Get ready, because I’m just going to say it: Vince Flynn is the greatest thriller author of his generation, hands down!
Now, you can debate me on that all you want if you disagree, but I’ll never change my mind. Ever. Without Vince there would be no Mitch Rapp, and without Rapp I wouldn’t be The Real Book Spy. Seriously!
I had never read a book in my adult life before cracking open American Assassin, the first in the chronological order of Flynn’s novels. Instantly, I was hooked. I flew through the series within about two months, and then I re-read the series a second time, and then a third.
It wasn’t long before I launched the website Mitch Rapp Fan, which I still run today. This paved the way for me to transition from sports writing to writing book reviews, which opened the door for me to work with several authors. Relationships with these authors has given me the confidence to launch this site, which has really taken off.
I owe Vince Flynn more than I could ever put into words. In fact, I owe a lot of authors. Brad Thor tweeted a link a to my review of his 2015 thriller Code of Conduct, which resulted in me hearing from three other bestselling authors who wanted to know if I had interest in reviewing their books.
That was especially awesome because Brad Thor (along with Kyle Mills) is my favorite living author, and the undisputed King of Fiction. He may not know how much he helped me out, but thanks to him and others, I’ve somehow managed to carve out a career by being a super-fan of thriller and mystery books.
So, for all those reasons it made sense to kick off the first “Throwback Thursday” here on The Real Book Spy, a new feature I’ll be doing to honor and remember an older novel each week, with the book that launched the stellar career of Vincent Joseph Flynn.
Before I get into the novel, allow me to quickly tell you a funny story…
A fellow book lover I know always argues with me about my book selections. She’s not a very big fan of thrillers, spy novels or mysteries. Instead, she likes (yuck!) love stores. I know, I know, why do I talk to her?
Anyways, she finally had enough of me talking about Mitch Rapp – Flynn’s famous fictional hero – and said to me, “Don’t you ever read anything other than Mitch Rapp books?!”
My response: “Yeah, TERM LIMITS!”
If you didn’t laugh, you might not have gotten it. Let me explain…
Vince Flynn is famous for his series of novels about CIA super-operative Mitch Rapp, who starred in thirteen of Flynn’s fourteen novels. The only book to not feature Rapp was Flynn’s debut novel: Term Limits.
The Making of Term Limits
Vince Flynn had an uncanny ability to write political thrillers ahead of his time. For instance, he was one of the first novelists to see Islamic extremism as a threat to the United States and write about it in his books.
Flynn’s second novel, Transfer or Power, is about Islamic terrorists who take over the White House. That book came out in 1999, nearly two full years before the attacks on 9/11.
Quick side note: No, neither Hollywood movie (Olympus Has Fallen or White House Down) is based on Flynn’s novel. And by “not based on his novel,” I mean that both films totally and completely ripped off his book and ideas. For the record, his novel is a thousand times better than either movie.
After 9/11 the paradigm of the political thriller genre shifted away from Cold War Era stories pitting Russia up against the United States, and a new chapter was turned as writers starting playing catch-up to match newer threats and concerns to national security.
Flynn, with his novels that addressed the growing concern of Islamic terrorism, was ahead of the curve – and he stayed there until his tragic passing in June of 2013.
But his first novel, which he wrote while bartending in Minnesota, dealt with a different enemy: A corrupt United States Government.
If I walked into a publisher right now and pitched an idea for a novel about a group of people standing up the government, demanding action be taken in part because of out-of-control spending that has put the country trillions of dollars in debt, they might listen. Heck, I would probably get a big book deal and sell a ton of copies!
Now imagine that same scenario, but in 1997.
Not as compelling, right? Well, that might explain why Vince was turned away, receiving rejection letter after rejection letter from every publisher in the business.
Looking back, the fact that Flynn wrote such a novel as Term Limits just proves what great intuition he had. He knew that the issues that Americans were facing then would only magnify and grow in the future. So Term Limits, originally titled The Right to Stand Up, was created.
Consider for a second that when Flynn first came up with the idea of a group of Americans rising up (or standing up) to the government, The United States was just over $5 trillion dollars in debt.
In the story, characters are concerned that, without drastic changes, the deficit could reach $10 trillion within a few years.
As I write this today, America is more than $18,800,000,000,000 in debt. That’s a deficit of almost $19 TRILLION dollars, or nearly four times what it was when Vince wrote Term Limits.
With no publishing deal to be had, Vince self-published his debut novel. Term Limits hit bookstores in the fall of 1997 and the rest, as they say, is history.
The standalone book that doesn’t stand very alone
Mitch Rapp is one of the most iconic characters ever created, but he’s notably absent in Flynn’s first novel.
The truth is, Mitch wasn’t created until after Term Limits, when Vince began writing Transfer of Power. Term Limits is technically a standalone novel, but let’s just say it doesn’t stand very far off by itself.
What the heck does that mean?
Well, it means that while it’s true there is no Mitch Rapp, Term Limits sets the stage for all the novels that followed. While Transfer of Power gave birth to Mitch Rapp, it was Term Limits that introduced readers to the universe Rapp would live and operate in.
In fact, most of the characters from Term Limits – Thomas Stansfield, Irene Kennedy, Scott Coleman, Dan Stroble, Kevin Hackett, Jack Warch, Brian Roach and Skip McMahon – all have recurring roles throughout the series.
Even the main protagonist in Term Limits, Michael O’Rourke, appears in a later novel (TheThird Option) interacting with Mitch Rapp. Heck, even one of the bad guys from Term Limits (Stu Garret) returns to the series a full decade later!
So you see, this novel might be classified as a standalone story – but it doesn’t stand very far away from Vince’s other thirteen novels. In fact, when asked by readers whether or not they should read Term Limits before or after they finish the Mitch Rap series, I always advise them to read it between novels Kill Shot and Transfer of Power, as that’s where it falls chronologically.
Term Limits opens with a series of assassinations, which turn out to all be corrupt politicians – one congressman and two senators. That’s bad news for the president as he’s just twenty-four hours away from the House voting on his annual budget, and some of the votes he’d been banking on just wound up dead.
Meanwhile, a thirty-two-year-old freshman congressman named Michael O’Rourke turns down the president and his chief-of-staff, Stu Garret, when they come calling for some help on the vote.
O’Rourke, during his brief stint as a politician, has become tired of the Washington elite. Discouraged by the fact that nothing important ever gets done, Michael is prepared to serve out his term without seeking re-election from the great people of Minnesota. He’s done with Washington, and he’s done with politics.
That means that when the president wants him to vote “yes” on a bill that will continue to sink the country in debt, O’Rourke responds with a firm no before hanging up on the Commander-in-Chief.
As the story unfolds, the group of Americans who assassinated the corrupt politicians begin making demands. Chief among them, they want the budget to finally get balanced, or they promise more congressmen and senators will be killed.
These Americans, the assassins, are fed up with the longtime politicians that care more about serving their political party than they do the people that elected them into office. So, to fight back, they start imposing their own version of term limits.
Their message was clear: Do what you were elected to do, or be removed from office – likely with a bullet to the head.
As more and more Americans begin to stand with the assassins, Stu Garret, the president’s Chief-of-staff, comes up with a plan to regain sympathy from country. He has another Senator, named Olson, murdered.
Olson was a good man who loved his country. By killing him and framing the group of men rising up against the government, Garret was able to paint the group as cold-blooded killers rather than patriots who were killing for a cause – following the words of Thomas Jefferson.
(It was Jefferson who famously wrote in The Declaration of Independence that it is the citizen’s job to fight off a corrupt government. That quote actually appears in Term Limits just before chapter one.)
O’Rourke, who had worked on Olson’s staff prior to being elected to congress, begins to wonder if he might know who is behind the first assassinations. Worse, Michael knows that if the person leading this group is indeed who he thinks it may be, then he himself is inadvertently responsible for the killings.
Why I loved it
Term Limits has it all. A thought provoking political message, espionage, and more action and suspense than just about any other book I’ve ever read. It’s a true masterpiece, written by one of the greatest authors the genre has ever known.
While the political message is front and center, it’s worth noting (especially for those who aren’t big into politics) that the story has an important subplot. O’Rourke finds out that the group of men rising up against the government may have a secondary motive for their actions, one that is far less political and much more personal.
The characters are well developed, and the bad guys are easy to hate – a trait Flynn was known for. The plot, which seems straightforward enough in the beginning, twists and turns as the story unfolds. Each time you think you know what’s going to happen, Flynn unveils a new surprise, and keeps you guessing right up until the final page.
Why you should read it
Very rarely does a book like this come along. The message is so provocative that, written as is in today’s world of political correctness, I can’t even imagine someone publishing anything similar.
Term Limits is a thriller in the purest sense of the word, and still remains one of Vince Flynn’s most popular books to this day. Beyond that, it’s maybe the best debut thriller novel ever written, and a must-read for fans of the genre.
There are three different hardcover versions of Term Limits. There’s the original self-published copy that Vince Flynn released in 1997 through Cloak and Dagger Press, which features a dark cover. (360 pages)
Then there is the Pocket Books edition – which is very similar to the Cloak and Dagger cover, except that it is dark blue with a few other changes. That came out in June of 1998. (403 pages)
Lastly, there’s the Atria Books edition, which has a red cover, and came out on November 1, 2004. (403 pages)
(The reason that both the Pocket Books and Atria Books have more pages than the Cloak and Dagger edition, is largely do to how the book was formatted for publication. Nothing major was added to the story.)
Today I’ll end on quote, something that’s become a tradition over at Mitch Rapp Fan. However, rather than use a quote from a book, I’ll simply close with the three words that Vince Flynn became known for saying…
“Keep The Faith”