Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

The Third Option by Vince Flynn, 2000

with 3 comments

Prior to embarking on Season Five, the writing staff of 24 called in an outside consultant to brainstorm with them on the season’s story arc and possible reversals. They didn’t bring in Tom Clancy or Clive Cussler. The man they went to was Vince Flynn.

Flynn first hit in 1997 with Term Limits, whose premise was in perfect tune with the times. A Special Forces operation is compromised, killing several good men. The team leader learns that a us Senator was responsible for the leak, puts together a new team and, with some sinister mentoring from an old soldier, assassinates the corrupt politico, then several others, before the CIA puts a stop to it (and the to the old soldier, who was withholding info from the team). It was brilliantly conceived to play out libertarian “shoot the bastards” fantasies while keeping the author solidly in the mainstream of “government’s not actually that bad” sensibilities. (The tagline was: “Taking America Back — One Politician At A Time!”)

His second book, Transfer of Power, introduced CIA superagent Jack Bauer Mitch Rapp. Plot: Terrorists take over White House, Jack Bauer Mitch Rapp takes out terrorists.

Then this.

First, deficiencies.

Flynn relies, a lot, on his previous books to supply backstory. After awhile, this leads to the entire world seeming to be separated by two degrees of separation or less. (Which may possibly be how it is in the Intelligence Community, but it felt wrong, and there were justifying details in the narrative.) Also, he rehashes the previous stories more than once, which seemed less than necessary (caveat: there is some difference in detail on each rehash).

The prose style seems to be aiming for transparency, but never hits it.

The characterization, at times, is thin.

Now, strengths.

The plot, which might seem shopworn in summary, kicks serious ass.

The prose style never succumbs to Clancy-style descriptive excess, nor Don Pendleton-style testosterone overload. (In other words, Flynn might not have hit Grisham/Asimov-level transparency yet, but he’s on his way.)

Mitch Rapp. As with 24‘s Jack Bauer, if you have a choice between being pursued by the Terminator or being pursued by Mitch Rapp, choose the Terminator — it has an “off” switch. 😀

The plot, as I said, seems a bit shopworn in summary: Rapp is sent on an assassination mission, but it’s a double-cross. After being left for dead in Germany, he has to get back to the US on his own, clandestinely, and figure out who set him up. And why.

The beauty of it is that it never plays out the way that you expect. Even though Rapp is portrayed as just this side of Superman (his nickname in the Intelligence Community is Iron Man — he’s a former triathlete — and when one operative is asked if he remembers Iron Man his response is “Yeah, f***in’ James Bond!”, in total admiration), he operates in a world where everyone has free will and intelligence. Put another way, Flynn seems to enjoy tossing out obvious set-ups and then making a point of not paying them off, in ways that are frustrating and satisfying in equal parts. (Or perhaps “satisfyingly frustrating”.)

For example, the man engineering Rapp’s downfall, a man named Peter Cameron (that is not a spoiler), finds himself in a tight spot early in the book because he underestimates Rapp’s acuity and skill in perceiving danger in the woods at night. While standing still and hoping not to be found, he thinks to himself that this is Rapp’s environment, but if this were an urban setting, specifically Washington D.C., he, Cameron, would have the upper hand. From that moment on, you’re waiting for a final showdown, a game of Cat and Mouse in D.C. in the dark.

It never happens.

In fact, Cameron and Rapp never meet in person. Partly because Cameron is just smart enough to run like hell when he realizes Rapp is on to him.

The book is filled with smart plotting like that (and I am leaving out a very great deal), confounding expectations you have from too many formulaic thrillers. It does it by keeping a solid grounding in reality, and an authorial respect for the intelligence of all of his characters, not just the hero.

In short, this was smart, satisfying work, and I can’t wait to get to Flynn’s more recent books. Very, very 24-ish, without the time constraints.


Written by [IMH]

5 May 2006 at 10:56 am

Posted in Literature

3 Responses

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  1. Mitch Rapp kicks butt. You have to read each book in succession to really get it. Wait until you get to Memorial Day…absolutely thrilling throughout the book.

    GZ Expat

    5 May 2006 at 1:48 pm

  2. Mitch Rapp kicks butt. You have to read each book in succession to really get it. Wait until you get to Memorial Day…absolutely thrilling throughout the book.

    GZ Expat

    5 May 2006 at 1:48 pm

  3. Excellent. I needed something to read in between pages of Waverley.


    5 May 2006 at 11:21 pm

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