Tour’s Books Blog

December 6, 2009

Book Review: Pursuit of Honor by Vince Flynn

  • Title: Pursuit of Honor
  • Author: Vince Flynn
  • Type: Action Thriller
  • Genre: Mitch Rapp CIA Op series; betrayal and death
  • Sub-genre: Terrorists and assassins
  • My Grade: D+ (2.5*)
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Length and price:  Plus novel – 100,000+ words
  • Where Available: Available as a hardcover everywhere; paperback release Aug 2010
  • FTC Disclosure: Book purchased from online bookseller

Vince Flynn burst onto the action/thriller scene with a terrific book about revenge called Term Limits.   He introduced Mitch Rapp, an undercover op and assassin for the CIA in second book, one of my personal favorites, Transfer of Power.  His books have increasingly become a kind of a protracted editorial and justification for his personal political beliefs and Pursuit of Honor reads more like an editorial than an action/thriller.  That part wouldn’t be so bad, but he makes two fatal errors – the first is, Mitch Rapp is never wrong, the second more grievous error is forgetting his readers want AN ACTION/THRILLER STORY!  There was a time when Vince was an automatic buy for me, then after 9/11, with each subsequent book, there was less and less of interest and more and more about the power struggles in Washington, DC.  I stopped buying him until I could either get his books as remainders – or from a book swapping site.

If ever an author needs to know how he/she is doing with fans, sales are only part of the equation.  Take a look at sites like BookMooch or PaperbackSwap.  Look at the number of people ‘wishing’ for a book and just how long it takes for that wish list to get seriously reduced.  Finger Lickin’ Fifteen by Janet Evanovich went from well over 1500 wishers to less than half that in about 4 months.  Meanwhile, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is still sitting on wishlists nearly two years after publication.  Six months vs. 2 years – do you think there’s a message there somewhere?  Evanovich, like so many other successful authors including Flynn, seems to have lost focus on what readers want – a damn good yarn to get lost in for awhile.   If I wanted to read about a writer’s personal views on politics, I’d pick up non-fiction.  Lord knows, there are plenty of people on the right and the left that happily fill thousands of pages every year belaboring their favorite hobbyhorses.  When I pick up an action thriller, I want action – and thrills.  Alas, they are largely absent in latest Mitch Rapp installment.

Pursuit of Honor picks up after a terrorist attack in Washington, DC that kills 7 senators, people in the offices of Homeland Security’s anti-terrorist group, and simple families having lunch.  There was a second bomb that was timed to go off after the police, paramedic, fire and rescue workers were on the scene.  By the time it was over the were 185 dead, and it would have been much were it not for Rapp and his men.  Rapp’s long time adversary, Glen Adams, the Inspector General of the CIA, is suspected of having leaked classified material.  A disgruntled and bitter man who feels his greatness is unrecognized, he has begun a descent into alcoholism and revenge fantasies.  Caught planning a tell all book that is in direct violation of his oath and is treason under the law, Mitch takes Adams captive to a secret bunker at a farm owned by Stan Hurley, at a retired CIA man who was Mitch’s teacher and the best friend of Glen’s father.

The interrogation of Adams goes badly.  Yes, he’s a coward, but I wonder if Vince Flynn realized the perfect irony of having his hero and his villain endowed with so many of the same characteristics that are a hair’s breath from his hero?  Each one believes with a certainty that defies logic that what they do is “for the greater good of all”.  All circumvent the laws, yet why is it only Mitch that does so with a ‘pure heart’?  Are there no ‘pure hearts’ that oppose his point of view?  Mitch has covered Adams disappearance by having a look-alike travel to Venezuela, where Adams had briefly served in his disastrous field days, and disappear.

The thin as tissue plot – more like a justification for Flynn’s pontification than a true plot – is Glen Adams is indeed a traitor, but he is also a complete narcissistic sociopath.  Having leaked information that caused deaths on a covert mission, and the most recent terrorist attacks, he still feels justified in what he has done.  You know, the bad guys are are so truly bad in this book it’s almost laughable, except I’ve met guys like these in business.  Still, they make poor adversaries for Rapp.  The other half of the story is about an equally unstable, paranoid, narcissistic terrorist who seeks fame in the Muslim world for his acts.  Mitch is mostly in meetings with people, flying places, doing his self-effacing hero act, followed by committing insanely aggressive and very public acts of violence to remove a former CIA guy from a Russian nightclub. (Why not just wait for  him outside the club?  What, he’s going to live there?)  The man is now running one of the thousands of information gathering/snooping companies that litter the DC landscape and was hired by Adams to bug the office of the psychiatrist who handles many CIA operatives.

In the meantime, the three terrorists that escaped are now in the mid-west where their nominal leader is having a psychological breakdown, killing innocent people left and right, and just basically acting dumb as a stump.  Amazingly, some brain trust gives Mitch’s buddy Nash, one of the men who helped bring the terrorists in the bombing attack down, a very public ceremony honoring his actions – most of which were Mitch’s.  Having his face all over the TV means Nash is out of the field, something he has to be before the strain kills him.  But seeing him hailed as a hero brings the terrorist nutcase to his door and puts his family in jeopardy.   Naturally, Mitch saves the day with the able of assistance of Scott Coleman, the ex-SEAL, and his men.  It was easily the most boring and predictable ending Flynn has written and flat as a pancake to boot.

Throughout the book Flynn felt a bizarre need to bash readers over their with the obvious – Rapp is brave and will die for his country, Adams is a weasel who cares for no one but himself, the bad guys are driven by the need for money, recognition of their greatness, or fame.  Rapp is a patriot, they’re scum.  You know who I ended up liking?  The Russian mobster/hedge fund operator.

Unfortunately, Pursuit of Honor reduces Mitch Rapp to a mere caricature of his former self,  once again thumbing his nose at the usual DC crap, his boss and pretty much everyone that doesn’t go along with him.  Mitch is never wrong – how great is that?  Never once being wrong about people?  The whole thing is ridiculously oversimplified.  A perfect example is Senator Ogden, the female senator that was seeking to bring him down for dislocating the shoulder on one of the apprehended terrorists, is a leading defender of late term abortions.  First he has this character exaggerate Rapp’s actions all out of proportion, something no senator with 3 IQ points would do within weeks of a terrorist attack that killed a well respected colleague and senior senator of that specific committee, he then has her doing some bizarre crap about the whole thing was really the CIA attacking the government that was seeking to reign it in.  Basically, she sounds like a raving lunatic.  But what really annoyed me was having the  Rapp character make this huge argument in the senate committee inquiry about the hypocrisy of simultaneously espousing sanctity of life and voting in favor of late term abortions.  I was rolling my eyes.  Honestly, if you want to debate a topic like this in an action thriller, don’t be such an idiot and take it so far over the top it’s a stupid parody so biased that your hero can’t lose and his adversary can’t win.  He’s a hero and she’s an insane, vindictive bitch who is having a nervous breakdown.  Good grief, was there any other trite character flaw he could have given her?  Oh, I know, she could have had an STD!  How did he miss that one?

Set aside all political philosophy, Pursuit of Honor commits the cardinal sin of action/thrillers, it was DULL.  Yup. Over 100,000 words that drifted along on a threadbare plot laced with way too much political commentary, too little action, and precious little purpose.  There were no great obstacles for Rapp to overcome, no cunning evil mastermind to be foiled, no insanely clever labyrinthine schemes, no vast conspiracy to unravel, no clock ticking down to a massive disaster.  A thriller needs the constantly building tension to the denouement along with a twisting, turning plot filled with characters that are both good and bad.  One of the best I can think of that walked that tricky line was Kyle Mills’ book, Sphere of Influence.  You still have a hero who got the terrorists and the traitors in high political office, but did so with a plot worth reading.

Vince Flynn is capable of writing really good action/thrillers, but his last three books have grown increasingly editorial and less and less interesting as an action/thriller.  He went off my ‘buy when released’ and is now off my ‘buy’ list completely.  I’ll get his books through online book swapping or not at all.  My recommendation:  Skip the hardcover and buy the paperback – used.  Pursuit of Honor is just not worth the price of admission.

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