As a general rule, I often enjoy movies about super-stud, kick-ass spies like James Bond or Jason Bourne, who are often caught up in labyrinthian plots where everyone is betraying everyone else and you never know who to trust. But for whatever reason, I've never been very fond of books about these sorts of characters. The characters often seem very one-dimensional and the plots are so completely over the top that I just can't suspend disbelief long enough to spend three or four hours reading them. (I have no idea why I can do this for a movie but not a book; go figure.)
At any rate, for this reason I have never read a Vince Flynn book featuring his series character, Mitch Rapp. But then this month one of my book clubs selected Flynn's novel The Third Option and trooper that I am, I sat down and read it. I didn't hate the book, and I'm actually glad I read it just for the experience. I recognize that Flynn does (or did) what he does very well, and I know that this sort of book appeals to large numbers of readers. But again, I just couldn't buy into it, and my three-star rating may be unfair because it really reflects the fact that this book, however well done, is just not my cup of tea.
The book takes its title from the notion that the United States occasionally faces problems where diplomacy doesn't work and where full-scale military action would be inappropriate. In such cases, the C.I.A., or some other super-secret government agency, may resort to the "third option," which is to send in a highly-trained killer to deal secretly with the problem, even though such action may be illegal, immoral, or unconstitutional.
In this case, a German industrialist has been secretly selling equipment to Saddam Hussein which would enable Iraq to build a nuclear weapon. (This book was published in 2000, before we invaded Iraq and long before we realized that Hussein actually had no such weapons.) In this case, the C.I.A. resorts to the "third option," although naturally it would never admit to doing so. The director dispatches Mitch Rapp to kill the industrialist and other activities are also mapped out which will hopefully suggest that the Iraqis or some other nasty folks have assassinated the guy, deflecting any attention away from the U.S.
Inevitably, problems arise and it turns out that our hero is caught up in a nasty Washington, D.C. turf battle. The director of the C.I.A. is dying and there's a major struggle over his successor. Rapp's mission is compromised by forces in the government opposed to the director's chosen successor. Once this happens, all hell breaks loose and the bodies are going to be falling left and right. There's very little hope that this might turn out well, and what little hope there is rides on the broad shoulders of Mitch Rapp.
As I said, to my mind this is an "okay" book, but it could have been better. There are a ton of characters parading through the book and it's very hard to keep them all straight. Flynn complicates matters by naming one of the main characters Cameron and another Coleman. They're often on the scene together and every time one of them appears, the reader has to stop and try to remember which of the two is the really bad guy and which is the sort-of-okay guy. There's no excuse for an author complicating matters like that.
In books like this virtually all of the women are super-sexy vixens. Some of them are assassins too, and for some reason, most of these women seemed to have been trained by the Israelis. These women are cool customers and hardened killers, and most of them seem to have discovered that they love guns even better than sex. One such woman appears in this book and when we first meet her, she's walking down the streets in Milan in four-inch heels. The shoes are not particularly comfortable, but if a female character wants to appear in a book like this, she has to make the necessary sacrifices.
In this case, however, the woman walks into a building, and for no reason whatsoever, instead of taking the elevator, she climbs four flights of stairs in her four-inch heels! Only in a book like this would any woman do such a thing.
My major complaint about the book has to do with action that occurs very early on. Spoiler alert: Do not read beyond this point unless you want a major plot point revealed.
When Rapp shows up at the mansion to kill the German industrialist, he's accompanied by a female partner. On the way out the door, she asks Rapp if he's wearing his Kevlar vest and he says no. Once Rapp has killed the industrialist and his bodyguard, the woman then turns and shoots Rapp twice in the chest. (She has double-crossed him for reasons too complicated to explain.) She then high-tails it out of the room, leaving Rapp dead on the floor behind her. But, of course, he really isn't dead, because, contrary to what he told her, he really is wearing Kevlar, and so he will rise up and wreak serious vengeance on those who set him up.
This development takes the reader right out of the story because anyone knows that even the most incompetent hit person on the planet always finishes off his victim with a shot to the head. But not this woman. Of course, she can't do that or the book will end on page 25, but the whole scene is totally nonsensical. Anybody who's ever read even a couple of these books could figure out a way that Flynn could have finessed this problem without having the character do something so stupid. But, for me at least, this scene, which was supposed to be one of great tension, turned into a laugh-out-loud moment, and it made it even harder to take any of the rest of the book even remotely seriously. (hide spoiler)]
Again, I'm glad I read the book, just for the experience. But I probably won't be lining up to read another.