Searching for a satisfying action hero? Look no further! Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp is an no-nonsense counter-terrorism special ops assassin.
The best thrillers on earth
I crave excellent thrillers. I’ve read most of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site), all of John Le Carré, and countless Michael Connelly, James Paterson, Dan Brown, Robert Harris, Barbara Nadel, John Connolly, Mark Greaney (the “Gray Man” series), Thomas Harris, Karen Slaughter, Raymond Chandler, Tom Clancy, Val McDermid and Michael Crichton efforts.
I’ve also read the complete works of Terry Hayes: I am Pilgrim, his only book at the time of writing, is one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. No wonder thousands of fans are waiting for the follow-up, Year of the Locust. But no-one knows when it will come out.
I’ve also been re-reading all of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels, from the 1950s and 1960s. They haven’t aged well – see my reviews at the link. But Bond remains a brilliant invention.
If you have a great thriller to recommend, please share in the “comments” section below.
Vince Flynn’s “Protect and Defend” inspired this post
What makes a great thriller?
Number one on the list is a charismatic hero. Who can forget Bond, Le Carré’s George Smiley, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan or Connelly’s Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch? When we find an action hero we like to spend time with, we can’t wait to buy the next book in the series.
Stories with fascinating settings, such as Barbara Nadel’s delightfully warped Inspector Ikmen tales set in Istanbul, can add another thrilling dimension. So can bizarre attributes, such as the supernatural powers of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker. Occasionally – but less often than you’d think – a brilliant idea can be enough, such as the chilling plot of C L Moore’s Vintage Season.
Most of all, though, when it comes to thriller plots, I like the stakes to be high. I don’t mind thrillers where the story hinges on who committed a murder (or two). But what I really adore are tales where the fate of millions of people is at stake. In my ideal thriller, the hero must perform cunning, extraordinary feats in order to save the world – or a big chunk of it.
Mitch Rapp – Protect and Defend
So I was delighted when, at a jumble sale in Cheshire, I came across Mitch Rapp. Protect and Defend, by US thriller writer Vince Flynn, is the tenth book to star the no-nonsense American assassin. Flynn wrote 13 books in the series. Another writer, Kyle Mills, has brought the total to 22.
Here are a few quotes to give you a flavour.
Mitch Rapp: on bureaucracy
“Protect and Defend” makes clear that Mitch Rapp hates bureaucracy:
New agencies were created like Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Terrorist Threat Integration Center. Agencies that Rapp didn’t even know existed like the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency were elevated in importance and brought into the big tent of counterterrorism. Rapp still wasn’t exactly sure what the Geospatial gang did, but he did know they had a shiny new headquarters and a budget big enough to embarrass a lobbyist. Add to this satellite offices in major cities all over the world, the ever-burgeoning counterterrorism operations at Defense, Justice, and State, and you were left with an unwieldy bureaucracy that was about as agile as a ballistic missile submarine in the Potomac River.
Mitch Rapp: on torture
Mitch Rapp believes in direct action:
“You’re too close to this thing,” O’Brien said forcefully. “You need to take a step back and cool down… remember that there are laws.” “Well, apparently the other side didn’t get that memo, did they? You go ahead and cover your ass, Charlie.” Rapp shook his head angrily and then added. “But I remember when you used to have a pair. When you were in the field. Now you’ve turned into just another wussified seventh-floor desk jockey.”
When terrorists in Syria capture the director of the CIA and threaten to torture her to death, Rapp believes it is time to up the pressure on captured suspects:
“Mitch,” Ridley sighed, “I personally don’t care what you do, just so long as you don’t leave any permanent marks on these guys.” [Rapp:] “I personally don’t give a shit what you think, Rob. We’re not in Washington. We’re in a fucking war zone where our boss, the director of the CIA, the person who knows every damn spy we have in every damn country, has just been kidnapped. You think those guys are flying in a team from Damascus. A team that’s going to make sure they won’t leave a mark.” Anguish gripped Rapp’s face. “They’re going to torture the shit out of her, Rob, and I’m not going to sit here and debate with you what I can and can’t do.”
Mitch Rapp: on the US Constitution
Mitch Rapp does not care too much about the US constitution, either:
[The Attorney General to Mitch Rapp] “We know that you and Irene are close, but you have to… remember that you took an oath… an oath to protect and defend the consitution of the United States. We all took that oath, and that means none of us are above the law… including you.” [Rapp] “You have got to be kidding me… The director of the CIA was just kidnapped and her entire security detail was wiped out, and you want to lecture me about an oath and a two-hundred-plus-year-old piece of paper?”
Much of this is standard wish-fulfilment. ‘If only we weren’t bound by all this old-fashioned legal stuff,’ people think. ‘Then we could really get stuff done.’ Some contemporary politicians, unfortunately, are seduced by such thoughts. Indeed, when I read this, I thought of the Capitol riots and some of the dodgy legal dealings around Brexit. I wondered – as with the Alan Clark diaries – to what extent bestsellers can influence the way people think.
Protect and Defend: Mitch Rapp is Out of Control
The argument that “torture it not just illegal but doesn’t work” does not impress Mitch Rapp. Nor does it impress his allies, as in this exchange:
“So let me get this straight. The director of the CIA has been kidnapped, her security detail was all shot execution-style, and we are worried about Mitch Rapp roughing up a few prisoners?” “…Right now, Rapp is out of control.” “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t he always out of control? Isn’t that one of the reasons why he gets stuff done while everyone else sits around and talks about it?”
As Rapp says later: “Right now I am a monster. Just like the guys who took Irene. That’s how you fight this damn war. Not with politicians, reporters, and lawyers.”
Vince Flynn described Mitch Rapp as The all-American hero who cuts through all the red tape.
Mitch Rapp: Anxiety Attacks
I recently watched Lee Child’s excellent series on “Writing Popular Fiction” on BBC Maestro. I am a big fan of Child, as I have written on this blog. He says that he doesn’t like the “broken hero” that many theorists, such as Will Storr in his outstanding “Science of Storytelling“, advocate. He singles out Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, the hero of Michael Connelly’s LA police procedurals, as an example of this.
Child’s hero Jack Reacher is the antithesis of “broken”. He is all-powerful, brilliant, sensitive and has his own agenda. Lee Child describes him as “a wish-fulfilment autobiography”. So I was intrigued in Protect and Defend to find that Mitch Rapp has a secret weakness:
Rapp… felt his chest tighten. He knew it was the first sign of an oncoming anxiety attack. He’d gone through his entire life without suffering one, and then with the loss of his wife they had started to pop up. He had told no-one… He figured with the passage of time they would lessen. And they did to a degree, but he could still count on a night or two a month during which he would lie in bed and feel as if an anvil had been placed on his chest. The attacks were characterized by a feeling of overwhelming failure.
I’d welcome thoughts on this. To me, Mitch Rapp’s anxiety attacks felt a bit bolted-on, as if an editor had said to Vince Flynn ‘you have to make this guy more human. Give him some anxiety attacks.’ Personally, I love Connelly’s tormented Harry Bosch. But I also enjoy Jack Reacher. What do you think about broken heroes?
Protect and Defend: Tension
It’s a truism about commercial fiction that characters matter more than story. Everyone remembers Sherlock Holmes but only true fans can remember more than a few of his stories.
I beg to differ. Yes, a powerful main character may well be the reason readers return to series again and again. But the reason I loved Protect and Defend, just as I loved I am Pilgrim, is that the story is outstanding and the stakes are sky-high. If Mitch Rapp cannot solve the problems facing him, a conflagration may engulf the whole world.
Vince Flynn also ratchets up the tension brilliantly. First, he creates a stupendously evil Iranian baddie who wants to do stupendously evil things. Then he creates a second baddie: a Hezbollah arch-baddie ten times more evil than the Iranian. Indeed, the arch-baddie loathes the first baddie – and all Iranians – for not being stupendously evil enough. This creates delicious tension and conflicts of loyalty and raises the stakes to terrific heights.
Protect and Defend: The Ticking Clock
Then, just when you think it can’t get much tenser, Flynn cranks it up. Terrorists are about to torture CIA director Irene Kennedy to make her give up her secrets. After two thuggish security guards have abused her in ways too gruesome to describe in this post, the arch-baddy visits her in the guise of a saviour. He demands she read a statement in which she says the United States have committed a series of international crimes. When she refuses, he beats and threatens her:
“Twenty men!” he screamed. “They will line up to rape you for a week straight. Is that what you want?” “No.” “Then read the statement.”
When Kennedy refuses, the clock starts ticking:
The man stepped away from the camera and held up a finger. “You have one hour to reconsider, and if your answer is still no, there is nothing I can do to help you.”
Mitch Rapp learns about the deadline, adding further to the tension as he races to rescue her.
What to do next
Recommendation 1: if you love fast-moving thrillers, you might like try out Vince Flynn. You can buy all his Mitch Rapp books from Amazon. So far, I’ve found Protect and Defend (Mitch Rapp 10), Transfer of Power (Mitch Rapp 3) and American Assassin (Mitch Rapp 1) excellent. I also read The Third Option (Mitch Rapp 4) which I found less impressive, and downloaded for future delectation Kill Shot (Mitch Rapp 2).
Recommendation 2: I’d love it if you’d like to try one of my thrillers. You can take a look at all my books, here.