When Twin Cities writer Vince Flynn died of prostate cancer in 2013, he was hard at work on "The Survivor," his 14th Mitch Rapp novel. He'd finished, oh, three entire pages of it.
Flynn, one of the state's most successful writers, grew up in St. Paul and graduated from St. Thomas Academy and the University of St. Thomas. In order to overcome his dyslexia, he began reading thrillers and mysteries as a young man. And then he started writing them. His thrillers about political espionage sold more than 15 million copies, and his Mitch Rapp character — an undercover CIA agent fighting terrorism around the world — was a fan favorite.
After Flynn's death at age 47, his publisher was determined to keep the series going. Enter Kyle Mills. Mills is the author of 11 thrillers of his own and two that continue the late Robert Ludlum's Covert-One series.
He finished writing the Flynn book last November, and he will be in the Twin Cities Oct. 6-7 for the book launch and a fundraiser for St. Thomas Academy.
We talked with Mills about his trepidation at the assignment, how he got Flynn's voice in his head, and what's next.
Q: How did it feel, taking on the unfinished project of someone who was so admired?
A: A lot of things ran through my head. Mostly sadness at Vince's death, excitement at getting my hands on one of my favorite characters, and fear that I might not be able to capture the Mitch Rapp magic.
Q: Are you worried about filling some pretty big shoes — and some pretty beloved shoes, as well?
A: Absolutely. I spent months studying Vince's style in hopes of duplicating it as faithfully as possible. The goal was to make the transition seamless, and so far it seems to have worked. Most fans have said they can't tell where Vince left off and I started.
Q: You've done this before, right, with Robert Ludlum? This seems like a very quirky skill. How did you get into this line of work?
A: By accident, really. I got a call out of the blue from Robert Ludlum's agent, who had read my book "Darkness Falls," and thought I would be the right person to reboot their Covert-One series. To be honest, I wasn't interested initially, but then I got to thinking it would be fun — a welcome change of pace after writing so many of my own books.
Q: Who asked you to finish Vince Flynn's book?
A: I worked primarily with Vince's agent, Sloan Harris. He and my agent had talked about the possibility of me continuing the Rapp series, and after Sloan read a few of my books, I was given the opportunity to write a proposal for "The Survivor." Everyone must have liked it, because here I am.
Q: How much of the book was left to write?
A: Pretty much all of it. Vince had only completed three pages and because he tended not to write outlines, that's all that existed.
Q: Tell us a little about the plot.
A: "The Survivor" is a continuation of the story line started by Vince in "The Last Man." Joseph Rickman, a rogue CIA agent, has stolen an enormous amount of classified material and is getting ready to hand it over to the Pakistanis. Mitch kills Rickman at the end of "The Last Man," but it turns out that Rickman had planned for the possibility of his own death and created a mechanism for his plot to continue.
Information about critical CIA operations starts to hit the street, endangering agents all over the world. Mitch has to race to stop the leaks and find Rickman's surviving Pakistani accomplices.
Q: How hard was it to adapt Flynn's style? How did you prepare?
A: It was a big job. I started by studying all of the Rapp books in order, focusing on where his style differed from mine. Just as difficult was wrapping my arms around the rich, complex universe Vince had built around his characters. Staying true to all of that is critical when fans are so in tune with where the series has been.
Q: Vince had friends in the CIA and the FBI with whom he consulted on technical issues. How did you make sure that your additions were accurate?
A: My father was an FBI agent for 25 years and went on to be the director of Interpol, so this is the world I grew up in. Most of it is comes naturally to me.
Q: Did you know Vince?
A: We met once, but for the life of me I can't recall the circumstances.
Years ago, [novelist] Brad Thor tried to organize a weekend get-together for him, Vince, Brad Meltzer and me, but everyone was having kids or pushing deadlines at the time so it never happened. I really regret that. We were probably all in our mid-30s, and at that age you feel like you have forever to do those kinds of things.
Q: Will you be writing more Mitch Rapp books?
A: Definitely. I'm more than halfway through the follow-up to "The Survivor," and I'm contracted for one more after that. Maybe the last book in the American Assassin/Kill Shot prequel series? We'll see. …