During the heat of a presidential election a terrorist group in the Middle East threatens violence to try to influence the results. Some weeks before the election is to take place a car bomb goes off near one of the presidential candidate’s motorcades and kills the wife of the presidential candidate and dozens of innocent bystanders. The voters decide that they won’t be pushed around by terrorists and vote in the presidential candidate who was attacked. Mitch Rapp and his friends at the CIA are left to uncover the plot. Sounds like a great thriller, but Act of Treason is not up to the standard we expect from Vince Flynn.
Flynn deserves a lot of credit for an almost prophetic handle on the continuing war on terror. Before the 9/11 attacks he had written novels about militant Wahhabism attacking the United States. While on the book tour for his last book, Consent to Kill, Flynn talked about secret CIA prisons where Iraqi and Afghani insurgents and terrorists were interrogated outside the view of the public eye. A year later there were stories in the popular press about those same secret prisons.
The author has been a bestseller thanks to his research and his connections to U.S. servicemen out in the field. He combines his solid research with a great storytelling ability, which typically makes all of his novels thrilling page-turners.
Act of Treason, however, abandons some of the formulas that have worked so well for Flynn in the past. He plays around with different themes. In his past works there was the “ticking time bomb” mentality, which has driven much of the motivations for the protagonist Mitch Rapp. Flynn also tries to tackle the controversies that plague presidential administrations as they close, especially presidential pardons. In fact, much of the plot of the book involves pardons in a thinly veiled discussion of all the last-minute pardons of the Clinton Administration.
Without the immediacy of a clear threat against the United States, the reader is left wondering, why there is such a hurry? Can’t Mitch Rapp just take his time killing all the bad guys? Unlike in most of Flynn’s previous books like Memorial Day, there’s no climatic finish where at the last possible moment the U.S. is saved from disaster. In reality, the only pressures which push us to the end of the novel is to see how everything is played out.
Even in this department Act of Treason is lacking. The novel doesn’t actually resolve itself. Early on, the reader is made to think Flynn is going to take on the philosophy of many liberals that assumes terrorism is a law enforcement issue and not a military one. At one point it even looked like there would be a court scene involving a torture case. Flynn even had a chance to play around with the ideas of the new online journalists like Matt Drudge and their effect on public opinion. None of these possibilities ever panned out. Flynn wasn’t interested in testing out those waters at all.
This book had so much potential for Flynn to expand his scope as a novelist and tackle some very big and complex issues. Instead those were glossed over and even forgotten by the end of the book. Sure, the book was still very readable and had some entertaining points. It just lacked the page-turning qualities that made Flynn a bestseller while it didn’t show any expansion in his possibilities as a novelist. Would I still recommend reading it? Probably not for any but the most fanatical Mitch Rapp fans. Those new to Flynn novels are best off looking to his earlier works to fully appreciate how good he can be.