Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Separation of Power by Vince Flynn, 2001

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This is a direct sequel to The Third Option and, while you can read it as a stand-alone, I recommend you read the other one first.

Okay, on with the show.

I was somewhat disappointed with this one. While it works overall, it feels like a rush job, and certain elements of the story are handled clumsily. Also, Flynn seems to have gotten less subtle in handling backstory compared to the previous book, and it’s pretty annoying. Finally, the selling point of the book — “Iraq has a nuke. The CIA has Mitch Rapp.” — is a glorified subplot, not the main story.

The biggest problem was the love plot. Rapp and his girlfriend, NBC reporter Ann Rielly, go on vacation in Italy, the main object being to get engaged. But Mitch also has to attend to a little business on the trip, and it winds up interfering in a major way. The big confrontation scene between Rielly, Rapp, and Rapp’s ex-lover (a gorgeous ex-supermodel and ex-Mossad assassin, who has a gunshot wound and is high on morphine) is brilliant stuff. Rielly is overwhelmed, emotional, and perfectly irrational — the Other Woman is shot, but Rielly is convinced she and Rapp were meeting for one last fling. Makes perfect sense, no? (“I love it when you give me flesh wounds!”)

But Rielly’s presence after that is sporadic at best, with no real arc to go through. She disappears through the climax, shows up again so that the President can fill her in on what Rapp’s been going through, then she teaches Rapp a lesson that, as the book has set things up, she needs to learn herself. He apologizes to her — but she does not to him — and they get engaged.

This is strange for a number of reasons. At the beginning, Rielly is established as chronically late, and this is a problem with Rapp. (Imprecise timing in life or death situations is a Bad Thing, after all.) Many people want him dead, and she could at least call to tell him she’ll be late, so he won’t worry they’ve gotten her. So, at the end, she “teaches him a lesson” by… being late, not calling, and watching him suffer. She goes to him, says “now you know how it feels” — he apologizes — and they make up. Come again???

What bugged me more, though, was that she didn’t apologize to him. The three-way confrontation ends with Rielly walking out into the streets of Milan at night. She knows that someone has been trying to kill Rapp and the Other Woman, that the situation is dangerous and probably unstable, and she knowingly makes it more so, never getting so much as a mild rebuke for it.

(FWIW, Flynn’s dramatization of an emotionally irrational female in an argument is note-perfect.)

With regard to the backstory problem: Vince, buddy, it’s OK to leave stuff to implication. You know, like unsaid. New readers won’t miss it, scout’s honor!, and returning readers will appreciate the tacit acknowledgment of their intelligence.

(Probably I am too used to reading Poul Anderson, who would connect stories through indirect allusion or a single choice detail, never with extended expository rehashings of his old plots.)

As for the Iraq-has-a-nuke plot, it’s set up rather laboriously, provides a thrilling (but too brief) climax — during which Rapp impersonates (the now-late) Uday Hussein(!), and creates fodder for some deftly-handled political maneuvering in Washington. It’s well-handled (though, now, obviously dated), but never feels as vital or urgent as the main plot.

And the title, unlike the last book, has zero bearing on the story.

None of this is to say it was a bad book, or that I didn’t enjoy it — I did. But it’s not nearly as strong as The Third Option was, and had more annoyances.


Written by [IMH]

3 November 2006 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Literature

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