Mitch Rapp is back, but things are changing behind the scenes.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Kyle Mills, who first took over the late Vince Flynn’s iconic series in 2015 and has since contributed eight consecutive bestsellers, is set to depart the Mitch Rapp franchise following his ninth and final book in the series, Code Red, later this year. Taking over will be Don Bentley, best known for his own Matt Drake series and the work he’s done in Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Jr series, including Tom Clancy Flashpoint, which will hit stores in May.
In a statement made during the original announcement back on June 23, 2014, just a year after Flynn died following a battle with cancer, Mills said, “I’m really honored to have been asked to continue the Mitch Rapp series. Vince was a great guy who helped me out in my career and as a diehard Rapp fan, I know how devastated his readers are. They’re big shoes to fill, but I’m looking forward to the challenge of continuing an iconic thriller character.”
Nine years later, it’s safe to say that Mills’ mission has been accomplished.
Not only was he able to step in seamlessly, continuing Rapp’s legacy, but the argument could even be made that, under Mills, the series was elevated, reaching new heights. Widely adored by the diehard fanbase, Mills first won over readers with The Survivor. That book, which had been started by Flynn, was finished by Mills and was released in 2015. Incredibly, most readers couldn’t tell where Flynn’s voice left off and Mills began. Though it would later be revealed that Flynn had only written three pages, which Mills used as the first chapter, early reviews, courtesy of the first-ever Mitch Rapp Ambassador program, raved that The Survivor read and felt like a genuine Vince Flynn novel. He followed that up with hit after hit, cementing the Kyle Mills era as a resounding success.
Ahead of today’s big announcement, I sat down for a ninety-minute Zoom call with both Kyle Mills and Don Bentley, where we discussed all things Mitch Rapp. During that time, it was clear to me just how much both authors admire Vince Flynn and love the characters he created.
“The main reason,” said Kyle Mills when I asked him why now is the right time for him to leave this franchise, “is because I’ve been wanting to write a sequel to a book I wrote called Fade for probably fifteen years now. It never seemed like the right time for the character, but with the way the world has changed, he seems like the right guy to tell that story through. I actually tried to tell that story with Mitch starting with Enemy at the Gates, where I had a three-book arc about democracy falling in the United States, but it just didn’t feel right for that series, and I didn’t ever want to get to a point where I was writing my own books with Vince’s characters. I just don’t think that’s a direction the series should go in.”
Though fans will no doubt be sad to see Mills leave, the author should be commended for his steadfast approach to always honor Flynn’s legacy by staying true to his character and the tone of his books.
“I finally finished this arc that I was on with Mitch, and it just felt like the right time to wrap it up,” said Mills, further explaining his decision to step aside. “It sort of feels like Mitch is onto the next step in his life, and that feels like the perfect time for somebody else to take it over that has a fresh idea and a fresh direction for Rapp and the series.”
Enter Don Bentley, an incredible talent who first burst onto the thriller scene with his hard-hitting debut novel, Without Sanction, back in 2020. A year later, he replaced author Mike Maden, taking over Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan Junior series. For the last few years, he’s pulled double duty, churning out two books a year. But it’s precisely that work in Clancy’s Ryanverse that may very well have prepared Bentley for this gig, as Mitch Rapp remains one of the industry’s biggest stars.
More on that in just a moment.
“I’m here, and I’m reading these manuscripts, and if it’s not Vince, I’m not doing it.”
— Emily Bestler, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF of Emily Bestler Books
Speaking to Emily Bestler, Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Emily Bestler Books, an imprint of Atria Books at publishing powerhouse Simon & Schuster, I asked her what Kyle Mills has meant to this series over the last nine years. “Everything,” said Bestler. “He’s done such an amazing job. He got inside the mind of Mitch Rapp better than I think anyone could have expected. From the very first book that he wrote, there was nothing about Mitch that Kyle didn’t know. The carryover was so seamlessly handled by Kyle.”
Bestler, known for finding such talents as Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, and more recently, Jack Carr, is the only editor to have ever worked on the Mitch Rapp books. With more than two decades of experience and familiarity with Rapp, I asked her how the character has changed over the years. “I think that Mitch has hardened,” she told me. “He was always tough and always there to get the job done, but he’s so battle scared by now, and . . . and he’s definitely more lethal.”
Frankly, I couldn’t agree more with Bestler, and I would imagine that most Book Spy readers will too. Mitch Rapp is the American assassin. He’s the most badass character in the genre today, but that’s not necessarily what makes him so beloved. To tackle that, I asked Bestler why she thinks Rapp has such a passionate following.
“I think it’s because Mitch speaks for grassroots America. He always has. So his opinions, his actions, his alliances, and his enemies all make sense to your average American with a lot of common sense and a lot of skepticism of the government. Mitch kind of goes out there and does and says what we all would love to do but don’t get the chance to. But reading about it is extremely satisfying.”
In today’s publishing world, it’s common to see legacy books lining store shelves. From Tom Clancy to Robert Ludlum to Robert B. Parker, W.E.B. Griffin, and many other others, numerous authors have passed away, only to have their series and characters transcend them. Not only do they make a lot of money, but doing so meets a big demand for those characters to stay in print. Still, there’s something about Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series that feels different, and while Don Bentley touched on that a bit below, it was Emily Bestler who made that point abundantly clear.
The issue is that there are times when those legacy books take on the feel and tone of the new writer who steps in to keep the franchise going. That can be off-putting to fans, and understandably so. Thankfully, with the team in place at S&S—from Bestlter to David Brown, Director of Publicity and Marketing at Atria Books, and so many others—that won’t be the case for Mitch Rapp moving forward, and fans should expect their favorite hero to remain the same character they know and love.
“In terms of continuity, Vince was family,” said Bestler, remembering the late author before explaining her approach to still publishing new Rapp novels. “I was close to him for twenty years. I was the editor of his very first book onward. I’m close to his wife and his kids. The entire company felt that Vince was family and felt very strongly that after he died, we wanted to continue his legacy, but we never wanted to take advantage of it. It truly was about continuing his legacy and was not simply a commercial enterprise. We’ve always felt very strongly that we’re not going to do it if we can’t do it exactly the way Vince would like it. And certainly, as somebody who has read every word that Vince ever wrote, I can tell when somebody is not Vince. I’m here, and I’m reading these manuscripts, and if it’s not Vince, I’m not doing it. Kyle, of course, knew that and did it so beautifully. And Don, I just feel so strongly is perfect to carry on that tradition of excellence and respect for Vince’s work. He’s coming into it with a long history of being a Mitch Rapp fan and a very strong desire to carry on that Legacy, just as Kyle did.”
I asked Bestler what attributes she was looking for while searching for the right author to take over for Mills, and she made it clear that whoever was going to come aboard needed a vast knowledge of Rapp himself, and Don Bentley fit that bill perfectly.
“As I mentioned, that deep knowledge of Vince and Mitch was crucial. So was an appreciation for what Vince had done because, you know, whoever takes this job, those are big footsteps, and you need to have that desire, and that history, and the ability to do these books. Don Bentley is a fantastic writer, and that, of course, was important too.”
“I actually took Protect and Defend and wrote it scene by scene on notecards, then taped them onto my bedroom wall . . . which my wife loved”
— Don Bentley
In the case of Bentley, he actually does have something else to offer that neither Flynn nor Mills could bring to the table, and that’s a background that lends itself directly to these types of books. A former FBI Special Agent, SWAT Team member, and Army Apache helicopter pilot, Bentley knows plenty about the kind of life that real Mitch Rapps live, and Bestler made it no secret that she’s intrigued by how he might incorporate some of those experiences into his writing.
“Don has been in the military, and he has on-the-ground experience, which research will help with that, but I think it’s going to be very fun to see Don bring his personal and professional expertise to Mitch’s adventures. I think we’re going to experience even more hair-raising escapades than we ever have before.”
Bentley’s first Mitch Rapp novel is due out sometime in the fall of 2024. Kyle Mills’ final entry in the series, Code Red, bows on September 12th, and Bestler told me it’s “the very best book from Kyle Mills yet.”
Taking a moment to reminisce with Mills, looking back on his nine years as the keeper of all things Mitch Rapp, I asked him which book in this series was his favorite to write. Without hesitating, told me, “Order to Kill. That book, honestly, I felt was just the right blend of me and Vince. I thought it encompassed everything Vince does well and everything that I do well. For example, you had Grisha Azaraov, who was not a character that Vince probably would have written. So, that part felt like me, but then you add in the plot and storylines and all the action, and that felt like Vince.”
“My favorite Vince book is Protect and Defend,” said Don Bentley as we discussed the series as a whole. In fact, that book is special to Bentley for a number of reasons, including the fact that it helped him, in a way, find his voice as an author.
“When I had written my third book, and it still hadn’t sold, I was like, ‘there’s something wrong, and I can’t figure it out.’ We had a little house at the time then, and I didn’t even have an office. So I actually took Protect and Defend and wrote it scene by scene on notecards, then taped them onto my bedroom wall, which,” Betnely said with a chuckle, “my wife loved. But it gave me the ability to look and see how many scenes Vince would go before he brings Mitch Rapp back into the fold. I could see which scenes were him on an airplane talking to someone versus how many scenes were action or gunfights. But the reason I love that book so much is that when Irene [Kennedy] is captured, and Mitch basically says, ‘hold my beer,’ that is one of the best action scenes I’ve ever read. It so encapsulates who Mitch Rapp is and how he does what he does.”
For the record, Bentley, who clearly thinks a lot of the work Mills has done to date, noted that his favorite Rapp novel from the Mills era is Enemy at the Gates. And when I asked him which character besides Mitch Rapp that he’s most excited to write, a big smile flashed across his face as he said, “Irene Kennedy.”
Wrapping things up, I asked Don Bentley what he wanted fans of Vince Flynn and his series to know about him as he takes the torch from Mills. After pausing for a moment to really consider his answer, a heartfelt Bentley said simply, “That Vince Flynn is my favorite author of all time.” But it’s what he said next that should leave Rapp fans excited, as he expressed just how appreciative he is to get a chance to explore Mitch Rapp’s world while fully recognizing just how important this series is to readers.
“I came into this genre with Tom Clancy when I was a kid,” said Bentley, “but it was Vince Flynn who brought me back to it. I wanted to be a writer because of Vince Flynn. Like almost every other author who came after him, I modeled parts of my protagionist [Matt Drake] after Mitch Rapp. I will always be a fan of this series. I’m incredibly honored to get to do this, and to be honest with you, I’m probably even more terrified to do this than I was taking over the Clancy series. Not because I put any less weight on it, but because there had been a bunch of writers who had done it before me. So the system was established, and Tom Colgan, who oversees all that, is a fantastic editor. When Kyle took over, nobody knew for sure whether Vince’s books were going to live on or not. Nobody knew if Kyle would be able to pull it off or if his work would resonate with the fans, and I really do feel like the expectations are enormous on this because . . . how many times does a band or book series have a fantastic frontman, which then transitions to another fantastic one who can do just as well? Not very often, right? But what I would say to Mitch Rapp fans is that I love this series, and I can’t believe that I get to open a Word document and type Mitch Rapp’s name in a book I’m writing.”
As for what, exactly, Bentley is writing, we won’t know anything about his first Rapp novel until next year, but you can bet he’ll come out swinging. In the meantime, Code Red, the final Mitch Rapp novel from Kyle Mills, is now available for pre-order wherever books are sold.
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 is building a growing community on Twitch. His debut thriller, FIELDS OF FIRE, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Jack Carr says “will leave you speechless and begging for more,” is now available. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. And to take part in free, exclusive BOOK CLUBS each month, join The Real Book Spy on Discord.