"Order to Kill": Appealing to America's Derring-Do, Pioneer Spirit

State of Play

CIA operative Mitch Rapp, the ruthlessly efficient hero of Vince Flynn’s thrillers, has singlehandedly prevented a string of terrorist attacks since the series began in 2000. After Flynn’s untimely death, Kyle Mills, an author of numerous political thrillers, proves to be a worthy successor with Order to Kill, his second novel featuring Rapp.

Like Flynn, Mills initially presents unrelated events based on real global issues and gradually interweaves them into a plot with a terrifying premise. In Order to Kill, Rapp and his crack team of commandos search for Pakistani nuclear weapons to prevent them from falling into terrorist hands, a task complicated by an ongoing power struggle between the country’s president and top military leader who is sympathetic to the radical fundamentalist cause.

The Pakistani scenario is gradually linked to a diabolical plan of Maxim Krupin, Russia’s autocratic president, who is based almost exactly on Vladimir Putin. Krupin hatches an elaborate plot to create chaos in the Middle Eastern oil market that will leave Russia a predominant energy exporter so he can bolster his sagging economy and ensure his continued stranglehold over the country. If that isn’t disturbing enough, the power-hungry president has enlisted the aid of ISIS operatives to execute his plan.

The novel opens with Grisha Azarov, one of the most complex villains in the Rapp series, coldly killing an oligarch critical of the Russian President’s regime. Azarov, Krupin’s top operative and personal assassin, is tabbed by the president to manage his Middle Eastern gambit, which will ultimately pit him against Rapp. Suspense builds as the reader awaits their expected confrontation in a duel reminiscent of the Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago matchup in the film Rocky IV. Like Rocky, Rapp is older, perhaps a step slower, yet more experienced. Like Drago, Azarov’s skills are honed by the best the Russian government can provide—he has been trained by championship marksmen and martial arts experts and is on a special regimen of performance-enhancing drugs to perfect his already lethal capabilities.

Azarov, however, is hardly a one-dimensional villain. He is disgusted with Krupin’s ISIS thugs and secretly disillusioned with the Russian president and his plundering of the country.  Azarov intends to leave the assassination business forever once he executes Krupin’s plan—if he can defeat Mitch Rapp. The ultimate showdown between the two is tense and action-packed and ends with an unexpected twist.

As in past novels, Rapp takes extreme measures to accomplish his mission and cold-bloodedly dispatches adversaries along the way in action-packed combat scenes (my only quibble about the novel was an overly long narrative of Rapp and his team fighting off both Azarov and Pakistani security forces to counter a terrorist threat to steal a nuclear warhead in Faisalabad).

Rapp may be America’s ultimate terrorist killing machine, but he is humanized a bit in Order to Kill. When Rapp isn’t combating terrorist threats, he’s pestered with the nagging task of choosing paint colors and furniture swatches for his new home. Besides these mundane chores, Rapp grows increasingly attracted to a woman named Claudia Gould. In the world of international intrigue, however, even romance has a dark side. Claudia is the widow of a psychopathic assassin, who murdered Rapp’s wife and was himself killed by one of Rapp’s closest associates in a previous novel.

Rapp has endeared himself to this reader and many others because of his no-nonsense approach and impatience with bureaucratic obstacles to his hunt for terrorists. He is no less impatient in Order to Kill. He handles an Air Force officer suspicious of the CIA by simply calling the White House, sasses his boss, CIA director Irene Kennedy, and casually refuses to attend a meeting with the U.S. President because he has more pressing tasks in the field.

Rapp sometimes goes overboard with his impatience—in this novel, literally so. A spoiler alert here, but in the middle of the operation to foil the Russian plot, Rapp gives an order, which is countermanded by an obnoxious senior Saudi security official while they are in a helicopter flying over the desert. Rapp seizes his uncooperative foreign partner and throws him out the door. The Saudi isn’t the only victim of Rapp’s impatience. At a meeting with the Pakistani President, our hero rams his forearm into the throat of the country’s top military leader and breaks his finger.

No matter how exasperated CIA officers might occasionally be with foreign counterparts, physically assaulting them is never the solution. In the real world, instead of counseling the CIA director and meeting with the President to plan next moves against a terrorist group, Rapp would be at the very least reprimanded, and most probably fired and indicted, for a host of crimes. But this is fiction, and Rapp gets the mission accomplished by any method that works. In that sense, he appeals to a deeply rooted, derring-do pioneer spirit that Americans still embrace, and that’s why Flynn’s—and now Mills’—novels are so popular.

State of Play
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