By David Beilstein
NO American author can boast of quality literary skills when their work does not inform the reader about something true, something universal, about American life in general, and human nature and the hour in which mortal souls situate themselves, specifically.
Too often, our finest writers ignore life’s divergent material because it does not confirm the social science witchcraft of their elite educations, — or aid the political correctness, many writers, themselves, have consumed in pursuit of nobler ideals.
What these noble ideas are, I cannot say.
But it would seem a large folly, then, for the American writer of vaunted literary machismo to embrace any aesthetic rowing against clarification of what is — preventing the writer from seeing the world’s realities clearly. The writer can, in a stasis of panic, declare movies and television to be the worse offender, but what cheap satisfaction is such a defense?
We come to New York Times bestselling author Vince Flynn. Flynn, 46, returns this month with his latest CIA thriller, The Last Man. The book comes after two detours into CIA operative Mitch Rapp’s past. Call American Assassin, 2010, and Kill Shot, 2012, reboots of a sort. Both novels chronicled Mitch Rapp’s partiurtion in the CIA — his training, first missions, etc. They added life into a series fatigued after Extreme Measures and Pursuit of Honor banality.
In his fiction, Flynn offers a sui generis portrait in contemporary popular fiction. That is, he is a far better writer than many who write in the same thriller vein, but he is not a great writer — he is a great chronicler of war on terror pogrom.
Flynn has said his success rests on the people he decided to make the heroes of his books. Wisely, he says, he chose to chronicle the men and women of the U.S. Military — of police and fire squads, and of course, in the CIA. There is, I’m sure, some truth to such confession. But it seems to me, much of Flynn’s book-selling power arises from his spinning yarns within the orbit of what America actually faces, clandestinely. Flynn is, then, one of the more competent authors who actually sets novels of espionage and covert operations against an enemy such organisations have been fighting for more than 30 years.
We live in an age where the perpetrators of a terrorist attack that killed three-thousand souls, catapulted the United States into two wars, killed another 6,000 men and women, is hardly the topic of CIA activities in entertainment media. Unlike Robert Ludlum’s novels, Hollywood turned the Jason Bourne films into anti-CIA agitprop. Bourne was depicted as the saintly spy/killer with loss of memory desirous of reform, not bloodshed. In the Bourne movies, CIA operators do not expose and find men like Osama Bin Laden, but instead, war against good and decent men played by all American men like Matt Damon’s David Webb. While excellent films, the Bourne series completely missed the majority of the work the CIA has been doing, good or bad, for 15 years.
Unique views arise from unique lives. Born in St. Paul Minnesota in 1966, Flynn was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child. He struggled in school and ignored his anemic reading skills through childhood. He was also competitive, sharpening his personality through sports. He studied economics at the University of St. Thomas Academy and applied for a career in the United States Marine Corps. In providence, Flynn was rejected because of child-hood concussions, moving on to ply his talents in sales. While working at United Prosperities, a real estate company, Flynn began brainstorming ideas for a book. A close friend had been mugged and killed under the shadow of the U.S. Capital in Washington, DC. Flynn was haunted. Ideas came, imagination flowed. Having ingested Ludlum, Clancy, Hemingway, and many other authors to overcome his reading disability, Flynn’s method became his cure — and it began to cast a spell upon him. He quit his job and began working on what would become his first novel, Term Limits. After 60 rejection letters, Flynn kept at it, deciding to hack down his overly long manuscript and self-publish it. Using his marketing and sales skills, he sold Term Limits locally, a rough novel depicting clandestine operators revenge on incompetent politicians. The book quickly climbed to bestseller status, and New York publishers, having first thrown Flynn to the curb, came calling.
The rest, as they say, is history.
What is refreshing about Flynn’s novels is they portray the enemy of America’s woes. Moreover, the books, while overly superficial, do a good job depicting the battle between pragmatic special operators aware of the danger Islamo-fascist terrorism presents to America and illustrates these covert operators and the political correctness of politicians that subdues their actions. If there is a weakness to Flynn’s novels, it is they seem akin to Special Forces’ pornography. Humanity is seldom captured in its vagaries. And Flynn’s insight into human moments are often surface level deep, his character’s actions often the product of fantasy. After a certain number of pages, Mitch Rapp appears not so much a human being but a product of the author’s exuberant ideas War on Terror bromide.
Certainly, this is more interesting than blatant leftist propaganda showing a CIA shadowing neo-Nazi types and European bankers — that’s not what the CIA is actually confronting. This much said, Flynn gets the details right, the hardware, the equipment, the attitude, but it is too often repetitive. Large amounts of prose direct the reader to how tough, how much of a badass Mitch Rapp is. Surely, in portraying the physicality of Mitch Rapp, his skill-sets, etc., informs the reader. One knows a man in Rapp’s vocational orbit is not a house-husband without fierce lineament, and consequently, does not need to be told of its heft and weight at length. We need not read such description ad nauseam.
Of this I am sure. There is a profound need of Hemingway’s iceberg theory in Flynn’s oeuvre. Action speaks louder than words — and action is character. The reader will often find himself speaking to himself, “Too much,” when reading one of Flynn’s diatribes about the abilities and wherewithal of Mitch Rapp. Sadly, it bogs down the imagination.
It would be nice, sometime, if Flynn read William F. Buckley, Jr.’s Blackford Oakes novels. The Oakes novels are tragically underrated. They move with precision and style; their language wafting of earthiness, of character, complex and understated. Buckley was a better literary writer than Flynn, but the Oakes novels were popular fiction nonetheless. And still, Oakes clandestine migrations brim with character and obsession. We know Oakes is a capable CIA operative by what he does, not by what Buckley tells us about him. Buckley also makes the large conceit that people are complex. If so, then men and women embraced by secret lives must be even more plagued by myriads of human foibles and idiosyncrasies. There is also the elegance of Oakes, the style and step far grander than Ian Fleming’s Bond. Danger is often not where one expects, but filters out of ordinary situations seemingly mundane. Oakes, too, is often haunted by his job. Though committed to the “honourable alternative” of the CIA’s spiritual quest, Oakes wars against the ugly decisions of the agency. They may protect America, they might even, in hindsight, harm to America, but they are ugly and they are shadowy. We see little — if any — complications surrounding Flynn’s clandestine world.
The reader can safely celebrate Vince Flynn for writing fiction based upon the enmity of Islamic-fascism confronting the men and women of America’s intelligence agencies. In this, Flynn is one of few American authors who observe the rich slice of reality in our tabescent times, affording remarkable material for storytelling.