Mitch Rapp is back.
Just ahead of the release of his fifth Mitch Rapp book, Lethal Agent (the 18th book overall in Vince Flynn’s iconic #1 bestselling series), I caught up with Kyle Mills—who becomes the first author to go on the record with The Real Book Spy four consecutive years in a row.
That’s no accident, either, as followers of the site know that, by far, Rapp is my all-time favorite character. In fact, I can vividly remember the exact moment I found out Flynn’s series would continue, roughly one year following his death. Met with an initial burst of excitement, my thoughts quickly drifted towards concern that another writer could never do the Rappverse justice.
Boy, did those concerns turn out to be a waste—as Mills has not only filled in wonderfully for Flynn, but has even elevated this series to new heights since taking over back in 2014, when The Survivor was released. That book, which Mills wrote to sound like Flynn in what he calls “a forgery,” was a massive hit. Now, years later, he’s delivering his most Flynn-like book yet.
“Yes. One hundred percent,” said Mills, when I asked him if he initially wrote Lethal Agent to be a throwback of sorts to early books in the series. “I felt I maybe colored outside the lines a bit too much with Red War in creating this really complicated geopolitical plot that had really strong external characters. That one wasn’t necessarily straight down the middle of the lane in terms of Vince’s style. So, with this one, I wanted to push it all the way to the other end and take people back to the feel of the earlier books, like Transfer of Power.”
Red War, of course, came out last fall, and while the book received unanimous praise from pre-publication reviews, some longtime fans felt the structure and style were too much of a departure from the classic Flynn stories they’d come to know and love. (For what it’s worth, I strongly disagree, and think Red War is one of Mills’ strongest books to date.)
So, was penning a throwback harder to pull off?
No, I don’t think so,” Mills told me. “The pattern was there. Vince had such a strong style, it was more a matter of saying, what’s important in a Mitch Rapp novel and what do fans love about a Mitch Rapp novel, and then saying those are going to be the main components.
“There was a little bit of a departure in that I always like to put Mitch in uncomfortable situations to see what he does. So, you have the Mexican cartel angle because I want to see him in a situation where he doesn’t speak the language, and he doesn’t know the players. You know, when Mitch Rapp is in Yemen, he’s walking down the streets and talking to people. They think he’s Iraqi. He’s very comfortable. Then he has to go to Mexico where he might think, gee, I’m thirsty, but how would I order an orange juice?”
Indeed, Lethal Agent gets Rapp out of his comfort zone, which is an odd thing to say about a guy who has lived more than half of his life in various third-world, terrorist-infested shitholes while getting stabbed, shot, and tortured repeatedly. Additionally, for the first time, Mitch finds himself tracking a biothreat, which isn’t exactly something he’s an expert on—making things even more, well, “uncomfortable” for him.
If channeling Vince Flynn’s early work wasn’t the hardest thriller to pull off, I wondered which one was, and Mills knew immediately—with virtually no hesitation after I asked him just that.
“I think for sure it was The Survivor. I mean, that was the one that I had to read all the books again, in order, and take all the notes for. It was a hard setup because, as we’ve talked about before, Vince had killed off the antagonist in the previous one, and I didn’t know how the book was going to be received. I honestly, at that point, didn’t even really know if fans wanted another Mitch Rapp novel. So there was a lot of pressure for that one. I didn’t even really pay attention to sales from that one, but it was the first time in about fifteen years where I actually sat and looked at the reviews because I wanted to see if fans liked the book.”
Longtime readers will recognize Mills’ nod to Flynn’s last completed novel, The Last Man, in which Rapp travels to Jalalabad after the CIA’s head of clandestine operations in Afghanistan goes missing. While the arc, for the most part, was closed, word quickly spread that Flynn’s following book would be a direct sequel to that one. In fact, Flynn had even posted a teaser for The Survivor on his website before passing away. Following his death, Mills was hired to finish that book, and those same three pages now remain intact, serving as chapter one. (Mills, for the record, wrote the prologue and then everything from chapter two on.)
The issue, of course, was that Mills had to find a way to revisit the threads from The Last Man and incorporate them into The Survivor, which he did flawlessly—even without the main villain, who Rapp already, uh, “dealt with.”
As Flynn’s fans know, Vince made a name for himself by predicting the headlines and writing timely topics into his political thrillers. This year, I asked Mills if he ever finds himself watching the news and thinking WWMRD: What would Mitch Rapp do?
“Oh, yeah,” Mills said with a laugh, “all the time. I have a huge file that’s stuffed with newspaper articles and everything from grand ideas to, like, little stupid stuff. Sometimes, if I don’t have a clear idea of where I want to go, I’ll pull that file out and dump it all over the floor and start going through it to see if any of it fits to what’s going on today and might make an interesting book.”
As anyone who watches the news might have noticed, America has become a divided country over the last several years—a topic that comes up in Lethal Agent when Rapp’s significant other, Claudia, tries to convince him to retire his Glock and leave the world-saving to someone else. Speaking about that part of the book, I asked Mills why, in his mind, Rapp does what he does. What drives him?
“You know,” said Mills, collecting his thoughts, “he’s a great patriot—but to me, there’s also a certain inertia to it for him. It’s what he’s always done, and it’s what he’s good at. I think it would be hard for him to give it up. I mean, with military guys, one of the hardest for them to give up is that camaraderie. So, you know, Rapp’s relationship with Coleman and his people, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything else . . . and I think it’s hard for him to imagine doing anything else.”
“In that scene,” Mills continues, “he sees that a little bit. She’s making all these really good arguments, and he’s just sort of resisting them to an extent. And, obviously, you have this political situation that is just disastrous for him, and you can see why she would be upset that he’s going to continue on. But he loves the country, he loves the American people, but I also think this is just what he does.”
The “disastrous” political situation for Rapp that Mills touched on stems from the fact that the frontrunner to replace current POTUS, Joshua Alexander, is very anti-CIA and has a serious axe to grind with both Mitch and Director Irene Kennedy. So, in the midst of the most divisive presidential election in American history, Rapp has a target on his back—and one wrong move could mean it’s game over for not only his career, but also his freedom.
Of course, that’s all on top of a deadly biothreat that could wipe out most of the U.S. if Mitch and company can’t stop it.
Talk about raising the stakes!
Wondering how much this series has impacted his own writing, I asked Mills how, if at all, he’s grown as a novelist since taking over Flynn’s universe.
“Oh, a lot,” he told me. “Vince has taught me a lot about commercial fiction, and thriller fiction, and what people are passionate about. I would write my books in a little bit of a vacuum. I would get sort of really wrapped up in a certain concept, and then I’d write the best book I could about it. And while a lot of people might have liked it, I never really thought, as I was writing, is this or that going to work for fans? Especially because, in the past, I’ve written all kinds of different books about different stuff. So I’ve learned a lot about that.”
As for what his favorite part about writing these books is, Mills told me it’s the fans.
“There are a lot of things I really like about writing them. You know, they’re really fun books, where some of my own books—which historically have been a little heavier—are just different. These ones are fun to read, they’re fun to write, and the best part is that the fans really love the books. They reach out to me and tell me how much they love the series and Mitch Rapp as a character. I mean, you’re an example of that,” Mills said, pointing to my own love for Mitch Rapp and the franchise.
“When Vince was writing, these books meant a lot to you, more than just picking up a book before getting on a plane to kill six hours or whatever. It’s funny, but I hear that all the time. If you’re going to go to work all day, you might as well create a product that people really love.”
Wrapping up the conversation, things pivoted to why people love these books so much. Obviously, Rapp is a star, but Mills pointed out that Flynn always excelled at creating great bad guys for him to face off with. So, after breaking down some of the best baddies in Rapp’s world, I asked him what makes a good villain.
“You know, I think in Vince’s books, hateability,” said Mills. “I mean, that’s what’s fun because, while Mitch Rapp became this iconic character, some people forget that one of the things that Vince did really well is create hateable opponents for Mitch.”
“One of the things that kept you turning the pages was that you really wanted to see the bad guys get theirs in the end. I think that hateability, he did as well as anyone, and it’s always so satisfying to see Mitch kill them in the end. Kind of different, though, to the villains I wrote in the past. Even in Red War, you had a villain in the president of Russia, but I think most people can kind of understand what he’s doing and why, as opposed to a truly evil villain.”
To be fair, Red War marked the first time Rapp went after a major head of state—and while the opponent is different this time around, Mills continues to pack in numerous “firsts” for Rapp along the way. This year, that list includes Mitch’s first go-around with a crossbow, which he carried into a cave while hunting the leader of ISIS.
I was looking for something really quiet because, in a cave, it echos around so much that even a small-caliber gun is really obvious,” explained Mills, expanding on how he chose that weapon for Rapp. “Even one with a suppressor has a really distinct sound. So, I thought something he could use at a distance but is also quiet, and nobody is really expecting to see or hear a crossbow. Of course, then I wrote out that he really hadn’t had much time to practice with it, and he wasn’t very good with it.”
Good enough to kill bad guys with it? Well, for that, you’ll have read the book—which is now available wherever books are sold.
Before hanging up, I asked Kyle Mills to tease the next book, which is tentatively slated for release in the fall of 2020.
“I’m going to have a new challenge for him,” Mills promised, before delivering one final tidbit that’s sure to have Rapp fans dying for the next book. “Mitch always saves the day, and this one will start with him not saving the day . . . and then the rest of the book will be about how he deals with it.”
Lethal Agent, the latest action-packed, must-read Mitch Rapp thriller from Kyle Mills, is now in stores. Pick up your copy today, or click here to order now.
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.