp series, in retrospect I wish I'd read it before Transfer of Power (April 2009) to better appreciate the history which formed the relationships among the secondary characters.

November 2009 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. The Third Option. New York: Pocket Books, 2000. ISBN 978-0-671-04732-0.
This is the second novel in the Mitch Rapp (warning—the article at this link contains minor spoilers) series. Unlike the previous episode, Transfer of Power (April 2009), which involved a high-profile terrorist strike, this is much more of a grudge match conducted in the shadows, with Rapp as much prey as hunter and uncertain of whom he can trust. Flynn demonstrates he can pull off this kind of ambiguous espionage story as well as the flash-bang variety, and while closing the present story in a satisfying way sets the stage for the next round of intrigue without resorting to a cliffhanger.

Rapp's character becomes increasingly complex as the saga unfolds, and while often conflicted he is mission-oriented and has no difficulty understanding his job description. Here he's reluctantly describing it to a congressman who has insisted he be taken into confidence (p. 296):

“… I'm what you might call a counterterrorism specialist.”

“Okay … and what, may I ask, does a counterterrorism specialist do?”

Rapp was not well versed in trying to spin what he did, so he just blurted out the hard, cold truth. “I kill terrorists.”

“Say again?”

“I hunt them down, and I kill them.”

No nuance for Mr. Mitch!

This is a superbly crafted thriller which will make you hunger for the next. Fortunately, there are seven sequels already published and more on the way. See my comments on the first installment for additional details and a link to an interview with the author. The montage on the cover of the paperback edition I read uses a biohazard sign (☣) as its background—I have no idea why—neither disease nor biological weapons figure in the story in any way. Yes, I've been reading a lot of thrillers recently—summer's comin' and 'tis the season for light and breezy reading. I'll reserve Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell for the dwindling daylight of autumn, if you don't mind.

June 2009 Permalink

Flynn, Vince. Transfer of Power. New York: Pocket Books, 1999. ISBN 978-0-671-02320-1.
No one would have believed in the last years of the twentieth century that Islamic terrorists could make a successful strike on a high-profile symbol of U.S. power. Viewed from a decade later, this novel, the first featuring counter-terrorism operative Mitch Rapp (who sometimes makes Jack Bauer seem like a bureaucrat), is astonishingly prescient. It is an almost perfect thriller—one of the most difficult to put down books I've read in quite some time. Apart from the action, which is abundant, the author has a pitch-perfect sense of the venality and fecklessness of politicians and skewers them with a gusto reminiscent of the early novels of Allen Drury.

I was completely unaware of this author and his hugely popular books (six of which, to date, have made the New York Times bestseller list) until I heard an extended interview (transcript; audio parts 1, 2, 3) with the author, after which I immediately ordered this book. It did not disappoint, and I shall be reading more in the series.

I don't read thrillers in a hyper-critical mode unless they transgress to such an extent that I begin to exclaim “oh, come on”. Still, this novel is carefully researched, and the only goof I noticed is in the Epilogue on p. 545 where “A KH-12 Keyhole satellite was moved into geosynchronous orbit over the city of Sao Paulo and began recording phone conversations”. The KH-12 (a somewhat ambiguous designation for an upgrade of the KH-11 reconnaissance satellite) operates in low Earth orbit, not geosynchronous orbit, and is an imaging satellite, not a signals intelligence satellite equipped to intercept communications. The mass market edition I read includes a teaser for Protect and Defend, the eighth novel in the series. This excerpt contains major spoilers for the earlier books, and if you're one of those people (like me) who likes to follow the books in a series in order, give it a miss.

April 2009 Permalink