There was a time when literary secret agents weren’t just generic characters from central casting. Back in the sixties and seventies, they had personality and quirks. James Bond’s womanizing was accompanied by a lot of internal monologue that today would cause shaken heads, furrowed brows and comments like “well, he was a product of his times.” Jason Bourne was a killing machine before it became popular. Smiley’s people were well-developed , flawed characters in well-written tales (not sure why, but there you have it). The thing is, all these guys were different.
Now, everyone seems to be a spinoff Jason Bourne. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Bourne is always an entertaining read, but it’s a truth that if you’re a secret agent in today’s world, you are either ex-special forces or trained up to be the equal of any ex-special forces guy you’ll encounter. Even Forsyth falls into this pattern, probably because he has to stay relevant.
Why this reflection?
Because I recently ran across a book entitled Pursuit of Honor written by Vince Flynn. I never buy books in airports, which apparently is the literary equivalent of living under a rock, so I hadn’t heard of him, but apparently, this is the tenth book in his Mitch Rapp Series, and Flynn himself is a best selling author.
I read the book and enjoyed it at the time. It appears to be the perfect airport book (even though I didn’t buy it in an airport).
The problem is that, if you ask me about it in a year’s time, I’d have to read the back cover and then wonder whether I actually read it or not (generic tough American agents taking on generic tough Islamic terrorists isn’t exactly something that stands out from the crowd).
And that’s a pity because this book (I suppose the entire series) deserves to stand out. In a world where everyone trends towards the bland and politically correct, Flynn goes the other way. In this book, the smarmy whistle-blowing moralistic do-gooder gets caught in the very first scene and locked in a basement awaiting death… by the good guys. You have no idea how I cheered.
Sadly, apart from being violently antisocial onstage (as opposed to offstage), the good guys are otherwise from central casting, and that’s the reason I won’t necessarily recall the book.
But I’ll probably pick up another. I like it when the heroes defy social norms in ways that would cause raised eyebrows.
So yeah, beach reading or plane reading, but I enjoyed it.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine author. His latest science fiction novel, Outside, is anything but cookie cutter; you’ll remember this one. Check it out here.