Review: NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine / Doubleday / Bantam)

ClevelandK-NeedToKnowUSA fast-paced, gripping spy thriller

In pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, CIA analyst Vivian Miller uncovers a dangerous secret that will threaten her job, her family — and her life. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her — her job, her husband, even her four children — is threatened.‎

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

This novel received a lot of pre-publication buzz. Russian sleeper cells infiltrating the CIA; movie rights sold to Universal Pictures, with Charlize Theron attached; and lots of praise from other thriller and mystery authors. All of this during a political environment characterized (in part) by Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. So, with expectations high, I’m glad to report that Need to Know exceeded my hopes. A gripping novel that I devoured in two sittings. Continue reading


Upcoming: RED WAR by Kyle Mills (Atria/Emily Bestler)

MillsFlynn-MR17-RedWarUSToday, Kyle Mills unveiled the cover to his next novel, Red War. The seventeenth novel in the Mitch Rapp series, originally created by Vince Flynn, it continues the story Mills began in The Survivor (the novel he finished following Flynn’s death), and continued in Order to Kill and Enemy of the State. Here’s the synopsis:

Mitch Rapp races to prevent Russia’s gravely ill leader from starting a full-scale war with NATO.

When Russian president Maxim Krupin discovers that he has inoperable brain cancer, he’s determined to cling to power. His first task is to kill or imprison any of his countrymen who can threaten him. Soon, though, his illness becomes serious enough to require a more dramatic diversion — war with the West.

Upon learning of Krupin’s condition, CIA director Irene Kennedy understands that the US is facing an opponent who has nothing to lose. The only way to avoid a confrontation that could leave millions dead is to send Mitch Rapp to Russia under impossibly dangerous orders. With the Kremlin’s entire security apparatus hunting him, he must find and kill a man many have deemed the most powerful in the world.

Success means averting a war that could consume all of Europe. But if his mission is discovered, Rapp will plunge Russia and America into a conflict that neither will survive.

The Mitch Rapp series is easily one of my favourite thriller series, so if you have any interest in action-packed espionage novels, then I would highly recommend it. Red War is due to be published in October 2018 by Atria/Emily Bestler in North America, and Simon & Schuster in the UK.

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Review: THE GUILTY and END GAME by David Baldacci (Grand Central / Macmillan)


The fourth and fifth Robie & Reel novels see a shift in the series style

Will Robie is the government’s most professional, disciplined, and lethal assassin. He infiltrates the most hostile countries in the world, defeats our enemies’ advanced security measures, and eliminates threats before they ever reach our shores.

But now, his skills have left him. Sent overseas on a critical assignment, he fails, unable to pull the trigger. Absent his talents, Robie is a man without a mission, and without a purpose.

To recover what he has lost, Robie must confront what he has tried to forget for over twenty years: his own past.

Will Robie escaped his small Gulf Coast hometown of Cantrell, Mississippi, after high school, severing all personal ties, and never looked back. Not once. Not until the unimaginable occurs. His father, Dan Robie, has been arrested and charged with murder.
Father and son haven’t spoken or seen each other since the day Robie left town. In that time, Dan Robie–a local attorney and pillar of the community – has been elected town judge. Despite this, most of Cantrell is aligned against Dan. His guilt is assumed.

To make matters worse, Dan has refused to do anything to defend himself. When Robie tries to help, his father responds only with anger and defiance. Could Dan really be guilty?

I’m definitely a fan of Baldacci’s novels. After the Camel Club series ended, the author’s novels featuring Will Robie and Jessica Reel quickly became my favourites. However, these last two installments — while enjoyable and engaging thrillers in their own right — didn’t quite rise to the quality I have come to expect from the author. Nevertheless, they are well-written novels, and I was kept entertained and invested in the story. Continue reading


Quick Reviews: ORDER TO KILL and ENEMY OF THE STATE by Kyle Mills (Atria/Emily Bestler)


The latest two novels featuring Mitch Rapp, the CIA super-spy and assassin created by Vince Flynn. I’ve read all of the books in the series, and it remains one of my favourites. These are Mills’s second and third instalments, following The Survivor (which he finished following Flynn’s passing). Both novels show the author becoming ever-more comfortable with the character, developing him, his colleagues, and returning antagonists brilliantly. The series is in very safe hands. I really enjoyed both of these novels.

Continue reading


Quick Review: THE SURVIVOR by Vince Flynn & Kyle Mills (Atria/Simon & Schuster)

Flynn&Mills-MR12-SurvivorUSThe 14th Mitch Rapp novel, Flynn’s last

When Joe “Rick” Rickman, a former golden boy of the CIA, steals a massive amount of the Agency’s most classified documents in an elaborately masterminded betrayal of his country, CIA director Irene Kennedy has no choice but to send her most dangerous weapon after him: elite covert operative Mitch Rapp.

Rapp quickly dispatches the traitor, but Rickman proves to be a deadly threat to America even from beyond the grave. Eliminating Rickman didn’t solve all of the CIA’s problems — in fact, mysterious tip-offs are appearing all over the world, linking to the potentially devastating data that Rickman managed to store somewhere only he knew.

It’s a deadly race to the finish as both the Pakistanis and the Americans search desperately for Rickman’s accomplices, and for the confidential documents they are slowly leaking to the world. To save his country from being held hostage to a country set on becoming the world’s newest nuclear superpower, Mitch Rapp must outrun, outthink, and outgun his deadliest enemies yet.

Vince Flynn passed away after beginning this novel. His estate and publisher asked Kyle Mills, another fantastic thriller author, to step in and finish the book. I’ve read all of Flynn’s novels, and I’m happy to report that Mills has done a great job of continuing the series. Continue reading


Excerpt: THIEF by Mark Sullivan (Minotaur/Quercus)

SullivanM-RM2-ThiefUSCo-author of Private Berlin and Private L.A. with James Patterson, Mark Sullivan‘s next novel is THIEF. Due to be published on December 16th, 2014 (next week), by Minotaur. It is the third novel featuring Robin Monarch — following Rogue and Outlaw. The series is published in the UK by Quercus Books, and will publish Thief on December 31st in eBook, and January 1st in print. For more details on the series, scroll down to the end of the post.

Here is the synopsis for Thief:

Robin Monarch is a man with a complicated past and dangerous present.  He’s been a soldier, a CIA agent, a freelance operative but first and foremost, Robin Monarch is a thief of the highest order. Orphaned at twelve, Monarch originally stole for survival, then he stole for his friends and cohorts, now he steals to order, and to give back to the to the woman who saved his life many years ago.

With the help of his team, Monarch breaks into the legendary Christmas party of Beau Arsenault, a shady investor and behind-the-scenes player at the very highest levels of power politics. Arsenault is not above bending or breaking the rules if there’s illicit profit to be made. Monarch has decided that those illicit profits will be better used to take care of orphans and street kids. Using the party as cover to break into Arsenault’s secret vaults, Monarch comes away with two unexpected things. One is a bullet — he gets shot when he’s caught trying to escape with tens of millions of negotiable instruments. The second is a lead on what might be his most audacious exploit ever. A previously undiscovered tribe in South America may well have the secret to the most sought after knowledge in history — that of eternal life. And Robin Monarch must use all his skills — as an operative, as a thief — to keep this secret from falling into the worst possible hands.

And now, a (lengthy) excerpt… Continue reading


“The Last Man” by Vince Flynn (Simon & Schuster / Atria Books)

Flynn-LastManUKThe final Mitch Rapp novel

An invaluable CIA asset has gone missing, and with him, secrets that in the wrong hands could prove disastrous. The only question is: Can Mitch Rapp find him first?

Joe Rickman, head of CIA clandestine operations in Afghanistan, has been kidnapped and his four bodyguards executed in cold blood. But Mitch Rapp’s experience and nose for the truth make him wonder if something even more sinister isn’t afoot. Irene Kennedy, director of the CIA, has dispatched him to Afghanistan to find Rickman at all costs.

Rapp, however, isn’t the only one looking for Rickman. The FBI is too, and it quickly becomes apparent that they’re less concerned with finding Rickman than placing the blame on Rapp.

With CIA operations in crisis, Rapp must be as ruthless and deceitful as his enemies if he has any hope of finding Rickman and completing his mission. But with elements within his own government working against both him and American interests, will Rapp be stopped dead before he can succeed?

The Mitch Rapp series is in many ways the one that kick-started my passion for international and espionage thrillers. After reading Transfer of Power, the novel that introduced Rapp as the man who takes back the White House from terrorists, I quickly caught up with the rest of the series, and have read every one since. The Last Man is, sadly, the last novel. Flynn passed away last year, after a long battle with cancer. It’s an awkward ending, however. Thankfully, though, while the novel began shakily, it ended strongly. Long-time fans of the series and characters won’t be disappointed, as this is another fast-paced, gripping international thriller, featuring all of the key series characters.

One of the first things to jump out at me was just how aggressive Rapp is at the start of the novel. True, he’s a CIA assassin, who has had a decades-long career killing people all over the world, so how cuddly could he ever be, really? Nevertheless, he came across as far more aggressive and even downright mean when dealing with others. It felt like a real departure from how I remembered the character. The previous two novels Flynn wrote focused on Rapp’s early career, taking us to his first missions working for the CIA. This can, perhaps, account for the apparent shift in character – it’s been years since I read a novel when the ‘present day’ Rapp was at the centre of the story (a couple before the early ear novels focused more on one-time Rapp protégé Mike Nash). I’d accept, therefore, that I just forgot how the character was from before. At the same time (just to add yet more qualifiers), it definitely felt like he was just more aggressive and confrontational by default, rather than as a result of what’s going on around him. Maybe the novel’s naysayers have a point, that Rapp’s special status has made him more arrogant and given him a sense of invincibility (physical and political). He came across as though he was acting more macho and dick-swinging, rather than just being the Most Badass in Any Room.

Given just how much of an asshole he can be, this was one of the first times in the whole series when Flynn wasn’t able to always keep me on Rapp’s side, even when we know he’s pushing the envelope and bending rules just that little bit too far. Despite belabouring this impression, what I’ve come to consider the Rapp normalcy did reassert itself after I passed the 25% mark(ish).

Around this 25%-mark, Rapp is seriously injured, too. It allowed the author and character to take a look at Rapp’s life and SOP with a bit more depth. His memories are all screwed up, many of them missing, thanks to the head injury he sustains. We see him navigating the slow return of memories – both good and bad – and the way he processes them made him a more interesting and nuanced character. The presence of Louie Gould, too, added an extra level of tension (I won’t remind fans who he is, nor will I spoil it for new readers).

His injury is just one of a couple of factors that make Rapp more interesting as the novel progresses. True, he is still preternaturally gifted at his job, but he is kept grounded by mistakes and miscalculations (the cause of his injury, for example, is the result of a rash – though effective – last-minute tactical move). This humanising of Rapp, something that was not always as evident in the earlier novels, I thought was a welcome development – he’s not a super-human, faultless killing machine, anymore.

Flynn-LastManAs the novel continues, we learn of a larger conspiracy, which ended up being pretty well-told. There are the usual forces foreign and domestic working against Rapp, his comrades and CIA Director Irene Kennedy (who is always excellent). The final quarter of the novel is a fast-paced resolution that I could not put down, and I turned the final page at 2am. Flynn’s gift for constructing engaging, briskly-paced thrillers really was superb, and few authors writing in the same sub-genre could match him (David Baldacci and Kyle Mills are perhaps the only two I consider better).

There were a couple of moments when Flynn’s own politics and obvious affection and support for the clandestine and more force-oriented US governmental institutions shines through, coupled with less-than-positive portrayals of diplomatic actors. This doesn’t take up much of the novel, which also means he doesn’t offer the normal balance that I’ve always liked in his novels. The author was known for courting the conservative press in order to promote his novels – fair enough, as a conservative himself, why shouldn’t he? – but the fact that he didn’t lampoon liberals or Rapp’s opponents unnecessarily, always saved his novels from becoming ham-fisted anti-liberal screeds. Villains, foreign and domestic, were appropriately diabolical or (more likely) petty politicians, but were not limited to the Democratic Party. In The Last Man, however, it is far more about the investigation than the political forces at play behind the scenes – which is a pity, as Flynn really was very good at writing that part, too.

In all, then, a very good final novel, if not an excellent one. Nevertheless, I will seriously miss my annual fix of new fiction from Vince Flynn. The quality of his novels will allow them to persevere and, I’m sure, remain in print for many years to come. If you are a fan of international espionage thrillers, then I highly recommend Flynn’s work.

R.I.P. Vince Flynn, 1966-2013

Novel Chronology: American Assassin, Kill Shot, Term Limits,* Transfer of Power, The Third Option, Separation of Power, Executive Power, Memorial Day, Consent to Kill, Act of Treason, Protect and Defend, Extreme Measures, Pursuit of Honor, The Last Man

* This is not actually a Mitch Rapp novel, but a couple of the characters within feature throughout the main series. It’s an excellent novel, too.