Slowly losing the grip

Last Updated : 05 November 2017, 09:33 IST

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Enemy of the State by Kyle Mills, the latest book in the series, sprinkles all the spices in the Mitch Rapp recipe originally created by the late author Vince Flynn.

If Flynn's thrillers are not too original, that is beside the point. He has created a pretty popular formula that seems to be working pretty well. Even this new novel by Kyle Mills, the current author, takes the franchise forward and reaches the '#1 New York Times Bestseller' slot, as expected. It helps that Hollywood's remake of Vince Flynn's American Assassins has also been a hit after its release just last month. The timing, obviously, has been well-planned.

The novel is an action drama that has the right ingredients – plot lines that move off into various directions, different characters that suddenly pop in and out of the narrative, supposed surprises at almost every turn, and the 'good vs bad' characters that are sketched out but not fleshed out.

The book by Kyle Mills is careful to stick to the action and pace of the original - and also to the unidimensional, stereotypical characterisation. The descriptions of the characters are straightforward and state the obvious. For instance, Rapp's motives are mapped as: "Sure, he'd originally joined the CIA out of anger and hate, but those emotions had been replaced over the years by a sense of duty."

Hence, you find the 'heroic' Mitch Rapp in the centre of the book, while the baddies are men from the Middle East. The storyline and craft are arresting and come up with unique twists in the tale. But the villains fail to keep the reader in too much tension as they are almost comically shown to be dumb and mentally off-kilter.

They take decisions that are successful for a while, but soon get lost in a maze of errors that come across as inefficient and badly planned. The meanies of the story are not as well-crafted or rounded as 'classic thriller biggies' that fans have enjoyed for ages. So, it's doubtful whether this brand will survive the test of time.

The novel begins with Mitch Rapp deciding to duck and enjoy a huge estate outside the DC region. However, he gets sucked back into his busy schedules due to the news that the Saudi Prince Talal bin Musaid has been nabbed for donating to ISIS in order to attack the US. Aali Nassar, chief of the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, is on his own path to work against the king and support the terrorist group's head. Switch to the American president, who tells Mitch to eliminate Saudi officials. Mitch cobbles together a small but deadly team. They include Claudia Gould, his girlfriend; Grisha Azarov, one Russian agent who had almost massacred him, and a US Army sniper who became an illegal arms dealer…

So in the beginning, there is a reasonable peg to start a bestseller. But as you progress, things get murkier and more complex, so that the plotlines shift crazily as you muddle through them. Being based on a Middle East conspiracy, you do tend to get hooked, but you quickly begin to wander a bit as the story careens off the course. You can get confused with the multiple subplots, villains, side-villains, motives and para-motives that criss-cross and undercut each other.

Soon, the novel's narrative becomes a nest of scorpions, which is mainly gripping due to the pace. But after a while, Enemy of the State becomes tedious because the reader who is interested in the subplots could get irritated with the continuous shifts in perspective.

Some flashes of Mitch Rapp do come through, and they give some glimpses of a man who is emerging from the memories of his lost wife and forging a new love interest. However, his focus continues to remain on being an automatic killing machine, who has sided with the big American mission of ISIS assassination. You realise   this is one man who appears to be a hard-headed hero, but whoa! There isn't much description of the human element that you are supposed to know exists behind this hunk. This is one man who is reputed to have wrestled with a number of monsters in his past as well as his present, but why don't any of the villains appear to be particularly monstrous?

The prose is straightforward and contains some thoughtful descriptions. But a lot of them are sparse. At one point, Rapp is described as: "He believed in America and the idea that everyone had a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Could any description be more banal?

Enemy of the State isn't what you call a great thriller, but it has done a few things right in fixing the plug-ins. As long as there is an anti-terrorist 'war', or even a wave, in the world, it is bound to hook the readers, but not beyond that.

Published 04 November 2017, 10:24 IST

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