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

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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.

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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.

On “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”, “TRANSFER OF POWER” & an Author Appreciation

OlympusHasFallen-TransferOfPower

Director: Antoine Fuqua | Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt | Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett

I finally Watched OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, tonight. I thought it was really good, too. A political Die Hard for the modern age, perhaps? The movie is action-packed, very well-paced (I never got bored, and never felt like the screenplay or movie as a whole was padded with anything that was unnecessary). It is quite brutal, though – but in a “realistic way”, if that makes sense? Gerard Butler (the hero, and a member of the Secret Service) offers a very good portrayal of a hyper-efficient, highly-trained killer (former special ops, etc.). There’s no “flash” to the fight scenes, he doesn’t suddenly break into any wire-work or seamless, stylised martial arts. It’s quite chilling, in its brutal directness. Here’s the extended trailer…

So. Why is there a picture of Vince Flynn’s TRANSFER OF POWER? Well, because there are some startling similarities. Transfer was the first Flynn novel I read, and introduces readers to Mitch Rapp, the CIA’s best operative (translation: assassin). Here’s the synopsis:

What if America’s most powerful leader was also its prime target?

On a busy Washington morning, the stately calm of the White House is shattered as terrorists gain control of the executive mansion, slaughtering dozens of people. The president is evacuated to an underground bunker, but not before nearly one hundred hostages are taken. One man is sent in to take control of the crisis. Mitch Rapp, the CIA’s top counterterrorism operative, determines that the president is not as safe as Washington’s power elite had thought. Moving among the corridors of the White House, Rapp makes a chilling discovery that could rock Washington to its core: someone within his own government wants his rescue attempt to fail.

As I subscribed to the author’s newsletter, I received the email with Flynn’s comment about Olympus Has Fallen (which was, actually, also the first time I heard about the movie). Dated on March 25th, 2013, here is part of “Vince’s Statement On Olympus Has Fallen”, in which he addresses the similarities, mentions White House Down, and also offers some information about the forthcoming American Assassin movie adaptation:

Many of you have emailed me, messaged me on Facebook, posted on my Facebook page and tweeted about the similarities between the new movie Olympus Has Fallen and my book Transfer of Power. My team and I have noticed the similarities as well and know of a second movie coming out this summer also about an attack on the White House. Neither of these movies are Mitch Rapp movies nor do I have any involvement in either project. It is very difficult to prove where a producer, director or screenwriter gets an idea, or to prove how their ideas may have been inspired.

It is exceptionally difficult to prove in court, costs lots of time and money and usually amounts to a great deal of frustration. My team and I have decided to stay focused on the Rapp Franchise – writing one great Rapp novel a year and getting American Assassin made into a movie.

With Bruce Willis signed and on board to play the surly Stan Hurley, a character that I created with him in mind, things are looking good for a fall shoot. Things will start to move quickly in the coming months as Rapp, Kennedy, Stansfield and others are cast. It will be a very exciting time.

I appreciate you looking out for me, and your concern for my intellectual material. In many ways your comments have allowed me to stay calm and focus on what I love most, which is writing a kick ass Rapp novel. For that I offer you my sincere thanks.

I loved Transfer of Power, and blitzed through it in record time. I read it when I hadn’t quite fallen down the Reading Rabbit Hole I obviously inhabit today, but it certainly marked a shift in my reading tastes – after this, I caught up with Flynn’s other books (at the time, only three others had been released), and have read all of Flynn’s novels since, always picking them up on release. That being said, I let things slip for his last two novels, and have been really slow about getting around to The Last Man. Sadly, earlier this year (June 19th) the author lost his three-year battle against cancer. He was only 47. And so The Last Man is also his final novel. There had been plans to publish his work-in-progress, but those plans seem to be on indefinite hiatus. I suppose the publisher and his estate will find someone to finish it off, at some point.

Each of Flynn’s novels has been a tightly-plotted action thriller, firmly rooted in what became the post-9/11 tradition (so yes, the villains are often Middle Eastern terrorists, but a couple of times they are American). Transfer of Power was actually published in 1999, though, which showed a creepy prescience. He was certainly, in my opinion, the best writer among his genre-peers. He was a conservative, politically, but unlike some of his contemporaries, he was always fair in his portrayal of politicians in his novels who held opposing positions to his own or his protagonists’. He was always able to present both sides in an even way. [Some liberal authors could learn something from him on this score – *cough* Eric van Lustbader in The President’s Daughter *cough*]

I will miss having new Rapp novels to read, but I am grateful to have so many to re-read over and over again.

Vince Flynn’s Novels (chronological): 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

If you like Flynn’s novels already, but want more authors who write in the same (sub-)genre and are worth your time, be sure to check out: Kyle Mills, Andrew Britton (R.I.P.), Alex Berenson (these three are my favourites), Brett Battles, Olen Steinhauer, John Gilstrap (who I’ll be trying out very soon), Daniel Taylor, Brad Thor, Marc Cameron, Tom Cain, Dick Wolf. There are, of course, many others, but these seem to be the best. [Hm. Anyone know any female authors who write in this genre…?]

In case you are interested, here is the trailer for White House Down – which stars Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx:

“Kill Shot” by Vince Flynn (Simon & Schuster)

Flynn-KillShot

A second novel of Mitch Rapp’s early CIA career

For months, Mitch Rapp has been steadily working his way through a list of men, bullet by bullet. With each kill, the tangled network of monsters responsible for the slaughter of 270 civilians becomes increasingly clear. He is given his next target: a plump Libyan diplomat who is prone to drink and is currently in Paris without a single bodyguard.

Rapp finds him completely unprotected and asleep in his bed. With confidence in his well-honed skills and conviction of the man’s guilt, he easily sends a bullet into the man’s skull. But in the split second it takes the bullet to leave the silenced pistol, everything changes. The door to the hotel room is kicked open and gunfire erupts all around Rapp. In an instant the hunter has become the hunted. Rapp is left wounded and must flee for his life.

I am a huge fan of Vince Flynn’s novels – I’ve read them all except the latest, now. Sadly, the author passed away earlier this year, so there is actually only the one other novel (which I will read A.S.A.P.). Flynn’s novels are action-packed, tightly written, and always a great read. If you’ve never read any of the Mitch Rapp novels (or Term Limits, the set-in-the-same-time prequel of sorts), then I highly recommend that you do. Kill Shot was a little bit different, following on from American Assassin, the first novel set during Rapp’s very early career as a CIA assassin. It’s a very good novel.

The novel starts with a scene between Irene Kennedy and the CIA shrink, Lewis. They’re talking about Rapp, his incredible proficiency and fish-to-water acclimation to his new job – he’s only been with the Company for a year at this point, and is proving brutally efficient and competent at killing…

“I’m talking about the fact that he is a one-man wrecking ball. That he has methodically, in a little over a year, accomplished more than we have accomplished in the last decade. And let’s be brutally honest with each other.” Lewis held up a finger. “The ‘what’ that we are talking about is the stone-cold fact that he is exceedingly good at hunting down and killing men.”

There’s some nice foreshadowing for the future novels set after this discussion between the shrink and Irene (it continues off-and-on during the novel). For example, this snippet, which foreshadows Term Limits

“Justice is blind, and if you train a man to become judge, jury, and executioner . . . well, then you shouldn’t be surprised if he someday fails to see the distinction between a terrorist and a corrupt, self-serving bureaucrat.”

Rapp, in the meantime, is in Paris, executing one of the terrorists involved in the ring that took down the plane that killed his college sweetheart. The operation doesn’t go as planned, as someone was waiting for Rapp. The next morning, the news breaks in Washington that Libya’s Oil Minister has been killed along with three innocent civilians and four unidentified men. The French authorities are certain that the gunman is wounded and on the loose in Paris. Rapp’s handlers have only one choice, of course: deny any responsibility for the incident and pray that their secret asset stays that way, avoiding capture and dying quietly. Naturally, Rapp is unlikely to do so, and decides to get to the bottom of the situation, and hunt down the rat in the chain of command.

Rapp’s paranoia and relative newness in the business sets in motion a series of events dictated by his training and also belief that he’s been set up by someone very close to him – specifically, and for a short while, the potential that Irene was the one that spilled the beans:

“She was by necessity the person who knew the most about him, and the details of this mission. His orders came from her. If anyone were in a position to set him up it would be her.”

With nobody to trust, he resorts to his wits to get to the bottom of things, as the two sides – Rapp’s and the CIA’s – circle each other, attempting to ascertain the other’s motives. Slowly, though, the truth comes out, and Rapp is able to channel his… attentions in the appropriate direction.

The novel is not as fast-paced as Flynn’s previous novels, and felt slightly drawn out at times. Key events and moments helped maintain interest, however, as we see Rapp growing more into his new role, and everyone else coming to terms with just how good he is at his job. Flynn also offers a fair bit of discussion and commentary on the nature of psychosis and psychopathy and their potential connection to those with careers in the military – especially with regards to special forces.

Given the early setting, it was also interesting to see a different, undeveloped side of Stansfield’s, Irene’s and Rapp’s relationships. They trust his skills, but they have not yet developed the intense bond of trust that we saw even in Transfer of Power (a novel that helped light the fire under my thriller addiction).

I ended up not taking too many notes for this novel – this is not exactly a surprise, when it comes to thrillers or novels that I become engrossed in. It is a very good thriller, and I was drawn on throughout, devouring this far quicker than most novels I’ve read recently.

Overall, this is a very good novel. Not the author’s best, but certainly a must-read for fans of the series and also for thriller fans in general.

Vince Flynn’s final novel, The Last Man, is out now.

Series 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