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Not his best, "American Assassin" still entertains

"American Assassin" is the 12th in a series of thrillers by Vince Flynn, who lives in the Twin Cities, and while it isn't his best so far, it still entertains. Flynn says that "American Assassin" is the novel he's been waiting to write, since it gives his major character, Mitch Rapp, a back story.

We learn about Rapp's training -- how he blew away the competition in a Survivor-type boot camp. We meet Irene Kennedy, Rapp's handler, for the first time, and find out how she's grown with the job. The biggest disclosure is what makes Mitch Rapp so good as a killer. His girlfriend was among the victims of the Pan Am flight that crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland.

Rapp is uniquely qualified to become an assassin, and changes the rules of training, as well as the rules of engagement. The original training is an intense boot camp that constantly tests the men on their skills, while testing them on their ability to follow the rules: no personal information is to be exchanged among the recruits and no one is to question orders.

A maverick of the first order, Rapp isn't content to be run ragged by a bunch of sadistic sergeants. He follows the rules about not disclosing personal information, but he correctly interprets it as a non-team-building strategy. When you know nothing about your teammates, you don't trust them as readily. He also recognizes one of the restless recruits as a plant who tries to get the men booted from the program. Rapp also knows that this strategy is wasting valuable time.

In Beirut, a valuable CIA agent has been taken hostage and is being used as a pawn among Arabs and Russians, whose mistrust of one another is the one thing the Americans can use as a wedge and ultimately as a weapon.

"American Assassin" begins rather slowly -- for a spy thriller. If this book were made into a movie, the beginning would be enough to get you on the edge of your seat, but then it turns into a lengthy flashback. It would show Rapp's face -- I've always pictured an American version of Antonio Banderas -- with lots of music and voice overs. Not quite as thrilling.

Still, Mitch Rapp would be a good replacement for Jason Bourne, the assassin created by author Robert Ludlum. (Ludlum has died, but other authors have been perpetrating more adventures for him, riffing off the movie version of Bourne, rather than Ludlum's original book character. Several liberties have been taken in that story line.) I don't know if the movie crowd is ready for Mitch Rapp -- he certainly couldn't be played by a pretty boy like Matt Damon.

"American Assassin" is published by Simon & Schuster, and is available in several formats.