Title: American Assassin
Author: Vince Flynn
Flynn, Vince (2011). American Assassin: A Thriller. New York: Pocket Books
PS3556.L94 A47 2013
- Rapp, Mitch (Fictitious character)–Fiction.
- Intelligence officers–Fiction.
Date Posted: January 1, 2017
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
It would not be an exaggeration to say that American Assassin is the book that Vince Flynn fans have been waiting for. This 11th thriller starring Mitch Rapp pulls back the veil to reveal what might be called his hidden years, before he became a CIA super-agent.
The pivotal event for Rapp, the motivational force that started him down the path he chose to tread and the one that drives him to this day, was the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing in December 1988. Those five words have become a tragic shorthand for one of the most dastardly terrorist attacks in modern history. Rapp lost someone dear to him in the carnage that occurred, so when he is recruited in the early 1990s by an enigmatic woman named Irene Kennedy with the promise of getting some payback, he is more than ready to do so. Rapp seems an unlikely recruit for what we learn is a group of clandestine operatives who, for all intents and purposes, will not exist, a team that will work outside of normal operations. The creative force behind the team is a cold warrior named Thomas Stansfield, the CIA’s Operations Director and Kennedy’s immediate superior.
Rapp is brought to a deceptively peaceful estate in Virginia, where he is to be trained in the ways of spy craft by Stan Hurley, a legendary espionage agent whose name alone is enough to elicit fear in terrorists of every stripe. Hurley has no desire to have Rapp as part of the team, given that Rapp has no military background and only the most rudimentary training in hand-to-hand combat. But Hurley is in for a surprise. Rapp, as is quickly and effectively demonstrated to Hurley, is a world-class athlete with the ability to learn and react quickly and effectively. He soaks up everything that Hurley and his staff teaches him and can show them a few things as well. Still, Hurley is not entirely sold on Rapp, particularly when Rapp shows a tendency to deviate from operational plans and wing it, albeit successfully, in the field. As someone Points out to Hurley fairly early on in American Assassin, part of the reason that Hurley doesn’t care for Rapp is because he reminds Hurley of a younger version of himself.
After proving his worth in a couple of operations and earning Hurley’s grudging but honest respect, Rapp is given an assignment in Beirut that he may not walk away from. An important CIA asset has been kidnapped and is being tortured by terrorists, with the potential result being that American intelligence in that very dangerous part of the world may be effectively compromised. Rapp and Hurley are charged with bringing the man home and, in the process, teaching terrorists a very painful and instructive lesson in what happens when you attack agents of the United States.
Flynn takes a bit of a chance with American Assassin. Given that the story takes place in the past, it is obvious that Rapp is going to complete his mission, successfully or otherwise, and do so more or less unscathed. Flynn responds to the challenge, and then some, creating an intricate plot for the second half of the book that is both plausible and fascinating while giving over the first half to the combative and occasionally explosive chemistry between Rapp and Hurley, who work through their differences to form a rough bond forged in uneasy mutual respect by book’s end. Hurley is a basket case, but he’s our basket case, and worth any gross of patched-elbow denizens that one could randomly produce. Never one to flinch from his steely-eyed and accurate view of how the world truly works, Flynn has given us the latest in a long and memorable line of stirring and must-read thrillers.