Review: American Assassin by Vince Flynn

American Assassin4 out of 5 kills

My version:
Fiction Thriller, modern day
Simon & Schuster
Bought from The Book Depository

What type of man is willing to kill for his country without putting on a uniform?

With tensions simmering in the Middle East, CIA Director Irene Kennedy is instructed to form a new group of clandestine operatives – men who work under the radar and do not exist. She finds just the candidate in the wake of the Pam Am Lockerbie terrorist attack.

Two hundred and seventy souls perished that cold December night, with thousands of friends and family left searching for comfort. Gifted college student Mitch Rapp was one of them. But he wasn’t interested in solace. He wanted revenge.

Six months later, after intense training, Mitch finds himself in Istanbul where he tracks down the arms dealer who sold the explosives used in the attack. Rapp then moves on to Europe, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. All roads lead to Beirut, though, and what Rapp doesn’t know is that the enemy is aware of his existence and has prepared a trap.

The hunter is about to become the hunted, and Rapp will need even ounce of skill and cunning if he is to survive.

It’s a tricky one. How much to think about what this is essentially about. I’m in no way PC or anything, so I’ll play devil’s advocate. What they are up to here, is illegal. It’s murder, however you cut it. Even if you say “we’re in a state of war!” No trials, no jury, no lawyers. They’re all in the person of the man doing the killing or his immediate boss. So, let’s look at it from another angle; people who knowingly supply money to purchase, or actually supply weapons and explosive to kill ‘your’ people, is it ok to kill them? After, or even before? Of course, a debate in the hallowed halls of Oxford, would shriek in fright and decide not. But, unfortunately/fortunately, we live in the real world and people do decide that things like this need to go on. Just depends then, on which side of the fence you’re looking at it from, as to wether the people doing it are brave protectors, or vicious, murderers. That the other side, here Arabs and Russians, would do exactly the same, isn’t going to hold much moral water. Not really. People assume the CIA does do this, partly conditioned to do so, by books like this, I think.

Does this sort of thing go on? if you’re reading this in Europe and/or are of European descent – unless you’re a pre-Tax-paying student, of course – you’re going to hope it does. If it does, that’s something else. If you look at how the situation is right now, if it is going on, they’re not very good at it! So, it’s the land of books and thrillers at that, that we find ourselves here. Leave the real world at the door and enter a slightly parallel universe.

Killing FloorAmerican AssassinThe book cover design I have – and there seem to be many more like it, once you disregard the truly appalling American versions – clearly want to place it in Lee Child/Jack Reacher territory. The back cover blurb does its bit for that too. But, Mitch Rapp (and interestingly, he is most often referred to a ‘Rapp’ by the author. I wondered why. Maybe to distance himself from the character? Not sure), couldn’t exist without the help of others to do his job. Reacher really doesn’t need anyone’s help now he’s out of the Army, Rapp does. They’re the people who are giving him his missions and supplying him with the necessary, after all (I’ve only read the first one so far, so if you know he cuts himself loose, or is cut loose, in subsequent books, don’t jump on me here). As a straight comparison, which is better, the Jack Reacher or Mitch Rapp series, I’d have to say, that on first impressions, Rapp wins. There’s more depth, more layers, more complexity, more thinking for you to do regarding your position relative to all this, and better writing. The Jack Reacher books are good, they’re meant to be straight-ahead, no nonsense books. What Flynn is doing (I know that he has sadly passed away now, but as I’m just starting, I’ll write as if he’s still writing) is adding an extra layer or two of nonsense to the idea.

I found this encouragingly like another absolute belter I read recently, I Am Pilgrim. Though as Assassin came out before Pilgrim, that should be the other way round. The writing is equally succinct and direct, but without too much, if any, flash that US thriller writers usually resort to – there was, as I remember, only one telephone number ‘punched’ in to anything. Of the two, maybe three, three and a half, main characters, Mitch Rapp was, after a good start, perhaps the least interestingly presented in this book. He does seem like he’s going to develop into something like a pre-memory loss Bourne-like character. The character of his commander, antagonist, all-round un-nice guy, older sergeant-like character, Stan Hurley, after an cliched start, came through and developed his own, more nuanced, non-standard personality. The ‘revenge’ angle that is given as the reason Rapp is doing all this, also reminded me of the film Munich. Though without the soul-searching, ‘what have I become?’ stuff at the end. And the enemy is pretty much the same in both.

It’s a good read, well done, exciting and tense where it should be and gets me more than ready to read the next one.

You can buy American Assassin at The Book Depository

Related reviews:
Killing FloorDie TryingI Am Pilgrim

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