Tag Archives: Vince Flynn

Stuff I’ve Been Reading: first post of 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’m not dead, just lazy enough to appear to be so. Sorry I haven’t kept up with all of you. But I have been reading and here is what I’ve been reading:

The Way of the Knife: The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth by Mark Mazzetti

★★★★✩

A fascinating look at the CIA and it’s shift in orientation from a straightforward intelligence agency to a paramilitary outfit running its own ops. During the Cold War the CIA took its cue from the OSS, running all kinds of crazy stuff, but it sort of took it down a few notches from the ’70s on. After 9/11 it took a more operational role, harkening back to the OSS days. Also of note is the shift of the Defense Department into the intelligence game, running it’s own networks of soldier-spies.

Mark Mazzetti does a great job documenting the recent history of the CIA, which, of course, is no easy task since, you know, this is Secret Squirrel stuff. Published in 2013, it is fairly up-to-date, which is important because if you look at world events since the year 2000 this stuff changes quickly. Particularly of interest was the CIA’s changing relationship with Pakistan, which, considering we caught Osama bin Laden in Pakistan is kinda weird.

Full of colorful characters, interesting insights and real-life spy drama, The Way of the Knife is as exciting as any spy novel. It’s too bad that…

The Last Man (Mitch Rapp #13) by Vince Flynn

★★✩✩✩

…was not. After reading Mazzetti’s book I was still on a spy kick, so looked to Vince Flynn‘s series featuring terrorist hunter, tough guy and generally angry man Mitch Rapp. I’ve read a couple in the series and they are decent, quick reads, but after a couple of them I think the appeal is waning. I mean, I really like the idea of Mitch Rapp, a loose-cannon-who-doesn’t-play-by-the-rules and his relentless pursuit of terr’ists at any cost. Also I find it notable and refreshing that Flynn has avoided becoming a right wing nut, something that his peers (*cough cough* Brad Thor *cough cough*) are wont to do. So kudos to Flynn for that.

Unfortunately, after reading three novels, Rapp becomes less and less convincing as an effective covert operative. I mean, he’s just so angry and reckless that he loses his head and frequently goes off the res. I know, I get that he’s a loose cannon, but come on. Going nuts has consequences. Also, I think Flynn falls back on certain plot devices too frequently. Specifically, in every novel I’ve read someone big gets captured by the bad guys and they have to be recovered because they know stuff, man. Lastly (and I sort of hate to say this about any author), I just don’t find Flynn to be a very good writer. I mean, his writing is kinda bad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s serviceable, it just lacks finesse.

Before you Flynn fans start up fanfic in which Rapp hunts me down, I didn’t find The Last Man all that bad. Flynn does have a talent for creating memorable and sympathetic supporting characters. Also, Flynn seems to do some very good research on foreign intelligence services (in this case Pakistan’s ISI).

You probably know that Flynn passed away in 2013 from cancer and he was far too young for that. I think I read somewhere that the Mitch Rapp series will be continued by another writer. Anyhow, I didn’t find The Last Man to be very good, but it was an okay, quick read (I finished it, at least) and I’d still be willing to check out the others in the Mitch Rapp series.

Then came…
The Inhumans: By Right of Birth by Ann Nocenti, Bret Blevins, et al.

★★★★✩

This volume collects Marvel Graphic Novel: The Inhumans and the Marvel king-sized special Inhumans: The Untold Saga. To be honest, I never really knew much about the The Inhumans, but, as a bonus entries, from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe are included to to fill you in! A great blast from the past for these old-skool Marvel characters.

And somewhere along the line I tried to read…

The Equalizer by Michael Sloan

★✬✩✩✩

…but man, oh, man. I just couldn’t finish it. Bear in mind, I was a huge fan of the show with Edward Woodward as retired spy Robert McCall. Author Michael Sloan, as I understand it, was one of the creators of the original TV show and wrote this to coincide with The Equalizer motion picture starring Denzel Washington. I haven’t seen the film, but the trailers looked pretty cool and I think Denzel Washington would make an interesting McCall with a more “everyman” take. So I was eager to get my mitts on this but, geez, I just couldn’t finish it.

The Equalizer was so boring, the writing filled with such inconsequential detail and trivialities. It would just wear me out after a few pages. And a day in the life of Robert McCall seems highly improbable. Go out to a cafe. See a pimp turning out his ho on the way. Beat up pimp. Go to cafe. Waitress notes McCalls mysteriousness. McCall makes a few cryptic remarks. Waitress notes that McCall must be lonely. McCall plays the noble loner card. All the neighborhood shopkeepers love McCall and try to give him extra stuff, which he, of course, turns down. Goes to his job as a bartender where he is again the mysterious loner with a quiet nobility who is also kind of attractive for being an older guy. It was kinda like that. Give me a break.

I quit after about a hundred pages. I don’t know, maybe it got better after that but I wasn’t going to read 486 pages of this stuff to find out. Sloan worked on a great show, but the book? Not so much. 1.5 stars.

Next up, I started on John Sandford‘s Prey series, starring Minneapolis tough guy Lucas Davenport. I picked up a bunch of these for cheap at a library surplus book sale once and that turned out to be a good move since these book are like crack. I can’t stop. So far I’ve read:

Rules of Prey

Shadow Prey

Eyes of Prey

Silent Prey

Winter Prey

Night Prey

and
Mind Prey

And I’m gonna keep on goin’ until I’ve read them all. Fortunately, Sandford appears to still be churning them out, so there’s a lot of fun yet to be had.

I probably don’t need to tell you the premise: Lucas Davenport is a tough-guy cop who’s not afraid to bend the rules–and sometimes break them–to get the badguy. Oh, he’s also a multi-millionaire who earned his fortune by writing role-playing and war-games in his spare time. Yeah, sounds kind of improbable, like a nerd’s (my) daydream, but Sandford makes it work. And despite the fact that Davenport’s nemeses in each novel are truly vile monsters, there’s no dark and dreary vibe. Davenport has his demons and dark moods, but he gets over them. Also, I love the way cop life is presented, particularly with his buddies Del and Sloan, my favorites, who are hilarious.

Speaking of detectives, I’ve just seen the show True Detective and seeing as how this is Valentine’s Day, here are some words of romantic wisdom from Rust Cohle:

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The return of star ratings; Protect and Defend by Vince Flynn

To start with, I think I’m going to go back to using star (★) ratings in my reviews. I quit for a while as an experiment because I’ve found that star ratings are sometimes misleading. For example, there are instances where I like a book but I know it’s not very good, or vice versa. But on the other hand, star ratings are fun. And sometimes they just fit so well. So while I have to really refine my rating system, here’s the framework I generally follow:

  • ★✩✩✩✩ Poor
  • ★★✩✩✩ Fair, okay, but kind of mediocre
  • ★★★✩✩ Good
  • ★★★★✩ Excellent
  • ★★★★★ Superior. A work of rare splendor

But there might be cases, to be more precise, when I might split up the criteria and give, say, ★★ for quality of writing and ★★★★ for the amount of enjoyment I got out of a book, averaging it out to ★★★.

Bear in mind that there is the distinct possibility that I am over-thinking this whole damn thing.

Whatever. Let’s review a book.


(Atria Books, 2007)

Vince Flynn’s Protect and Defend is a case where two stars seems to fit so well. Eighth chronologically in the the Mitch Rapp series, tenth in actual publication and the second Vince Flynn novel I’ve read, Protect and Defend, is not an awful book, but it falls short of the kind of thing I was expecting after reading Flynn’s American Assassin. In short, it’s slow and, while the action that one expects is pretty okay, it occurs far too late in the game for me to get excited about it. A bit of fair warning: there may be in this review what some may consider a spoiler in this review. I don’t consider it as such, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Protect and Defend begins with Rapp hanging out in Costa Rica with a female agent named Maria Rivera, getting ready to assassinate some American political advisor who was complicit in a politically-motivated bombing that resulted in the death of Americans. A little “non-judicial punishment” Rapp style. Anyway, the details don’t really matter because this whole event had nothing to do with the rest of the story whatsoever. Even Rivera disappears from the story after doing nothing at all. We do learn that Rapp is getting over the murder of his pregnant wife, something that happened in a previous episode.

Meanwhile, a covert Israeli operative manages to sabotage an Iranian nuclear facility, devastating the entire site. The Iranians are quick to blame Israel and the United States, although they have no evidence against either parties. So, to conduct some damage control, CIA director (and direct Rapp’s boss) Irene Kennedy is sent over to Mosul, Iraq, to meet the Iranian intelligence director Azad Ashani and hash things out. Of course, Rapp is in tow to conduct security. Good thing, too, because now the story finally gets rolling (over two hundred pages into the book!). Kennedy gets kidnapped by a rogue Hezbollah leader working for the Iranians and Rapp will spare nothing to get her back.

That was the possibly spoiler-y bit I mentioned earlier, but it’s not really a spoiler because all that stuff that happened in the first half of the book just felt like backstory, set up and fluff and it isn’t until the book is over halfway through that Rapp really begins killin’ terr’rists, which is way too long of a wait to get the action going. The pace in Protect and Defend killed me. By the time Rapp got to the point where he was shooting bad guys in the face I was too tired to care.

That was the main thing that did it for me. The pace was totally off and it seems like first whole half of the book was just padding. Part of what contributed to this, though is Flynn’s multi-perspective approach, which some love and some don’t. I don’t. Flynn follows the perspectives of Rapp, was well as the politicians in D.C., the politicians in Teheran and the bad guys. On the one hand, this allows us to see characters that are far more interesting than our hero Mitch Rapp (more on this later), but on the other hand it’s stuff I don’t care about. If you ever watched that TV show 24 you know what I mean. I never cared about all the political shenanigans. I just wanted to see Jack Bauer do his thing. It’s like that here. I guess that’s why these novels are called “political thrillers” but that stuff leaves me cold. Of course, there is plenty of action in Protect and Defend, but far little and it occurs far too late.

But while Protect and Defend didn’t do it for me, Flynn’s got some interesting things going on. Like I mentioned before, Mitch Rapp is probably the least interesting character in the cast. He’s a driven, single-minded “loose cannon who doesn’t play by the the rules” covert operative, but there doesn’t seem to be much more to him than that. Even though I’ve just complained about Flynn’s multi-perspective approach, it does provide characters that are far more interesting than Rapp, like Azad Ashani, the sympathetic Iranian intelligence director. Indeed, it seems like Flynn’s supporting characters are far more fleshed out than the hero of the series.

As for Mitch Rapp, I definitely see potential for him being a really interesting and unique character. Unfortunately, as in American Assassin, Flynn doesn’t quite follow through on this as well as I would have liked. Rapp himself is a bit of an extremist and I would have liked to have seen more examination of this side of his personality that places him in dangerously close proximity to the mindsets of the terrorists he kills. And, of course, I would have liked to have seen more on how Rapp is dealing with the death of his wife. Rapp’s bosses note that he’s becoming more reckless and hard to control, but I’ll just have to read more of the books to see if his character really develops from this. These Rapp books are pretty much like Jerry Bruckheimer films or something, so I don’t expect much literary merit, but I’d still like to see Rapp become more real to me. Right now he’s little better than a robot.

Not to belabor the point, but Vince Flynn passed away last summer from cancer at the age of forty-seven and I feel bad about being too negative, but Protect and Defend just didn’t do it for me. But on the positive side, I am interested in reading more of Vince Flynn’s stuff. I’m just hoping that in the other books there is less talky, more shooty.

The verdict:★★✩✩✩, for being a tolerable read, but far too slow and lazily paced to really be interesting.

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Stuff I’ve been reading: an update.

I figure it’s about time to crawl out of my hole and do a little posting. As I mentioned last time, I am behind in my reviewing responsibilities (heh, “responsibilities”), so here is an update on what I’ve read recently. There’s actually more, but the other things I’ve been reading are non-fiction how-to kinds of things. Stuff like cookbooks, exercise books, etc, and I guess that stuff can keep for awhile. So, without further adieu, here we go:

nazihunter2cover
Nazi Hunter #2: Slaughter Summit by Mark Mandell
(Pinnacle, 1982)

He was born a German during a time he couldn’t be proud of, and his belief in human justice drove him to become the…NAZI HUNTER.

Nazi Hunter was a series of action novels in the ’80s and I don’t know too much about it. I don’t even know if Mark Mandell is a pseudonym, a house name or what. The only mention I can find of this series is from Zwolf at The Mighty Blowhole. But I understand there are several volumes of this series. I might not go searching for them, but if I find ’em I’m gonna read ’em because Slaughter Summit, second in the series, was pretty good.

Curt Jaeger (by the way, jaeger or jäger means “hunter” auf Deutsche. Clever, huh?) was a war orphan, born in Germany but raised by an American couple. After becoming a captain in the US Army, Jaeger discovered the truth about this origin: his father is still alive, is a Nazi war criminal and murdered Curt’s mother! Thus begins Jaeger’s quest to avenge his mother’s death and end his father’s Nazi evil once and for all.

In Slaughter Summit, Curt, now out of the army and on his own, gets the heads-up from Israeli intelligence that Curt’s father is running a Nazi operation in the guise of an innocent ski resort. The Israelis plan to raid this resort, but Curt knows that the lives of many tourists and innocent ski-bunnies will be endangered, so he convinces them to let him go to the resort undercover, but you can guess how this turns out. For some reason, fictional good guys are never very good at being undercover.

Slaughter Summit had some pretty good thrills and plenty of action, but not much in the sex department. While at the ski resort Curt meets a hot-to-trot Texan cutie who interested in getting to know Curt a little better, but Curt is all business. Anyway, I’d be interested to know who Mark Mandell really is/was because Slaughter Summit was pretty well-written.

tracker3cover
Tracker #3: Blood Money by Ron Stillman
(Diamond, 1991)
Joe Kenney at his blog Glorious Trash calls this late-era action series “the dumbest damn bunch of books”he’s ever read, and I have to say that I agree. But where he feels that reading this series borders on the masochistic, I kind of got a kick out of it. No doubt about it, Tracker is a frickin’ stupid-ass series. It’s a Saturday morning cartoon, but with more sex and violence. It is so ridiculous that I have to imagine that it’s spoof or a joke or something. But even clever satires give subtle winks and nods to indicate that they’re not serious Tracker does not. I have to conclude that the writer of the Tracker series either a) really thought this shit was cool, or b) just didn’t give a damn. Either way, the result is hilarious.

The Tracker series follows the adventures Nathaniel Hawthorne “Natty” Tracker. Tracker was raised by native Americans so he’s an expert tracker and outdoorsman. He’s also a fighter pilot–former fighter pilot, that is. He was blinded in a car wreck, but that’s okay because he made some goggle-things that restored his sight and added other enhanced features. Oh yeah, forgot to mention that he’s an inventor and a millionaire and has some real boss rides like classic Corvettes. The chicks dig him. The bad guys fear him. He now works sort of freelance for the U.S. government and the POTUS is his BFF, apparently, always keeping tabs on him via a comm-link implanted in his eyes. The book never said explicitly, but I think it reasonable to conclude that his shit does not stink.

Anyhow, the whole thing is just so outrageous that I’ll just leave you with some excerpts that I thought were pretty funny.

[after saving his girlfriend Dee–and slaughtering a bunch of bad guys]:

“Natty, you saved my life,” she said, “but I’m an officer of the court, and you shot three of them dead. I feel strange, I mean, I know that they wanted to kill me…”

Natty held up his finger and shushed her, “I understand. Honey, I’m allowed to kill people. It’s exactly like a war situation.”

“You are allowed?” she asked. “I won’t ask anymore questions. I know that you are very, very powerful in Washington. I’m just glad that you’re on our side.

[Tracker, now blinded again, floats on aircraft crash debris toward a deserted island. A shark has bitten off a large chunk of his leg and he tries to stir his resolve]:

The sun was beating down on Natty, and he awakened in horrible pain. He had a dull throbbing headache and nausea. His leg felt as if it were in a mangled twist of wreckage. Tracker reached down and felt the calf, and it made him shudder. Natty started sobbing. He threw his head back and hit it on the plexiglass and cried.

“You fucking asshole!” he screamed out loud. “You can’t afford to have a pity party!”

He ate the two candy bars.

[after having a chunk of his leg bit off by a shark, being stranded on a deserted island and waking from a coma, Tracker takes some R&R and recovers in the wild with his Native American grandfather]:

They built a reflector fire against some rocks above the timberline overlooking Hayden Pass and spent the night there, sleeping very little but talking a great deal. Both witnessed what they agreed was the sighting of a UFO in the distance.

(which has nothing to do with anything)

[Tracker gets friendly with the beautiful wife of the main bad guy and she falls in love with him and– in case you can’t tell– she’s from Spain]:

“Thees ees crazy,” she said, frustrated. “Why am I theenking of thees? How do I know I can trus’ you?”

(oh, yeah. She talks like that the whole time!)

By the way, Ron Stillman is actually Don Bendell, who has written a bunch of other stuff, but I would not necessarily judge his writing based on this series. Anyway, I hope to find more of this Tracker series because they are hilarious, albeit unintentionally.


American Assassin by Vince Flynn
(Atria Books, 2010)
Vince Flynn is often mentioned in the same sentence as author Brad Thor, which is a shame because Brad Thor kinda sucks and, from what I can tell by reading American Assassin, Vince Flynn doesn’t. They both write thrillers featuring secret agent types, terrorists, etc. and are both of a politically conservative bent but Flynn doesn’t seem to wear his politics on his sleeve like Thor does. After reading Thor’s Hidden Order I wondered if I was a reading a thriller or a Tea Party rant.

Anyhow, I’m not one to let an author’s political views get in the way of my enjoyment of their writing, not unless it’s in your face soapboxing. Flynn is probably a good deal more conservative than I am (since I don’t consider myself at all conservative), but he can write a pretty exciting novel and that’s really what counts (as a side note, Flynn has mentioned that Bill Clinton is a big fan!).

American Assassin is the first of Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series I’ve read, which, I guess, is a good starting point since it’s a prequel, detailing CIA super agent Mitch Rapp’s recruitment into “The Company” and his first few missions. Overall it’s paced well and is an engrossing spy thriller. Interestingly, although the novel seems to endorse government-sanctioned assassination for the “greater good” (in this case, fighting terrorism) with Rapp being trained from the get-go as an assassin, the good guys are almost as screwed up psychologically as the terrorists they fight. For example, Rapp’s trainer, Stan Harley, a veteran CIA cold warrior (and one of the most interesting characters in the book) is an alcoholic, right-wing nutjob that would give G. Gordon Liddy nightmares, but has a soft spot for dogs, which became a slight issue when Rapp threatened to cut out the eye of a bad guy’s prize poodle to get him to talk. These guys are brutal men in brutal work and I guess they’re bound to get twisted in some manner or another. So while Flynn seems to approve of many of the tactics favored by the extreme right, it is, at the same time, somewhat of a critique.

But whatever. American Assassin is a beach read and pretty good for what it is. My only real complaint is that I don’t buy that Rapp turned into such a hot-shot, cold-blooded assassin so fast, like right out of college, where he was a star lacrosse player. They seemed to say he was something of a physical and mental freak of nature. Seems like a convenient and not too plausible way to introduce the character, but hey, it’s just a BDAM (Big Dumb Action Movie). Oh, and I think the copy editor must have been drunk because there were an abundance of errors.

Give American Assassin a try, see what you think. I’ve pretty much written off Thor, but Flynn’s staying on my radar, at least for the time being.

(As a side note, Flynn died June 19, 2013 at the young age of 47 from cancer, something I found out not long after I read this book).


Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean
(Vertigo, 2012)
While a teenage nerd in the ’80s, I was mostly into the Marvel Universe, especially the X-Men, so I missed out on a lot of the great stuff going on over at DC to push the envelope of comics, bringing the medium out of the realm of juvenile entertainment and into the public eye as an art form suited to handle “mature” topics (and by “mature” I don’t mean simply sex, violence and cussing).

Black Orchid, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean, was one of these titles I missed and just now picked up in this 2012 edition collecting the three issues first published in 1988. From what I gather, Black Orchid, remarkably, has never been out of print since its first publication. Perhaps not so remarkable, though, because Black Orchid is a beautiful work, worthy of its longevity.

In Black Orchid, Gaiman takes a relatively minor superhero crime fighter, the Black Orchid, and turns the tables on typical superhero tropes, bringing the costumed crime fighter from the previous era in which they were simply symbols of truth and justice into the modern era in which superheroes struggle to balance their symbolic roles with their own inherent human frailties. While Black Orchid is the story of a woman’s quest to discover her identity, it is also a wide-reaching setup for a grittier mood of the DC Universe in general. Batman, Swamp Thing and other familiar faces make their appearances, but in Gaiman’s and McKean’s vision, this world of superheroes, supervillains and superhuman powers has no four-color palette. It runs the spectrum from twisted grittiness to haunting beauty, perfectly reflected in Dave McKean’s masterful artwork.

Black Orchid is weird and beautiful and a landmark work; a must-read for any fan of sequential art. By the way, here’s a pretty good (and long) write up of this title at sequart.org.

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