Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book review: Memorial Day by Vince Flynn


After capturing several high-ranking members of AL-Qaeda, Mitch Rapp discovers an audacious plot to detonate a nuclear bomb in Washington DC.


Memorial Day, originally written in 2004, fortuitously predicts real-life events several years later.  Starting with a covert mission by counter-terrorist unit 'Orion Team' to capture and / or kill high-ranking Al-Qaeda operatives deep behind the Pakistani border, it could almost have been written about the mission for Bin Laden in 2011.  Chillingly, and hopefully where it diverges away from real-life, within the terrorists' compound the assault team discover plans to detonate a large nuclear bomb in the centre of Washington DC.  And so begins a race against time to stop a secret group of Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists from pressing the button before they can be found and no doubt, executed to within an inch of their lives.

Vince Flynn seems to have fallen into the common trap of an author writing himself as the lead character.  Mitch Rapp is who Vince Flynn wants to be had he taken up a life of assassinating people, covert black ops and the rapacious murder of terrorist prisoners.  Using key violent moments of the past twenty years to paint his characters with broad brush strokes, they come across as none-dimensional and wooden.  It's almost like reading the script for a Chuck Norris film (perhaps starring Karl Weathers as the bad guy).

The action and story moves along at a decently brisk pace and an intimate knowledge of equipment, weapons, procedures and political intrigue allows Flynn to bring to life violent set-pieces and momentous battles, as well as the paraphernalia surrounding a vast array of secret Government departments, special tactics' forces and everything else we're not supposed to know about.

It's Rapp who I have the biggest problem with.  You just know if you met the guy, you'd hate him.  Not because he operates on the edges of acceptable behaviour or he's the bestest, most highestly-trained assassin the whole wide World has ever seen like, EVER, but because he comes out with lines like: _"You don't want to know what I'm about to do"_ or _"Shut up and listen"_ to a room of the US's most senior movers and shakers (including the President).  Oh come on, give it a rest big fella, have a Pimms or something.  At least when Tom Clancy writes himself as Jack Ryan, there's an element of compassion and empathy.  Here, Rapp is just an amalgamation of every 'maverick' get-it-done cop / soldier / florist that's ever been committed to celulloid or the written word.  In every other sentence, Rapp admonishes the bureaucracy and political interfering from City Hall, I mean Washington, that threatens to derail his gun-slinging and terrorist torturing antics. 

Really, he's Dirty Harry for the noughty generation.  Whether Flynn intended for that to be the case is debatable but even so, Inspector Callaghan of the San Francisco Police Force had much more depth than his big gun and memorable one-liners allowed (as later Dirty Harry films would show).  Another character comparison would be Jack Bauer of 24, the flawed head of the CTU and that is the point, Bauer IS flawed and that's what makes him human.  Rapp is just too perfect a killing machine and hence, one-dimensional to make him believable. 

But then, something happens.  Surreptitously, the book draws you in, with its outlandish and over-the-top scenarios, Governmental intrigue and evil machinations from those religiously and stereotypically devoted to their murderous causes.  Forgetting that it reads like a Republican Party manifesto, it's entertaining in a ridiculous and overtly escapist way.  The book takes itself far too seriously and for that, it's almost deserving of ridicule but it's still a fun ride.  Rather like the waltzers at the local travelling fair, it's populated by the dodgiest geezers this side of a Brixton housing estate but still fun in a 'shriek if you want to go faster' kind of way.  I like that.

The denouement is undeniably thrilling and throughout the book, the pace never really slows down.  It moves from one action beat to another, increasing the tension, ramping up the ridiculousness but because it never quite hits the same unbelievably trite heights as a risible Dan Brown novel, it's more readable because of it.  I feel almost ashamed to admit I liked it, but I did, rather like the afore-mentioned Chuck Norris film.  It's not as cleverly convoluted as a Ludlum, nor will it stretch your intellectual capabilities like a Huxley, but it's a darn good read anyway.  Methinks, one for the holidays, sat on a beach, letting the world pass by.  Don't forget the suntan lotion.

Trivia: The details contained within Memorial Day were enough to prompt a security overview by the US Department of Energy.  Perhaps it's not as far-fetched as I originally thought then?

ISBN: 9780743453974
Publisher (paperback): Pocket Books.

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