Telling It Like It Is

Vince Flynn's latest thriller boldly separates the good guys from the bad.

“Because I believe there are good guys and bad guys.”

So explains a wealthy benefactor to American covert operative Mitch Rapp in Vince Flynn’s latest blockbuster, American Assassin.

That not only serves as a good enough summary theme for all of Flynn’s novels but also is the moral foundation for one of our other finest thriller writers: Michael Connelly. Like Winston Churchill, neither Flynn nor Connelly finds any moral equivalence between the arsonist and the fireman.

American Assassin by Vince Flynn

There is no hotter thriller writer than Flynn, one of the few writers of action yarns to understand exactly what American readers want post-9/11.  Not nuance, not “Why do they hate us?” thumbsucking. Just kicking jihadist butt.

Actually, half the thrill of a Flynn novel is watching Mitch Rapp knock the heads together of liberal and timid PC politicians and bureaucrats who are foolish enough to try and stop him from killing as many terrorists as possible.

Fans who are looking for Rapp’s continuing efforts against the current Islamofascist threat will have to wait a while; Flynn's latest offering  has a slightly different treat in store.

American Assassin (Atria, $27.99) recounts the hitherto-untold story about how superagent Mitch Rapp came to be super-agent Mitch Rapp. The tale follows new prize CIA recruit Rapp -- motivated by his fiancé's death in the terrorist bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland -- as he enters training. (Maybe Flynn’s next book should have Rapp taking out the Libyan terrorist supposedly dying of prostate cancer who was released by the Scots but seems to have made a remarkable recovery.)

Flynn gives a co-starring role to Stan Hurley, a great minor character from a previous novel. A legendary Cold War and Middle East operative, Hurley butts heads with Rapp as his trainer. He may be the old man molding the new boots, but Hurley has enough of an edge and a wild unpredictability that I couldn’t help think that it’s too bad a spinoff series is unlikely -- unless Flynn wants to write more thrillers set in days of yore.

Surprisingly, this prequel to the Mitch Rapp series is a bit more realistic than its predecessors. With its detailed description of agent training, international networks and tradecraft, plus its fairly deliberate pace (by Flynn’s standards), Assassin reads more like a Frederick Forsyth novel (Day of the Jackal).

In the end, of course, Rapp still gets to send his share of terrorists off to find out if the 72 virgins thing is for real, as he heads to Beirut and executes an audacious rescue of a captured CIA station chief, and take a little revenge for a certain barracks bombing.

Reversal by Michael Connelly

It’s become gospel among the mainstream press that a judicial reversal based on DNA evidence is absolute proof of an unjust conviction (not to mention any time a violent '60s radical wins an appeal on a technicality).  John Grisham is practically making this is life work.

But Michael Connelly, who went from being the best police beat reporter in Los Angeles to the best mystery novelist in the country, says “Wait just a minute,” in his new novel, The Reversal (Little, Brown, $27.99) After all, despite the hype, DNA is only one piece of the evidence -- and in cases other than rape trials, it might not be the most important piece.

In his Harry Bosch series, which features a Vietnam veteran LAPD detective with a troubled past and a thirst for justice, Connelly easily offers the best mystery writing of his generation. Neither Harry nor Connelly makes as many speeches as Flynn or Rapp, but their sense of good guys and bad guys is just as strong.

A few books back, Connelly launched another series about Mickey Haller, a supposedly cynical "Lincoln Lawyer" who defends all comers in court. The problem here has been that Connelly takes good and evil too seriously to let Haller do real damage to the innocents in society by putting real monsters back on the street — and we know it.  In his first two books, Haller finds a way to let justice prevail despite being a defense counsel.

To get around that in The Reversal, Connelly has Haller take a one-time gig as a prosecutor to retry a supposedly innocent man whose conviction has been overturned on DNA evidence.

The lead investigator assigned to Haller is his half brother, Harry Bosch. The veteran detective begins to suspect that the freed suspect enjoying his day in the cop-bashing media sun may have killed more than just the one young woman he was convicted for.

Sure, it's a bit too like a crossover TV show to have Haller and Bosch working together on a case, but if crossover TV series plots were normally this good, they would do it a lot more.