Monday, October 11, 2010

Rapp It Up: Act of Treason Review


Author's Note: This review will contain some spoilers, so be warned that certain plot points will be revealed. I find it difficult to avoid them since they form part of my critique. You have been warned. Thank you.

I've never been a big fan of thrillers. It could be that the action dominates the story at the expense of everything else. We concentrate on the shootings, the blowing up, rather on characters. Still, since I can't recall having read any suspense thrillers I decided to give it a try. Therefore, I selected a popular author: Vince Flynn. I also selected a book at random: Act of Treason. Given what I heard (it was the audio book), I am reluctant to tackle another adventure with MITCH RAPP.

We're in the closing months of a Presidential campaign. Incumbent President Hayes declines to run for re-election due to his Parkinson's Disease, and the Democratic Party has nominated Georgia Governor Josh Alexander and Connecticut Senator Mark Ross. Their motorcade is attacked with a bomb, which injures them but kills Alexander's wife and seriously injures Agent Rivera, who headed up security for the candidates. Almost as a form of protest, the public votes Alexander and Ross in. Still, the mystery of who is involved is still unknown. Enter MITCH RAPP.

He uncovers that this was not the plot of Islamic extremist. Instead, nefarious forces are at work. An American in exile in Switzerland is desperate to return to the United States, but what he needs is a Presidential pardon. In exchange for assisting a certain Vice-Presidential candidate to win the election, this candidate will grant him said pardon. Of course, there's no way MITCH RAPP will allow this. MITCH RAPP is a special kind of counter-terrorist agent: a bit like Jack Bauer without a sense of humor.

It may strike you as silly to keep referring to MITCH RAPP as MITCH RAPP, but Flynn has his characters almost always call him MITCH RAPP. He's not Mitch or Rapp or Mitchell or any nickname. He's always MITCH RAPP. I'm a bit surprised that MITCH RAPP doesn't refer to himself as MITCH RAPP. It's terribly reminiscent of how Stephanie Meyer always has her characters refer to one of the leads as EDWARD CULLEN, not Ed or Eddie or Edster or Cullen, but always as EDWARD CULLEN. Have I missed the trend of having a major character always called by his full name in today's literature?

Just getting some information about MITCH RAPP from Act of Treason, I find him a rather sad and unhappy being. Yes, we are informed that his wife and unborn child were killed in a previous story, so Act of Treason is his first major mission post-tragedy. I couldn't help think of James Bond, because something similar happened to him in On Her Majesty's Secret Service: his wife was also killed at the end. We usually have these stories where our hero has some major tragedy, so Flynn isn't tackling any new major territory. Of course, MITCH RAPP has the benefit of work, and nothing takes the mind off losing your family than in shooting a Belarussian in the hands and knees.

MITCH RAPP has no life outside the CIA. He has no hobbies, no outside interests. He doesn't play any instruments, follow any sports, read any literature. He doesn't paint. He doesn't collect coins or stamps or postcards. He doesn't study cheetahs. He doesn't follow Star Trek or Doctor Who or have a passion for Bette Davis or Sandra Bullock movies. In short, MITCH RAPP has absolutely nothing that will mark him as human. That's because he isn't suppose to be human. He's suppose to be a hollow, empty being. MITCH RAPP wouldn't like any of those things since that would make him a wimp, and if there's one thing MITCH RAPP is not, it's a wimp. Well, that's not entirely true: he does know several types of combat. To me, MITCH RAPP isn't real, so I had no interest in anything to do with him. Flynn is making the argument that we need people like MITCH RAPP--someone who isn't too bothered with the technicalities of the law to get those who would do us harm.

In terms of Flynn, writing, I found it at times curious. His style is straight and to the point. Just as there is nothing excessive about MITCH RAPP, there is no attempt to have a certain prose style in Act of Treason. Take when Flynn first describes Mrs. Alexander. She is suppose to be an incredibly beautiful woman. Flynn could have described her in any number of ways: her body was temptation for every man; she inspired lust merely when her expensive perfume was felt in the air; she bore the burden of desire and knew how to make men fall to her considerable invitations of pleasure. None of this for Flynn. Instead, he described her thus: She had a body to die for. For me, this is rather a second-rate description: weak and of little interest. Admittedly, I was trained to be a bit more elaborate in my descriptions, but couldn't Flynn try to ratch it up a notch? Also, there is the scene when MITCH RAPP and his team arrive back to the United States from their mission on Cyprus. The omnipresent voice compliments the British by saying thus, "They know how to keep their mouths shut". When MITCH RAPP speaks, he compliments the British by saying thus, "They know how to keep their mouths shut". FLYNN ACTUALLY USED THE EXACT SAME PHRASE TWICE. I would never allow a writing student to try to pull that off, and I was stunned that someone with Flynn's experience and popularity would not have had an editor call him out on that.

I also was bothered by what to me seemed certain stock characters, like Agent Rivera. She's this super-tough broad, whose greatest pleasure is in taking down men...sometimes literally. When MITCH RAPP comes to her dojo to question her, she won't speak to him but instead with her hands challenges him to fight. I would imagine that this kind of scenario would only happen in movies and MITCH RAPP books, not in real life. I am of the worldview that people actually behave much more rationally than Flynn appears to think. Then we have Senator Ross--this villainous hypocritical liberal. I suspect that MITCH RAPP is Flynn's alter ego, but they seem to share a dislike for left-wingers and their politics. This is especially true in Flynn/MITCH RAPP's contempt for the reporter for the New York Times, whom MITCH RAPP refers to as a 'lefty'. Finally, we have a red herring in the fact that Mrs. Alexander is having a torrid affair with one of her Secret Security detail, down to where explicit pictures of a liason were taken. We could have had this as a motive, but really it was not important in the overall plot that she was humping around on Josh when her car got blown up.

This isn't to take away what I did like about Act of Treason: the ending, and I'm not saying that in a sarcastic tone. Flynn is best when describing action, and when MITCH RAPP takes care of the American criminal who put out a hit on the candidates Flynn is a master. I give Flynn credit in that MITCH RAPP has at least a code of honor about who he kills, though his superior, Director Kennedy, is not so discriminating...even if it means assassinating the Vice President-elect of the United States.

I'd like to take on another action/suspense thriller. I do think Vince Flynn has a great ability in imaginative plots. However, Act of Treason did not hold my interest since MITCH RAPP was entirely too much of a machine than a man to care about.