Tricks of the trade

Tricks of the trade

The last man
Vince Flynn
Simon & Schuster
2012, pp 433
499

In his latest book, The Last Man, Vince Flynn continues to describe the counterintelligence community as being an angry world, full of self-serving agendas, politicians, nincompoops, and of course, the righteous men and women of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who will ultimately save the world.

Of the many oddly-named protagonists who dot the pages of bestsellers (Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt anyone?), Mr Flynn’s protagonist is one of the oddest. Mitch Rapp is a seasoned intelligence agent who is part Cray supercomputer, part terminator and part Nostradamus. The novel begins with the abduction of veteran CIA operative Joe Rickman, which prompts much scrambling and angst among senior US intelligence officials. Add to this plot line an egotistical section chief from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) intent on bringing Rapp down under charges of corruption, and you have a winning book on your hands. But then, introduce a Jewish assassin to target Rapp, and you have, what must be supposed, the makings of a bestseller.

Much of the novel revolves around Rapp’s travels to various locations to threaten and kill errant evil-doers plotting harm against freedom. One character tells Rapp that, “Subtlety has never been your thing.” He is also a man devoid of tact or finesse, and through him the novel carries a kitsch, forced feel. The connections which bind the many plot lines strain on thin tendrils. Rapp’s ultimate philosophy seems to be, wave a gun and everything will turn out right. Swing the right flag and good prevails.

Curiously, many of the male protagonists are portrayed as Aryan Nations-types, clean-cut, with new-age, honky-tonk names like, Darren, Cal, Hunter. The Hernandezes, Garibaldis, Bakowskis and Steins are non-existent, or few and far between. Non-Caucasians are either sympathetic Pakistanis or unsympathetic Islamists.

To his credit, Mr Flynn does not memorialise the United States as being a bastion of purity. He makes several sympathetic mentions of the 2011 Mumbai blasts and espouses an informed viewpoint when it comes to the Taliban and Pakistani Intelligence. But Mr Flynn’s conundrum is having his lead character, a ruthless killer, at the core of his gilded personification of the CIA. He attempts to compensate by creating distasteful enemies.

The problem is that Rapp himself is unlikable. It is fair to say that the balance of truth, respect and ethos of a story rests on the actions and philosophy of its leading characters. In this case, following an unrepentant murderer leaves the reader with a curdled feeling.

To give legitimacy to Rapp’s purpose, Flynn offers up cardboard opponents. They include an ambitious Washington bureaucrat two-timing her husband, empty-suits from the FBI strutting down hallways and a blustering, corrupt Afghani warlord turned into a local police chief, thanks to Washington’s ‘reintegration’ programme.

There is so much anger in this book that we are left wondering if Rapp is a mouthpiece for Mr Flynn’s political views. Many characters have been written to perhaps show what is wrong with America today — or more specifically, what is wrong with the government and policies under the Democratic Party. A radical, muckracking US Senator at the heart of a conspiracy against Rapp is described as being from Connecticut — one of the most liberal states in the Union.

This is a novel that will ultimately prove popular with Republican audiences. Rapp’s hard-nosed, buckaroo gruff suits their vision of the American warrior, merciless and without remorse, ready to grab a gun to settle differences. Already, the franchise’s growing popularity has turned Mr Flynn into a military technocrat, taking over the mantle from Tom Clancy. Appearances on news shows have cemented his growing reputation as a national defense commentator — not bad for an ex-bartender.

If Mr Flynn had titled this novel (the 14th in the series) as The Last Book, I would have been pleased. But no doubt the next mediocre installment of Mitch Rapp’s door-breaking adventure is already underway.

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