Thursday, October 13, 2016


Harlan Coben has had enough success with standalone novels to feel no pressing need to return to his breakthrough character, sports agent and freelance troubleshooter Myron Bolitar. Home is the 11th Bolitar novel, but it comes five years after Live Wire. In between Myron has been visible as supporting cast in Coben's young adult Mickey Bolitar series about Myron's nephew.

And Home opens with a unique twist -- using Winsdor Horne Lockwood III or "Win" as a viewpoint character. Win has been laying low since his involvement with some extralegal activities in Live Wire, but he calls on Myron for help in recovering his nephew, kidnapped along with a friend more than 10 years ago when he was just a boy. The boys vanished but Win has a tip on their location. When a meet with an informant goes bad, Win calls Myron for help, and together they finally manage to recover one of the boys -- the one who isn't Win's nephew. So their search will continue, but the family of the rescued boy won't allow them access to him, claiming the experiences have traumatized him too much. Very little of what Myron and Win observe seems to match with what they are being told, which is usually an excellent way to get them to keep digging no matter the cost.

In his standalone books, Coben has relied heavily on stories that push average families into awful situations. Home does the same, but instead of the sometimes artificial earnestness of some of those stories and characters who win the gold in stupid moves we have Myron and Win quipping back and forth at each other and Myron himself lipping off in the smart-aleck style Coben does better than many. Those features, plus the lack of situations that even a moment's thought on the part of even one character would prevent from happening, lighten Home considerably and make it one of Coben's better outings in years.
Vince Flynn's 2013 death left one of the better tough-guy spy thriller series in uncertain waters. Mitch Rapp was cut from the same cloth as a lot of other Guys Who Will Do What They Must To Get The Dirty Job Done, but Flynn's direct prose, surprising extra dimensions here and there and sure-footedness around an action scene set him in the upper tier of the espionage thriller genre. Kyle Mills' pick to keep the series going led to more questions, as his own work was less than impressive. But his first Rapp novel, 2015's The Survivor, was a pleasant surprise. Mills continues to build on his momentum with Order to Kill, setting Rapp against a plot by the Russian president to destabilize world oil production and raise the value of Russia's own reserves.

Rapp and his team are busy keeping track of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, which are being shifted around the country as pawns in a power struggle between a powerful general and the nation's president. They find the nukes at the center of some plans by Russia's dictatorial and power-mad president (No, it's a fictional character. Why do you ask?).  But Rapp and the CIA don't know what the plot is. Nor do they know the identity of the top operative leading it, whose lethal skills nearly kill one of Rapp's teammates and closest friends. But they know they probably don't have a lot of time to find to find out and stop it. Rapp may be outmatched this time, but he's survived this long by being reluctant to admit that possibility and now doesn't seem to be the time to start.

Mills has a surer hand in his second Rapp novel, with a better grasp of the characters and the kind of plot Rapp is best at thwarting. Not unlike Ace Atkins writing Robert B. Parker's Spenser, he seems to have decided to write the character of Mitch Rapp the right way rather than just to imitate Flynn's style. It makes him stronger on both ends and helps makes Order to Kill a decent Mitch Rapp novel as well as a good action thriller. He has Rapp's no-BS, constantly pissed-off voice pretty well and sets down several good action set pieces. A battle in a warehouse and another in an abandoned desert oil facility are taut, strategic and lightning-fast. Another outing done this well and it'll be hard to call Mills' strong continuation of the series "surprising" in any way.

No comments: