Simon & Schuster
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". . .excels . . . in action and on the hunt."
A thriller with murky beginnings and an ending like a spent balloon.
A black ops group within the CIA has courted Mitch Rapp for two years and he is past ready for his new life: assassination. He has a grudge against terrorists and wants to make them pay for his fiancée’s death on Pan Am 103 in Scotland.
When he arrives for the first day at assassin camp, he faces down Hurley, the legendary assassin and trainer of would-be assassins, ending with his balls in the vise of Hurley’s powerful hands and the focus of a three-way battle to decide the direction in which the program will go. It is not certain Rapp will get his chance at taking out terrorists or be forced to find another way to make them pay.
Knowing where a story begins enriches and clarifies a character’s motives, and that is what I suppose Vince Flynn had in mind for Mitch Rapp in American Assassin. Flynn makes Rapp’s beginnings clear and, in doing so, lessens the impact and the thrill of what should have been his first book in his very successful series. There is no surprise about the outcome since several books show Rapp is an assassin of the first order and that lessens the impact and dulls the thrill. However, it cannot be helped that American Assassin is the twelfth book instead of the first and must be judged on its merits alone.
Rapp’s beginnings are fascinating, exciting, and highly improbable. Rapp, a stellar college athlete and lacrosse player, is as fit as they come and he has a big grudge against terrorists, a very personal grudge, all of which rings true. Walking onto a veteran assassin’s turf and nearly taking him down in a first encounter, forcing the teacher to cheat in order to win, is, however, not probable, even with the explanation that he is a natural and gifted athlete. Three months in a strip mall karate class does not a seasoned fighter make, especially when he never beat his sensei at the strip mall dojo, and yet Flynn has him beating Hurley to the point of having to cheat to win. Uh, no, Mr. Flynn, that will not fly. The rest of the book is more plausible and probable, but this very early weak point flattens the point of the story and lessens the impact of the rest of the book.
Rapp is a complex character, and an intelligent one, a man willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. He is admirable and a bit of a loose cannon, although a carefully aimed and unconventional loose cannon, which makes him perfect for the job and the book. Rapp is also a bit of a sappy willy when it comes to the women or it could be that Flynn is a little uncomfortable with sex scenes. The one time a strong and seductive woman corners Rapp in his room, the scene falls flat, like a popped balloon—or failed dose of Viagra. I am not averse to most of the sex happening off the page, but that scene seemed more like a teenager fumbling with his first bra than a strong and virile young man in the prime of his sexuality realizing his emotions and sexuality were intact and eager to go.
Flynn gets high marks for plotting and average marks for bad guy characterizations, but where he really excels is when Rapp is in action and on the hunt. That alone is worth the price of admission, even though the ending and Rapp’s fate is never in question. American Assassin is a good attempt at a belated prequel and fills in the blanks in Rapp’s eleven book career with some obvious weaknesses and a satisfying journey that provides sufficient thrills if you do not mind low key thrills. It will be interesting to see if Rapp’s other adventures live up to the hype.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell