Mills, Kyle. Order to Kill. New York: Pocket Books, 2016. ISBN 978-1-4767-8349-9.
This is the second novel in the Mitch Rapp saga written by Kyle Mills, who took over the franchise after the death of Vince Flynn, its creator. In the first novel by Mills, The Survivor (July 2017), he picked up the story of the last Vince Flynn installment, The Last Man (February 2013), right where it left off and seemed to effortlessly assume the voice of Vince Flynn and his sense for the character of Mitch Rapp. This was a most promising beginning, which augured well for further Mitch Rapp adventures.

In this, the fifteenth novel in the Mitch Rapp series (Flynn's first novel, Term Limits [November 2009], is set in the same world and shares characters with the Mitch Rapp series, but Rapp does not appear in it, so it isn't considered a Rapp novel), Mills steps out of the shadow of Vince Flynn's legacy and takes Rapp and the story line into new territory. The result is…mixed.

In keeping with current events and the adversary du jour, the troublemakers this time are the Russkies, with President Maxim Vladimirovich Krupin at the top of the tottering pyramid. And tottering it is, as the fall in oil prices has undermined Russia's resource-based economy and destabilised the enterprises run by the oligarchs who keep him in power. He may be on top, but he is as much a tool of those in the shadows as master of his nation.

But perhaps there is a grand coup, or one might even say in the new, nominally pious Russia, a Hail Mary pass, which might simultaneously rescue the Russian economy and restore Russia to its rightful place on the world stage.

The problem is those pesky Saudis. Sitting atop a large fraction of the Earth's oil, they can turn the valve on and off and set the price per barrel wherever they wish and, recently, have chosen to push the price down to simultaneously appease their customers in Europe and Asia, but also to drive the competition from hydraulic fracturing (which has a higher cost of production than simply pumping oil out from beneath the desert) out of the market. Suppose the Saudis could be taken out? But Russia could never do it directly. There would need to be a cut-out, and perfect deniability.

Well, the Islamic State (IS, or ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever they're calling this week in the Court Language of the Legacy Empire) is sworn to extend its Caliphate to the holiest places of Islam and depose the illegitimate usurpers who rule them, so what better puppet to take down the Saudi petro-hegemony? Mitch Rapp finds himself in the middle of this conspiracy, opting to endure grave physical injury to insinuate himself into its midst.

But it's the nature of the plot where everything falls apart, in one of those details which Vince Flynn and his brain trust would never have flubbed. This isn't a quibble, but a torpedo below the water line. We must, perforce, step behind the curtain.

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.  
You clicked the Spoiler link, right? Now I'm going to spoil the whole thing so if you clicked it by accident, please close this box and imagine you never saw what follows.

The central plot of this novel is obtaining plutonium from Pakistani nuclear weapons and delivering it to ISIS, not to build a fission weapon but rather a “dirty bomb” which uses conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material to contaminate an area and deny it to the enemy.

But a terrorist who had done no more research than reading Wikipedia would know that plutonium is utterly useless as a radiological contaminant for a dirty bomb. The isotope of plutonium used in nuclear weapons has a half-life of around 24,000 years, and hence has such a low level of radioactivity that dispersing the amount used in the pits of several bombs would only marginally increase the background radiation in the oil fields. In other words, it would have no effect whatsoever.

If you want to make a dirty bomb, the easiest way is to use spent fuel rods from civil nuclear power stations. These are far easier to obtain (although difficult to handle safely), and rich in highly-radioactive nuclides which can effectively contaminate an area into which they are dispersed. But this blows away the entire plot and most of the novel.

Vince Flynn would never, and never did, make such a blunder. I urge Kyle Mills to reconnect with Mr Flynn's brain trust and run his plots past them, or develop an equivalent deep well of expertise to make sure things fundamentally make sense.

Spoilers end here.  

All right, we're back from the spoilers. Whether you've read them or not, this is a well-crafted thriller which works as such as long as you don't trip over the central absurdity in the plot. Rapp not only suffers grievous injury, but encounters an adversary who is not only his equal but better. He confronts his age, and its limitations. It happens to us all.

The gaping plot hole could have been easily fixed—not in the final manuscript but in the outline. Let's hope that future Mitch Rapp adventures will be subjected to the editorial scrutiny which makes them not just page-turners but ones where, as you're turning the pages, you don't laugh out loud at easily-avoided blunders.

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