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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reading List: American Assassin

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.

Posted at December 23, 2010 20:17