Author: Vince Flynn

2011, Atria

Filed under: Thriller

Kill Shot is Vince Flynn’s 12th novel to feature the assassin Mitch Rapp. It’s the second of those twelve in chronological order, a prequel of sorts, focusing on Rapp’s first year or so as a full-fledged CIA assassin.

His assignment: to systematically hunt and kill the members of the vast, vague terrorist network that killed 270 people in the Lockerbie/Pan Am attack (which is real). One of those people, in a rather pat motivational backstory, was Rapp’s girlfriend.

Because the terrorists Rapp kills all know each other, they soon catch onto Rapp’s mission and set a trap: they send the Libyan oil minister to a fancy hotel room in Paris, a ripe, easy target. When Rapp bursts in, he finds a secret squad of machine gun-wielding terrorists who fire about a thousand rounds at him (but he luckily escapes).

The world of Kill Shot, like a lot of airport fiction, requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. Flynn reports the effects of gunshot wounds and phone taps with fetishistic detail, but realism is nowhere to be found in Rapp’s cartoonish ability to survive quite preposterous situations.

However, Flynn does try to blur the lines between good guys and bad guys, offering a couple of double agents with questionable, ostensibly noble motives. Sadly, that simple moral gray area is well above average in a genre that likes to play wish fulfillment with clearly demarcated Good Guys and Bad Guys.

As far as that goes, Mitch Rapp is an unquestionable Good Guy, and he’s the perfect assassin, which annihilates any kind of real drama that might accidentally build at any point. You know he’s not going to be killed (after all, he has at least 10 subsequent novels to star in), and the only real question is whether he finds the source of a leak in the CIA, or whether he cuts ties with the American government forever.

The problem with Kill Shot isn’t so much that Rapp’s story is boring or formulaic—that’s to be expected—the problem is that Flynn shows us just a hint of a storyline that would’ve made for a much better thriller.

During the novel, Flynn flits between a dozen or so different perspectives, spending at least half the novel with characters other than Rapp. A lot of this is unnecessary and boring (like the CIA politicking, which is almost as dull as any intra-office maneuvering), and it underlines the fact that Rapp’s relatively simple story isn’t quite novel-sized.

But one of these B-stories is downright good. It concerns a high-ranking French police detective named Francine Neville, who gets assigned to the baffling result of an assassination gone wrong—nine dead bodies in a fancy hotel in the middle of Paris. Four men with suppressed automatic weapons are dead in a hotel room, along with a Libyan diplomat, a prostitute, and three civilians in the hallway. The French government claims that the men are the Libyan’s bodyguards, but that logic doesn’t hold water and Neville knows it.

To make matters worse, it looks like someone tampered with evidence. That someone might be a high-ranking agent in the French equivalent of the FBI, and he carries secret, questionable motives. If Neville goes after him, he could pull rank or personally attack her or both. Neville’s story is one of vulnerability and courage. It’s genuine drama.

Mitch Rapp has the skills and psychological makeup to simply disappear if things get too hairy. He has worldly contacts and extensive training in espionage and survival tactics. He’s 25, he has few emotional burdens, he’s in peak physical condition, and he’s fluent in several languages. He doesn’t have much to lose. Francine Neville, on the other hand, has a husband and a child, and a hard-won, fragile career that enemies could try to destroy. She has big weaknesses and so her actions, which propel her forward in spite of those weaknesses, create great suspense.

In short, Neville’s story all the standard elements of a simple, compelling thriller. While her and Rapp’s storylines are satisfying in the common-denominator way that all stock thrillers are (you know the good guys will win, and it feels good to watch them win), only Neville’s story really captivates and entertains. The downside to it is that it comprises perhaps 50 pages of Kill Shot’s nearly 400, and skitters away without even a pretense of an ending.

But, you know, endings are hard.

Similar books: Iron House, by John Hart; Fun & Games, by Duane Swierczynski; The Wreckage, by Michael Robotham