License to Thrill

Islamic radicals. Slick politicians. Rogue operatives. Minnesotan Vince Flynn spends most days in the company of such characters.

In 1997, Vince Flynn, a St. Paul native and aspiring writer, self-published his first book. The political thriller, Term Limits, caught the attention of Washington insiders, launching Flynn’s career as a nationally known author. This month brings the debut of his 11th novel, Pursuit of Honor, featuring Flynn’s popular protagonist, renegade CIA agent Mitch Rapp.

Here, the author talks about the new book, his political leanings, and his view of Islam.

Pursuit of Honor is basically a continuation of Extreme Measures. In that book—spoiler alert here—some of the bad guys get killed, some of them get away. This next book is about how those guys get pursued and hunted down. It’s about how, even in the wake of a terrorist attack, politicians will still be politicians and use the situation for political gain. And, of course, at the end of the book—it’s not complicated—Mitch Rapp kills the bad guy.

Rapp is kind of unplugged in this book. He’s fed up with everything that’s going on. He’s taking more risks than ever. And simply not caring. It starts with Rapp’s upset because he’s in New York watching a guy who is the inspector general of the CIA and they’ve suspected that the guy has been leaking stuff to the press. He’s breaking the law by leaking information to a reporter, when he could go to the Justice Department, the Intelligence Committee, or the Judiciary Committee with his complaints.

One of the things that motivated me to write this book was Mark Felt. You look at Mark Felt—not to excuse what Richard Nixon did, it was obviously illegal— Felt was not a happy man. If you talk to people who knew about the FBI and what it was doing at the time, they’ll pretty much say he got passed over for the final promotion. There’s a school of thought that says Felt played Woodward and Bernstein like a virtuoso. He fed them everything he wanted to feed them to take down Richard Nixon.

I’m not Mitch Rapp. I make it a point to say that. He grew up on the East Coast; I didn’t. He’s got thick black hair and is 6-foot-2; I’ve got thin brown gray hair, and I’m 6 foot 2. But in a radio interview last year, some guy said, “Tell me something that you and Mitch Rapp disagree on.” And I went, “Huh.” It hit me that we don’t disagree on a lot.

I came of age in the 1980s. That’s when Ronald Reagan gets shot, the Pope gets shot. We’ve just finished the hostage deal over in Iran. There’s the Beirut Embassy bombing and then Pan Am Lockerbie. Then the Berlin Wall falls. So that’s my decade. I was in high school and college, and I’m seeing a pattern here, and I’m thinking the Soviet Union is going down, communism is waning, and what I see to be the problem in the future is this rise of radical Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. I felt like that’s where things were headed.

After 9/11, I started taking my work more seriously. I delved deeper into my research. I got more into Wahhabism and the history of this sect within Islam, what kind of problems they caused, who these guys are, the cult of death that they’ve created. What’s going on here is a clash of civilizations. With TV and the Internet and everything else, Islamic fundamentalists can no longer just sit behind their borders and live this—I’ll say it bluntly—this backwards way of life.

I usually go out of my way in the books to point out that I’m talking about a sect within Islam. But I get pretty whipped up about CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. They will never admit fault at anything, and I think Islam is deserving of a lot of criticism right now. They don’t allow women to be clergy; women have to sit in the back of the mosque or a separate mosque entirely…. Islam needs to learn to start to take a little more criticism. What they need is reformation. They’ve got to bring this thing into the new millennium.

These books sell. I think the reason why is this: There’s a number of people who feel that the men and women in our military and law enforcement don’t get the respect they deserve. They work and bust their butts, often for very little pay. These special-forces guys? They’re getting paid less than a D.C. bus driver, and they’re working seven days a week and putting it all on the line. Still, everything they do is questioned by self-serving politicians on both sides of the aisle.

People like to think that I’m a hard-core conservative. I am, but I live in Minnesota, where it’s not hard to be conservative. You don’t have to move that far right of center here to be thought of as somebody who is really conservative. I didn’t think that Mark Kennedy was a person who should be a sitting U.S. Senator. I have nothing against him personally, I just don’t think he had the talent. I think Amy Klobuchar is an honest, intelligent, good person. She’s a decent person. At the end of the day, even though I disagree with Amy on quite a few fiscal issues, I think she won’t embarrass the state of Minnesota.

My wife, Lisa, and I were invited to a dinner at the White House a few years ago. Well, my wife comes down with the most gut-wrenching flu you’ve ever seen. She can’t make it. So it’s the beginning of the evening and the President walks over and says “Where’s Lisa? We can’t wait to meet her.” I say, “Mr. President, she is deathly ill, she turned green, blah, blah, blah,” and he says, “You should bring her down to the medical lab in the basement and have her looked at. They do it for me all the time.” He couldn’t have been more gracious.

I later got word that he wanted to start talking to some people outside the bubble. He was afraid he was just not getting enough different information from people. He brought [Michael] Crichton in, he brought in a handful of people. He wanted to push the envelop a bit and hear some different opinions. So we had this meeting and I was all ready to give him the whole “Why I Think Donald Rumsfeld Should Be Fired” speech and we sit down and the first thing out of his mouth is, “You know who I just talked to?” And I say, “No, Mr. President.” And he says, “Rummy. Hell of a guy. Loves your books. He told me to say hello.” I folded right there.

A couple of my friends in Washington are living in fear of investigations starting. We’ve even had discussions about setting up legal-defense funds for them. The morale is shot, there’s no one left who is going to risk anything. I mean the stories of what these guys had to do! Lawyers had to sign off on everything. They have been interrogating these guys, and they get on the phone and say, “He’s not responsive, can we slap him?” “Okay, put it in writing and sign it and send it in so we can put on file and you can slap him.” I’m thinking people have lost their minds. There are too many lawyers. Don’t put anything in writing!

At one point, CIA director Porter Goss brought me up to his office (this was before everything blew up in his face and so it took on more significance later) and basically said, “This has been one of the toughest years of my life, and your books have helped me get through some pretty bad nights when I can’t sleep.” He said, “I bought two cases of Consent to Kill, and I handed them around to my station chiefs and told them ‘I want you to read this book and start thinking about how we can wage this war differently.’”

That really kind of blew me away.

I’m sitting there thinking, This kid from St. Paul can have that kind of impact?

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Joel Hoekstra writes frequently about design and architecture for Midwest Home and has contributed to a wide range of publications, including This Old House, Metropolis, ASID Icon and Architecture Minnesota. He lives in Minneapolis in a 1906 Dutch Colonial that is overdue for a full remodel—or at least a coat of fresh paint.