This is the fourth novel in the Mitch Rapp saga written by Kyle Mills, who took over the franchise after the death of Vince Flynn, its creator. On the cover, Vince Flynn still gets top billing (he is now the “brand”, not the author), but Kyle Mills demonstrates here that he’s a worthy successor who is taking Rapp and the series in new directions.
In the previous novel, Enemy of the State, Rapp went totally off the radar, resigning from the CIA, recruiting a band of blackguards, many former adversaries, to mount an operation aimed at a nominal U.S. ally. This time, the circumstances are very different. Rapp is back at the CIA, working with his original team headed by Scott Coleman, who has now more or less recovered from the severe injuries he sustained in the earlier novel Order to Kill, with Claudia Gould, now sharing a house with Rapp, running logistics for their missions.
Vladimir Krupin, President/autocrat of Russia, is ailing. Having climbed to the top of the pyramid in that deeply corrupt country, he now fears his body is failing him, with bouts of incapacitating headaches, blurred vision, and disorientation coming more and more frequently. He and his physician have carefully kept the condition secret, as any hint of weakness at the top would likely invite one or more of his rivals to make a move to unseat him. Worse, under the screwed-down lid of the Russian pressure cooker, popular dissatisfaction with the dismal economy, lack of freedom, and dearth of opportunity is growing, with popular demonstrations reaching Red Square.
The CIA knows nothing of Krupin’s illness, but has been observing what seems to be increasingly erratic behaviour. In the past, Krupin has been ambitious and willing to commit outrages, but has always drawn his plans carefully and acted deliberately, but now he seemed to be doing things almost at random, sometimes against his own interests. Russian hackers launch an attack that takes down a large part of the power grid in Costa Rica. A Russian strike team launches an assault on Krupin’s retired assassin and Rapp’s former nemesis and recent ally, Grisha Azarov. Military maneuvers in the Ukraine seem to foreshadow open confrontation should that country move toward NATO membership.
Krupin, well aware of the fate of dictators who lose their grip on power, and knowing that nothing rallies support behind a leader like a bold move on the international stage, devises a grand plan to re-assert Russian greatness, right a wrong inflicted by the West, and drive a stake into the heart of NATO. Rapp and Azarov, continuing their uneasy alliance, driven by entirely different motives, undertake a desperate mission in the very belly of the bear to avert what could all too easily end in World War III.
There are a number of goofs, which I can’t discuss without risk of spoilers, so I’ll take them behind the curtain.
The copy editing is not up to the standard you’d expect in a bestseller published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster. On three occasions, “Balkan” appears where “Baltic” is intended. This can be pretty puzzling the first time you encounter it. Afterward, it’s good for a chuckle.
In chapter 39, one of Rapp’s allies tries to establish a connection on a land-line “telephone that looked like it had been around since the 1950s” and then, just a few paragraphs later, we read “There was a USB port hidden in the simple electronics…”. Huh? I’ve seen (and used) a lot of 1950s telephones, but danged if I can remember one with a USB port (which wasn’t introduced until 1996).
Later in the same chapter Rapp is riding a horse, “working only with a map and compass, necessary because of the Russians’ ability to zero in on electronic signals.” This betrays a misunderstanding of how GPS works which, while common, is jarring in a techno-thriller that tries to get things right. A GPS receiver is totally passive: it receives signals from the navigation satellites but transmits nothing and cannot be detected by electronic surveillance equipment. There is no reason Rapp could not have used GPS or GLONASS satellites to navigate.
In chapter 49, Rapp fires two rounds into a door locking keypad and “was rewarded with a cascade of sparks…”. Oh, please—even in Russia, security keypads are not wired up to high voltage lines that would emit showers of sparks. This is a movie cliché which doesn’t belong in a novel striving for realism.
This is a well-crafted thriller which broadens the scope of the Rapp saga into Tom Clancy territory. Things happen, which will leave the world in a different place after they occur. It blends Rapp and Azarov’s barely restrained loose cannon operations with high-level diplomacy and intrigue, plus an interesting strategic approach to pledges of defence which the will and resources of those who made them may not be equal to the challenge when the balloon goes up and the tanks start to roll. And Grisha Azarov’s devotion to his girlfriend is truly visceral.
Mills, Kyle. Red War. New York: Atria Books, 2018. ISBN 978-1-5011-9059-9.
Here is an Author Stories interview (audio only) with the author about the novel and process of crafting a thriller.