2005 profile: Consider author Vince Flynn a Rapp star

2005 profile: Through his fictional hero, CIA maverick Mitch Rapp, writer Vince Flynn has become a heavyweight in the political-thriller arena.

Best-selling author Vince Flynn

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune file

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Vince Flynn looked up from his latte at a south Minneapolis coffee shop and said, “Look at the guy up there working on that telephone pole across the street. Something’s not right.”

If you happen to know that Flynn just turned out his seventh bestselling political thriller, you’d assume he was thinking, wiretap. Undercover stakeout. Or perhaps Taliban assassin bent on ethnically cleansing Linden Hills.

But no. The guy whose serious mug glowers threateningly from the back jacket of “Consent to Kill” was simply worried about the worker.

“He’s not wearing the right gloves,” Flynn said. “He could get electrocuted.”

Flynn’s fictional hero and alter ego, CIA counterterrorism agent Mitch Rapp, wouldn’t have time to fret about such things; he’d be too busy saving the nation from nuclear disaster and diabolical subterfuge. But the author himself can afford to let his concerns spill over onto strangers. Having amassed total book-contract money into seven figures over the past decade, he’s in the clover.

“Consent to Kill” has been out a month and is already in its fourth hardcover printing, with 380,000 copies in circulation, a more than 40 percent increase over 2004’s “Memorial Day” printing.

Debuting at fourth on the New York Times bestseller list and second on the Wall Street Journal’s list, the newest Mitch Rapp adventure is also the closest that any of Flynn’s books have come to getting optioned by a major film studio. (This could stick a welcome pin in his oft-voiced argument that the reason none of his books has been made into a movie is that liberal Hollywood is afraid to portray fundamentalist Muslims as terrorists.)

Flynn keeps his name in the public’s scope on talk radio and television programs, including Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes, where he is asked at least as many questions about his views on real-life counterterrorism efforts as he is about his fiction.

His books are passed around Army barracks and Pentagon offices. And scores of civilians who consider him a top read — especially since Tom Clancy abused his own popularity with a turgidly technical 874-pager — line up at his signings. At Costco in St. Louis Park on a recent Saturday, multiple copies of Flynn’s latest (being sold at Costco’s price of $15, or $11 below retail) could be seen in many carts.

Larry Stodghill of St. Louis Park said he can relate to the characters: “I’m a real pro-military guy and personally very concerned about national security.”

Joe Swanholm of Plymouth said he likes Flynn’s books because “they’re not too complicated, but it’s nonstop action that keeps me up all night.”

Wanda Bowen of Wayzata said that unlike some other successful thriller writers she’s read, “his books get better each time instead of more of the same.”

Greg Nash of Chanhassen, who politely handed a publisher’s representative a list of typos he had noticed in a Flynn book, said he was impressed with the author’s research.

In the latest book, Rapp is the one being pursued, after a Mideast potentate puts out a contract on his life. Flynn’s solutions may be simplistic, but his plots can be eerily topical, almost “ripped from the headlines” — or from secret top-level memos. In his last novel, “Memorial Day,” Mitch Rapp saves both New York and Washington, D.C., from nuclear blasts by Middle-Eastern terrorists. In 2001, his “Separation of Power” involved Saddam Hussein having nuclear weapons.

Flynn isn’t clairvoyant. He just has friends in high, handy places — like the CIA and the FBI.

Rob Richer, who retired last week as a CIA associate deputy director of operations (read: in charge of covert overseas agents), is a Flynn inside source who has become a friend.

“Don’t ask me about Valerie Plame,” Flynn said. “He won’t talk about her.”

Richer will talk about Flynn, however: “He brings clarity to the issue of the war on terrorism,” Richer said by phone. “To the public, it can seem like we’re a government afraid to take risks. He gets at the heart of what we really do.”

  • Vince Flynn at a glance

    Age: 39.

    Residence: Edina.

    Childhood: Born in St. Paul’s Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, the fifth of seven children of high school English teacher and football coach Terry Flynn and wildlife artist Kathy Flynn. Lived in Apple Valley from age 3 through high school.

    Education: St. Thomas Academy (1984), University of St. Thomas (B.A. in economics, 1988).

    Family: Wife Lysa, daughters Ingrid, 5, and Ana, 3, and Dane Mosher, 10, Lysa’s son from an earlier marriage.

    Previous jobs: Peddled Jell-O and Stove Top Stuffing as a Kraft sales representative, sold real estate and tended bar at O’Gara’s in St. Paul while writing his first book.

    Books (published 1997-2005): “Term Limits,” “Transfer of Power,” “The Third Option,” “Separation of Power,” “Executive Power,” “Memorial Day,” “Consent to Kill.”

    How Mitch Rapp got his blunt-force name: “The last name comes from my buddy, Eric Rapp. Mitch came from sitting around having beers with some friends, and everyone shouted out ideas.”

    Writing routine: Goes to an office near his house that has no TV or Internet access (“too distracting”). Edits previous day’s work each day before moving on. Does extensive research in Washington, D.C., as well as on recent trips to Paris and London.

    Influential pals: Former CIA covert-operative supervisor Rob Richer, businessman Carl Pohlad, GOP pundit Mary Matalin (now with Simon & Schuster, Flynn’s publisher).

    Personal ride: A spotless 2005 Audi A8 (plus the family Suburban). “No, I don’t drive a Hummer and never have. I had a Volvo before this.”

    Side gigs: Frequent guest on radio and TV talk shows, consultant to the Fox TV series “24.”

    Opinion of Tom Clancy’s books: “No comment.”

    Old unrealized ambition: To be a Marine Corps pilot.

    New unrealized ambition: To see one of his books made into a big blockbuster movie — but that could change soon.

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