Pocket, 1999, 549 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-02320-9
With the first part of Vince Flynn’s first novel, Term Limits, it was possible to imagine reading something new: A libertarian thriller backed by a major publisher. As corrupt politicians were offed by patriot executioners with nary a second thought by the author, it was a memorable departure from countless other thrillers stuck in their black-versus-white worldview. Of course, the book lost its nerve shortly afterward, and the rest of the narrative was focused on a chase to apprehend more classically evil “copycat” terrorists. (Though it’s worth remembering that the original virtuous terrorists almost get away with it.)
Transfer of Power is Flynn’s second novel, and as with many sophomore efforts, it’s more technically successful yet ultimately less satisfying.
It begins as so many other thrillers do, with an American operation deep behind enemy lines. Before long, a well-known terrorist is captured and brought back to the United States. During his in-flight interrogation, he reveals that his buddies are preparing something big. Against the President of the United States.
The alert is given too late, but not entirely too late. While the White House is taken over by the terrorists, the security service, warned by the CIA, manages to escape the threat and take refuge in a half-completed bunker. A jammer is installed, cutting off all contact between the president and his forces. The Vice-President takes command. Demands are made. No one can agree on what to do next.
Well, almost no one. As could be expected in this type of story, there is always one lone maverick who won’t hesitate to talk straight, think tough and act decisively. In Transfer of Power, this man (it’s always a man) is Mitch Rapp, a special forces operative who has pretty much all the talents needed to retake the White House.
The rest of the plot you can pretty much figure out by yourself, especially if you’ve seen DIE HARD and its imitators. No troubling moral questions here. There’s one shock moment near the end that is inevitable in retrospect, but still shows some guts. But most of all, Transfer of Power is built and executed according to formula. Nowhere is this more visible in the tacked-upon romantic subplot, which annoys and slows down the novel more than any other factor.
But if we discard the conventional structure, length is by far the worst of Transfer of Power‘s faults. Flynn’s novel simply doesn’t have the depth or complexity to sustain very nearly 550 pages. This type of book, to be efficient, needs to be snappy. And snappy it is not, with endless delays, romantic uselessness and far too much time spent waiting for something.
Still, if you’re after an averagely satisfying thriller, you could do worse than to try Transfer of Power. Despite the length, Flynn keeps things interesting, integrates interesting details in the narrative, adequately sketches his characters with effectiveness and generally knows how to deliver.
Expect a dumb-as-dirt Hollywood version sometime soon.