By Kyle Mills
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, $28.99, 384 pages
Across the top of the cover of “Red War” it reads: “#1 New York Times Bestselling Author of ‘American Assassin’.” Below this in huge letters is the name Vince Flynn. But the great thriller writer Vince Flynn died five years ago.
Across the bottom of the book cover in type less than half the size of the name Vince Flynn, it reads: A Mitch Rapp Novel by Kyle Mills.
This practice whereby estates of authors who leave behind a large following for characters they created enter into a profit-sharing arrangement with some writer to keep the franchise alive is something I’ve never quite been able to warm up to. Strikes me as oddly too much, like placing the name of Ernest Hemmingway or William Faulkner or William Shakespeare on a work someone else writes.
And yet, I do have to admit that Kyle Mills does a masterful job of capturing Flynn’s CIA counter-terrorism hero Mitch Rapp. He’s a very gifted writer with 16 other novels to his credit, most of them bestsellers. He wrote the previous three Mitch Rapp novels, each a New York Times bestseller, each of which I passed on, but after reading this one now intend to read.
As a fan who thoroughly enjoyed every book Flynn wrote — 13 Mitch Rapp adventures plus his debut political thriller, “Term Limits,” it was hard to know what to expect. Kyle Mills has created in this 17th book in the Mitch Rapp series a work any Flynn fan should find worthy of the late great thriller master.
“Red War” is highly entertaining, chock full of nail-biting action and surprising twists, and is a thriller that will rank among the top Mitch Rapp adventures.
Like Brad Thor’s amazing counter-terrorism hero Scot Harvath, Mitch Rapp’s challenges (since he, too, broke onto the scene nearly two decades ago) have centered on helping America thwart the dangers from radical Islamic terrorists.
And like Brad Thor’s recent bestseller, “Spymaster,” the adversary in “Red War” is Russia and its aggressive designs to challenge the NATO alliance by attacking the Baltic countries.
It really is pure coincidence that the two biggest names in thriller fiction counter-terrorism are now being deployed to protect America from the Russian threat. Not a case of imitation being the sincerest flattery, but rather just great minds thinking alike.
As his country’s economy slides downward from awful to even more awful and his countrymen grow wary of their worsening conditions, Russian President Maxim Krupin from his Kremlin office looks out at a sea of protesters flooding Red Square.
The backlash against the rule of this Putin-like dictator (state media puts out images of him shirtless riding a horse and portray him as a great hunter) is intensifying. He trusts no one and arranges for those he worries might plot against him to be eliminated. He is extremely worried about being overthrown.
But he is even more worried about something else. He has been diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer — a secret only he and his doctor know and which his doctor knows would mean his own quick death if he dared let this become known to anyone else.
At first the Russian dictator is able to effectively conceal his condition, but it quickly becomes increasingly more difficult to do so. For only so long will his doctor be able to come up with medical fixes enabling him to keep deceiving everyone for short periods. Eventually, he will have to undergo complex treatment. And to do that and keep it secret he will have to be able to escape being seen in public long enough to try all sorts of experimental medications at a secret medical facility he has ordered created in a forest far from Moscow.
To help him pull off such a massive deception, he turns to the only person he trusts, a Russian marshal he had been forced by Western economic pressure into exiling, a fellow psychopath even more committed than he is to a restoration of Soviet era might.
What they settle on to divert attention and rally nationalistic support is: The threat of war.
Baffled that the usually predicable Russian dictator has suddenly turned puzzlingly erratic, the CIA sends in Mitch Rapp to figure out what in the world is really going on and then, when he does, fix the problem by doing whatever it takes.
The plot is original and compelling — scary, realistic, surprising. The action is heart-pounding, page-turning, riveting right from the start. And the ending leaves you gasping for breath. It’s for good reason that a novel such as this is called a thriller.
• Fred J. Eckert, a former Republican congressman from New York, was President Ronald Reagan’s U.S. ambassador to Fiji and to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Agriculture.