Pocket, 2001, 436 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-04734-5
After the trashing I gave to Flynn’s previous The Third Option, you would think that I’d stay away from any of his other books, let alone a direct sequel. But hope springs eternal, some authors can be forgiven the occasional awful novel and it’s entirely possible to succumb at a used book sale where everything is cheap, cheap, cheap.
So, onward with Separation of Power, which picks up moments after the conclusion of The Third Option. Once again, villains are running rampant over Washington and flawless hero Mitch Rapp is hunting them down. His attempts to find the real culprits of the previous book’s events soon take him to Italy (along with his civilian fiancée), where he’ll have to deal with a beautiful yet deadly assassin straight out of Central Casting. Meanwhile, brainy Irene Kennedy has been nominated to become the director of the CIA, drawing out plenty of political enemies, and Saddam is hiding nuclear weapons under an hospital in downtown Baghdad. Separation of Power isn’t quite a three-ring circus, but it’s scattered enough to make anyone feel like it is.
I should probably tone down my sarcastic tone right away, though, because even though Separation or Power breaks no new ground and is unlikely to be celebrated by anyone but the author’s most ardent fans, it’s still much better than The Third Option.
Oh, the annoyances picked up in the previous volume are still there: If there’s one genre that should just avoid series, it’s thrillers: Part of the fun of reading a suspense novel is in wondering how far the author will push it. Will presidents be killed, cities destroyed, countries devastated? Or will everyone live to sell another novel? When The Third Option ended with a pat “to be continued” promise, I surely wasn’t the only one to ask for my money back. At least Separation of Power offers a conclusion of sorts, even if it’s rushed in the last few pages.
Alas, Flynn is still padding his books with useless material. Had Separation of Power been half of its length, I wouldn’t be so picky. (Heck, had The Third Option and Separation of Power been one single 400-pages novel, I might have given it a passing recommendation) But when Flynn piles useless scenes one after another right when the plot should get underway, it’s hard to be forgiving. It all reaches an exasperating apogee in the latter half of the novel, as we take a trip through pure soap-opera romantic theatrics, reading pages after pages of mopping even as we know that it’s profoundly silly. Someone needs an editor, and quickly!
Fortunately, there is some good material buried under the morass of indifferent passages. Two good action scenes come late in the novel, saving it from total lack of interest. Plot-wise, it’s obvious that Flynn loves complications without understanding how they could all relate together: The connections between the three plot lines are tenuous if not ridiculous (see how Mitch Rapp gets to participate in all three for no good reason whatsoever!), even as they sheer kinetic force of the conclusion creates interest whether we want it or not.
(I should probably make a note of this as being Yet Another Pre-9/11 Anti-Saddam Novel. In retrospect, there’s plenty of material in 1990-2001 American thrillers to show the widespread blood thirst that America had for Saddam Hussein’s regime. Canny social psychologists will undoubtedly mutter something about how the Bush II regime was able to tap into those unconscious feelings to obtain popular support for an unjustified invasion. But I digress severely.)
All told, Separation of Power marks a slight step up for Flynn. It’s still average in almost all aspects, but at least it’s not actively bad, nor as dull as The Third Option. But we’re still far away from the promise shown in either of his first two novels: Before he started churning out those formula products, Vince Flynn had the spark of a real thriller author. Let’s just hope that he’ll regain it someday soon.