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Secret Agent Man

Kill Shot: An American Assassin Thriller by Vince Flynn (Emily Bestler Books/Atria, $27.99, 385 pages)

Stanfield had always understood the risk of ordering a talented, highly motivated man to kill for his country.   The cold, detached killers were easier to predict.   Rapp, though, was far from dispassionate about his job.   He couldn’t kill these men fast enough.   It was his hatred for terrorists that drove him to kill with such efficiency.

Mitch Rapp is this country’s most dangerous secret weapon, at least when it comes to the world’s terrorists.   Rapp has a list of terrorists and he’s authorized to kill them all, one by one, with a single shot to the head.   Rapp is such a fearful killing machine that even within the covert walls of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), he’s “off the books.”   (Rapp makes both Jason Bourne and James Bond look like caffeine-free figures.)

Rapp, you see, has a score to settle with the bad guys.   His girlfriend of years ago was aboard an airplane that was bombed out of the sky by a Libyan terrorist, and once Rapp has assumed his role of The American Assassin, he finds its his life’s calling.   But his bosses at The Company are afraid that he’s eventually going to have a slip and if he does – since officially he doesn’t exist – they will have to make sure that he’s terminated.

As the story opens, Rapp is headed to Paris to kill a terrorist staying in a posh hotel suite.   It appears that this is going to be a very easy kill – except that no one on the CIA’s advance team has bothered to tell Rapp that there’s a group of four heavily armed killers waiting for him in the adjacent room.   They’ve got 90 or so bullet rounds with Rapp’s name on them…  Has Mitch been set up by his own spooks – jealous of his sudden success – or is someone else working with the bad guys?

How would (Rapp) react if he was pulled in and shut down?   Not well, was Stansfield’s guess.   How would he react if he found out that someone at Langley was selling their secrets to their enemies?   By definition, that individual would be a traitor, and Stansfield had little doubt what Rapp would want to do to such a person.

Flynn writes quite knowingly and convincingly about the world of spies.   To his credit, he populates the tale with strong men – and with women who are just as strong, talented and cagey as their male counterparts.   Rapp has a love interest which gives the telling some breathing room between killings, and the love/sex scenes are tastefully done.   Finally, Flynn presents us with Stansfield Turner, a real-life CIA legend who appears “as himself” in these pages.

At the conclusion of Kill Shot, secret agent Rapp has learned a lot about his true friends and enemies; something that surprises this hardened assassin.   As the story concludes, a new partnership has been formed, and readers will anxiously await the next overtly-exciting chapter in The American Assassin series.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Kill Shot was released in February of this year.

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Secret Agent Woman

Intelligence: A Novel of the CIA by Susan Hasler (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99, 308 pages)

“I can’t decide which is worse:  the lucid dreams or the muddled reality.   I have no one to blame but myself…  I hate, hate, hate going to sleep at night.”

Former CIA analyst Susan Hasler’s debut novel could easily be classified as an autobiography.   Hasler’s psychological exploration of the major, read that sympathetic, characters moves this tale into novel status.   The plotline is so believable that readers will buy into it quickly.   Lead character Maddie James uses her years of experience as an analyst at the Mines (the CIA) and her chilling dreams of impending doom to identify what she believes to be a genuine imminent threat to safety within the U.S. 

The game of cat and mouse between the analysts and the terror threat is afoot once Maddie wheedles her boss into allowing an ad hoc group of specialists in the Mines to work together to address Maddie’s concerns.   There is no need for a spoiler alert in this review as the novel is not a mystery.   What is a mystery is the way that legions of upper management in state and federal government choose to disregard the findings of capable, well-informed line staff in favor of the politician-pleasing actions that all too often lead to disaster.

“The President doesn’t want to hear this.”

The story is peppered with government acronyms and filled with revelations of how far off public perceptions are from actual intelligence work.   It’s no small wonder that more blunders and misses are not made given the pressure to please the folks up the chain of command that’s brought to bear on analytical staff.   The analysts are badgered into following the party line rather than reporting on what is revealed.

As a former government research analyst, this reviewer felt vindicated by the thoughts and actions of the Mines ad hoc group of anti-terrorists mustered by Maddie as they race against an imagined deadline to thwart an attack on a civilian target of significant size.

Highly recommended.

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press).

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