By Vince Flynn (Atria Books, 433 pages, $27.95)

Lock and load. Mitch Rapp is back -- he's searching for the CIA counterintelligence whiz who's been kidnapped in Jalalabad, he's just run into the assassin who murdered his wife and unborn daughter a few years back, and there are the corpses of 21 heavily armed Afghan cops piled up outside the door.

Rapp is in a really, really bad mood -- and that's great news for fans of Vince Flynn's signature CIA power player.

This is Flynn's 13th book with Rapp, and his 14th overall. Every one of them wound up almost immediately on the New York Times' bestseller list, and there's a reason for this. Flynn is an excellent writer with a well-honed sense of timing and a superb knowledge of clandestine operations. Moreover, his vocabulary is muscular and his writing style spare. There isn't a wasted word in these books, and "The Last Man" is arguably Flynn's best work yet. Tight, right and dynamite.

This story moves effortlessly, and hums with tension and I-didn't-see-that-coming twists. Moreover, he has reintroduced some characters from his previous books -- the French assassin, for example -- and they add depth as well as continuity to the story. Pleasing, too, is the author's obvious understanding of Afghanistan, its culture and history.

Flynn's fans may not be aware of this, but the author recently went through a severe bout with cancer. If his writing is any measure of his recovery, he's doing well. That's very good news, indeed.



The Great Railroad Revolution: The History of Trains in America

By Christian Wolmar (Public Affairs, 397 pages, $29.99)

British railroad historian Christian Wolmar has turned his attention to the birth, boom and boondoggles of the U.S. railroad industry. Wolmar loves railroads, and has written many books about them. With a critical eye, he shows how rail transportation drove this nation's industrial growth. He convincingly makes the case that greed and avarice by the rail barons in their early years turned the public against the industry, resulting in 20th-century regulation that stifled railroad investment when it was needed most. This book probably won't tell railroad fans much that they don't know. But it is a highly readable history of an industry that helped make America great.