- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

CONSENT TO KILL

By Vince Flynn

Atria, $25.95, 465 pages

REVIEWED BY BRENDAN CONWAY

CIA agent Mitch Rapp kills terrorists and their supporters; that’s the mission of his fictitious life. More than this, he relishes it, for political and professional reasons, but also for personal ones. Terrorists killed the love of his life not once but twice. So Mitch isn’t about to stop simply because the political establishment tells him to. That wouldn’t have worked when Mitch foiled a plot to nuke New York and Washington, and it wouldn’t work now.

“Consent to Kill,” the fourth of Vince Flynn’s plot-driven Mitch Rapp novels, is somewhat clunky and two-dimensional, but its virtue is its bigger-than-life and rather Nietzschean protagonist. Intelligence buffs will also appreciate the attention to tradecraft as well as Mitch’s divebombing of official Washington. Mitch disdains the establishment, nearly to the point of hate. In that sense he is a new hero, or antihero, in the spy-thriller genre, different from James Bond or Tom Clancy’s CIA operative Jack Ryan. He is a dark, grudge-settling hero for the age of terrorism, a natural-born killer of radical Islamists who can’t suffer the fools who get in his angry way.

Who could imagine James Bond hiding in a dark Montreal alley, waiting to slit the throat of an imam, cursing his misdeeds as he waits? Mitch does this. The imam, a recruiter of suicide bombers, was a porno addict who tried and failed to conduct a Madrid-style bombing in Paris and slipped away to Canada, where the authorities — the solicitor general is a “wimp” — let him preach hateful Wahhabism. “Khalil was a coward,” Mitch reasons as he waits in the shadows. “He poisoned the young minds of impressionable men and duped them into joining his jihad.” Like the assassin he is, Mitch dispatches Khalil to make it look like revenge. No martinis and nonchalance here; Mitch is all vendettas and expletives.

Who could imagine Jack Ryan thunking an intelligence czar over the head with a briefcase to show him who’s boss? Mitch Rapp does this to the new national intelligence director, a pinheaded and overly ambitious Washington mover whom Mitch slaps with an inch-thick intelligence file to set him straight.

The proximate cause is an investigation into a black-ops associate of the CIA whom Mitch wants to protect. But the real reason is that Mitch hates meddlers in his business, especially the politically ambitious. “His new agency is just another couple hundred suits doing exactly what is already being done by at least three other agencies,” he explains. “I don’t need men like Ross on my side. I just need them to get out of my way.” Earlier Mitch reasons it out: “Men like Ross were always shocked by physical contact,” the narrator explains. “Most of them had never been in a fight, or if they had, it had been a long time ago.” Can’t fight; ergo, not competent.

Where does this Mitch come from? As Mr. Flynn attempts to paint him, he is a product of the age of terrorism. He got into the counterterrorism business after his college girlfriend got blown up in the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland. Years later — the event at the center of “Consent to Kill” — a botched plot by Saudi radicals to kill Mitch ends up killing his improbable wife, NBC’s chief White House correspondent. After this, Mitch goes on the rampage that drives the novel, a rampage that culminates in a fittingly grisly end for certain of the conspirators against his happiness.

So Mitch is cast to be a creature of the age of terrorism, and in at least one sense, this is right. Mitch’s popularity is a product of unsettled anger over the September 11 terrorist attacks. The book’s bungling, self-interested bureaucrats, its hateful terrorists and its scheming, prevaricating Europeans all fit a certain sensibility about the present era. That sensibility is one of frustration and fear. Mitch Rapp is a man of blunt action. He a man of revenge. In an age when terrorism looms large but answers are scarce, a fictional Mitch Rapp handles the problem. He drops f-bombs in official meetings. He mutilates his enemies.

But in another sense Mitch Rapp is a more familiar character. He’s new among leading spies, but not among leading military men. He follows a line of Rambo-esque characters who long predate the age of terrorism. Like Rambo, he mows down the enemy and spits on anyone who stands in the way. No warm and fuzzy Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan here; this role is all Sylvester Stallone.

Mitch Rapp belongs in the not-so-hallowed tradition of unrelenting killers who take care of business for the good guys. They think the good guys are a little soft. Things inevitably get personal. Things inevitably get blown to bits. Think Gen. Patton as a spy, and you’ve got a train on Mitch Rapp.

There’s a reading public for this sort of novel who is scared to pieces by the war on terrorism, distrusts Washington and wants to see a little blood. Mitch Rapp spills plenty of it and cracks some befuddled Washington heads. “Consent to Kill” is for people who enjoyed “Rambo” or “Red Dawn” in the 1980s. Take out the commies, insert terrorists and the rebirth of a familiar genre is at hand.

Brendan Conway is an editorial writer at The Washington Times.

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