Among the authors of our time, there are a number of marvelous storytellers. But there has been only one whose next books I have not only looked forward to, but have ordered months in advance, without fail — blocking out time to read them cover to cover upon arrival.
That author was Vince Flynn, who died Wednesday at the age of 47. For most readers of PJ Media, he probably needs no introduction. His books sold 15 million copies. He wrote thrillers, 14 of them, all but one starring the scarred but indomitable Mitch Rapp, a CIA assassin with the talents to save the free world, and the skills to disappear into the crowd.
Flynn knew how to write a great page-turner, but there are a lot of thrillers that deliver that kind of suspense. What made his books so particularly gratifying was that again and again, his leading man, Mitch Rapp, delivered justice. Rough justice, to be sure. But in a world full of outrageous wrongs — from terrorist plots to self-serving Washington officials blind to real dangers — Rapp took them on, and to the best of his astounding abilities, set things right. The truly evil, he killed. The hypocritical he ensnared. He had no patience at all for fools, bureaucrats and crooked politicians. But to innocents, to decent men, he was kind. To his comrades in arms, he was faithful. He was a class act. The Cold War had James Bond. In tune with very different times — more cold beer than shaken martini — the War on Terror has Mitch Rapp.
Flynn’s fiction delivered such gratifying scenes as the sabotage of an underground Iranian nuclear reactor (which takes place while a Hezbollah master terrorist is touring the facility). In one tale, Rapp saves the craven politicians of Washington from a nuclear bomb by stuffing it at the last minute into a bunker under Mount Weather. In another, he is richly vindicated when a senator who persecutes and stymies him at every turn is ultimately caught in a terrorist attack and must depend on Rapp to save her life.
There is plenty in Flynn’s thrillers that could lend itself to long debates about everything from casual law-breaking to torture to assassination. But in this case, I think that would be to miss the point. This is escape, delivered in ways that said there were other folks out there who shared that sense of enormous frustration over the gist of far too much of the evening news. Flynn’s books always put me in mind of an observation I heard more than 25 years ago, at a P.E.N. meeting in New York , from the great Peruvian novelist, Mario Vargas Llosa. Vargas Llosa was talking about the difference between reality and fiction, and he argued that fiction is precisely the realm in which our more extreme impulses and imaginings can most safely be let loose. As Vargas Llosa summed it up, man is an angel, but he is also a devil — and the devil, too, has keys to the city.
Flynn’s Mitch Rapp was the best in the world at what he did. But he also took quite a beating; that was a big part of what shaped his character, and part of what made the books compelling was watching Rapp come back from one pasting after another. Rapp lost his first love in the Lockerbie bombing. Later, he lost his pregnant wife to a bomb meant for him. In Vince Flynn’s most recent book, published last fall, The Last Man, Mitch Rapp’s old maverick mentor and sparring partner was dying of cancer, but still in action.
So, when he wrote that book, was Vince Flynn. Some two years ago, writing on his web site, he told his readers that he was fighting prostate cancer. Then he got back to the business of writing books. Given his colossal previous book sales, he surely did not go on writing just for the income. I suspect that at least part of why he did it was because he knew there were so many readers — many of them in the U.S. military — waiting for the next tale of Mitch Rapp. Flynn’s next book, The Survivor, has been listed for pre-order for a while now on Amazon with a publication date of Oct. 8, 2013. I don’t know if he had time to finish it. But clearly there are a lot of readers who hope he did. In the time I have spent writing this post, The Survivor — more than three months ahead of its publication date — has moved up in the Amazon best sellers ranking from #62 to #61. Flynn didn’t write the kind of books that would ever be honored with fancy literary prizes, but with his stories he enthralled and delighted an enormous number of readers. I’m one of them. For years, I had some vague thought of sending him a letter to say thank you. I never did, but I’ll say it here. Thank you, Vince Flynn, and Godspeed.