Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Protect & Defend", by Vince Flynn (Simon & Schuster)

Vince Flynn delivers yet another fast-paced thriller masterpiece, ever closer to stealing Tom Clancy's and Frederick Forsyth's crown
Exhibiting an excellent grasp of the current international climate, Flynn has brought Mitch Rapp into the middle of the most dangerous situation in the world - Iran on the war-path, if it had nuclear weapons, or at least an active program aiming for that capability. Released before the recent intelligence report stating this is not the case, Protect & Defend still provides some excellent commentary on the US-Middle East conflict (and rather even-handed, too).
Sometimes it feels like Flynn's characters say everything that US politicians really wish they could say - whether it's the President getting pissed off with Israel for creating the volatile situation specific to this novel (the destruction of Iran's main nuclear research facility). And here is another of Flynn's strengths - his dialogue is never cheesy, and very natural sounding. People say exactly what you imagine them to say, in the way you imagine them to say it. It sounds like an odd thing to praise someone for, as surely other authors do that, too, right? Sure, some do, but a growing number write the most grotesque dialogue (either too sickly-sweet, too butch, too seedy, or any number of other derogatory adjectives).
So, to the story: Simply amazing. While the initial build up is rather slow, once you hit the half-way mark the action ratchets up another notch and all hell seems to break loose on the pages. If ever there was a novel that deserved the words "Gripping" quoted on the front, Protect & Defend is it. The short chapters allow for the story's pace to keep going at a fair clip, but Flynn doesn't fall into a Patterson-esque addiction to them, and therefore the novel doesn't seem hurried.
The detail is impressive, but never devolves into Clancy-esque wonkish-ness (something Cussler does, too, when he's writing about nautical things). Nothing in the novel is surplus to requirements; this is a slimmed down novel, with no excess fat to distract you or draw you away from the fraught situation the characters find themselves in: How to diffuse a potentially explosive situation fanned by loud, ignorant, bigotted and obnoxious ideologues, without plunging an entire region into hell.
Dealing with the issue in a very even-handed manner, with equal sensitivity to both sides of the conflict. Not all the Iranians are bad guys - far from it, it's only a handful of the top tier officials who salivate at the thought of war with the US. Flynn even comes up with an interesting possible solution to the Iran-problem, though I'll leave you to read the book, to see if you agree.
By keeping his story and writing tight, there is never an instance when you feel comfortable putting the book down. You feel like you're right there in the thick of the action, either following Rapp as he annihilates an entire band of insurgents (but, surprisingly, in an incredibly reaslistic way), or at the start when he metes out some justice for events in the previous book (Act of Treason).
Since his debut, Term Limits, the latest Vince Flynn novel has been one of the highlights of my year, and I imagine will continue to be for many years to come.
Thriller writing at its best, Protect & Defend is highly recommended if you like your thrillers quick, intelligent and realistic. Enjoy.

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