The first Mitch Rapp book I read was American Assassin. I remember it like it was yesterday, I got online and ran a search for all of Vince Flynn’s books in chronological order. I found that, separate from the Mitch Rapp books, there was a standalone novel called Term Limits.
I’m sure some people chose to read it first, before the Rapp series, but I didn’t actually read Term Limits until I’d finished all but one of the Rapp books. When I did read it, I couldn’t put it down — and when I’d finished it, I was blown away.
However, there was one question that drove me nuts once I closed the book and put it back on my shelf… Where the heck was Mitch Rapp?
Term Limits was Vince’s first book, and ultimately proved to be the catalyst that would propel him to international superstardom as a New York Times bestselling author, beloved by millions of fans — including a pair of Presidents.
Working as a bartender, after leaving a more lucrative and secure job, he wrote Term Limits and self-published it with the help of a couple investors from Minnesota. The investors made their money back hand over fist, as Flynn’s first book was a hit, selling out of it’s first 2,500 printed copies within a few weeks.
The book is about a group of patriotic Americans who take matters into their own hands when congress wouldn’t address the rising national debt. The plot is explosive, to say the least. I’m not going to spoil it, but rather encourage everyone to read it for themselves. If nothing more, it will get you thinking about the debt our country is carrying, which has now soared to just over $18 trillion.
I read Term Limits right after finishing Pursuit of Honor, the second to last of the Rapp books Flynn published. Before reading it I had no idea that the novel was set in the same universe as all of Flynn’s other books. What a pleasant surprise it was to right away see names I recognized, and characters I’d already grown to love — just a tad younger.
Michael O’Rourke, one of the main characters in Term Limits, is the husband of Anna Reilley’s best friend, Liz (though the couple hasn’t tied the knot yet in this novel). When we see the O’Rourke’s again down the road, in The Third Option, they are happily married and expecting their first child.
Somewhere around chapter two it hit me, Term Limits takes place between Kill Shot and Transfer of Power. It probably should have hit me sooner, frankly, as it’s fairly obvious where these events sit on the overall timeline of events.
Irene Kennedy, Scott Coleman, Skip McMahon, Thomas Stansfield, Stu Garret, Alex Tracy, Brian Roach, Kevin Hackett, Dan Stroble, and Jack Warch are some of the characters from Term Limits that make appearances in later books, each to varying degrees of prominence.
Even without Rapp present, Term Limits is fantastic. However, my curiosity set in and got the best of me. I just couldn’t quit thinking about where Rapp was when assassins started picking off politicians.
The Honest Answer
The truth to that question is simple, and obvious. Rapp was, at that point, a figment of Vince Flynn’s imagination. I read an interview once where he talked about how he’d started thinking of a new main character, someone to build a series around, before he was even done with Term Limits. Subsequently, Rapp was born while writing Transfer of Power two years later.
I could easily argue that Vince took a big risk when deciding to switch to a new lead character after his initial success with O’Rourke and Coleman sharing the spotlight in Term Limits. I’d imagine that the majority of authors would’ve kept the same protagonist(s), since that provides the best chance at writing a second bestselling novel.
Instead, Vince created Mitch Rapp and dropped him into the already established Term Limits universe, built a franchise around him, and recycled other characters along the way. It was a risky move that proved to be brilliant in the long run, as Mitch Rapp has become one of the most beloved characters, of any genre, of all-time.
Now is a good time to mention that I read Term Limits after Pursuit of Honor because, prior to that, I’d made the decision to put off reading The Last Man for several years.
At the time, there was no guarantee that there would ever be a new Mitch Rapp book in the future. Details about The Survivor were scarce, except that Vince had been unable to finish it before his passing. A month later, it was “postponed indefinitely.”
The thought of going the rest of my life without any new Mitch Rapp books was an awful feeling, so I decided I wouldn’t read the last book. That way, at least in my mind, I’d have another ride to take with Mitch in the future. In fact, when I bought all the books, I set aside The Last Man and made my wife put on the Mylar protective plastic cover, just to be sure I wouldn’t see anything.
When news broke, just after midnight, on June 23, 2014, that The Survivor would be finished by Kyle Mills, I was too excited to sleep. I celebrated by getting my readable copy of The Last Man (I have several copies of each of Vince’s novels – some to read, others in perfect condition which are part of a collection), cracking it open, and pulling an all-nighter reading it. I finished it in about a day and a half, and absolutely loved it.
For the record, not reading it for almost a year was incredibly hard. Especially when my dad, who did read it, forgot I hadn’t. We’re having a conversation once, and he says “I still can’t believe that one guy, Rapp’s buddy, gets cancer”. Well, that was news to me, pops. Thanks a lot, Mr. Spoiler-alert!
Sharing a memory
It would be impossible for me to talk about The Last Man and not thank someone for an incredibly generous, and thoughtful gift.
Vince’s publicist, whom he thanks by name in many novels and calls “the best publicist in the business” in Protect and Defend, a sentiment he repeats in Pursuit of Honor, sent me a signed copy of The Last Man.
I’d written Kyle Mills a letter, which he forwarded to the appropriate people to be considered for the “Fan email of the month” in July of 2014. My note to Kyle was posted on Vince’s website, which was obviously very cool. I thought that that would be the coolest thing to happen to me, but boy was I wrong.
I had expressed to Kyle how saddened I was to know I’d never be able to attend a Vince Flynn book signing and meet him. Not long after that, I received a note and a signed book from a terrific guy that worked with Vince for many years.
I remember, vividly, the day I got the package in the mail. I took the book out and sat speechless for a long time after seeing Vince’s name signed on the title page. I’m still stunned, and appreciative beyond words.
I’d recognized the name of the person who sent me this priceless gift right away. Like I said, I’d seen it under the “acknowledgements” section in all of Vince’s books from Consent to Kill, to The Last Man.
In what would become Flynn’s final completed novel, Vince says to him, “of all the people I work with, no one makes me laugh more. You are a joy to work with …”
In regards to the book… I will treasure it for as long as I live, thank you.
Back to Rapp
So where in the world was Mitch Rapp during – wait, when does Term Limits even take place?
Let’s figure out that question first, then comb through Rapp’s life and see if anything matches up.
I know, I know, I’ve already admitted that Rapp wasn’t yet created, but what fun is that? Instead, let’s ignore that fact and play detective just in case Vince gave us enough information about Rapp to figure this out.
On the very first page of Term Limits we learn that the President is one day away from presenting the annual budget to congress.
Current federal budget laws require the President to submit the budget by the first Monday in February. So, from that, we can safely assume that the beginning events of Term Limits takes place close to the first week in February.
In chapter six we learn that President Stevens has been in office three, or so, years.
While the book never actually states how long Stevens has occupied the White House, Mike Nance makes a comment about seeing Chief-of-Staff, Stu Garret, “act like this in meetings for three years” when Garret is losing his cool.
In Transfer of Power, Flynn’s second novel (again, the first to feature Mitch Rapp) President Hayes has been in office for just five months when terrorists take over the White House.
I did a lot of work crunching numbers and comparing ages of certain characters, trying hard to figure out which year Term Limits takes place. In the end, the answer was very simple.
Essentially, Stevens time in office is paralleled to the real-life first term of President Clinton.
I know that because Rapp is thirty-one in Transfer of Power and, as I established last week, Rapp was born in 1966. If you’re still scratching your head, I’ll explain further.
Going by Rapp’s birth year, that means Transfer of Power takes place in 1997. In real life, Bill Clinton began his second term as President on January 20, 1997. In Flynn’s fictional universe, that would serve as the date for when Robert Xavier Hayes, the Democrat from Ohio, was sworn into office, replacing President Stevens (from Term Limits).
Working backwards, I used more real dates to better pinpoint when the events of Term Limits might have taken place.
The 1997 Presidential election was held on Tuesday, November 5, 1996. Chapter one of Transfer of Power (page 2) says that Hayes was elected because “he had a very clean personal life and was seen as someone who could mend the ever-deepening divide between the two parties.”
The explanation continues with “the previous administration had been rife with scandal, so much so that the American people had overwhelmingly picked someone whose personal life could pass the rigorous scrutiny of the press.”
I’m only speculating, but my bet is that the scandal this refers too, is somehow related to the events in Term Limits.
Stevens and Garret weren’t exactly — how do I say this, kosher? Yeah, that’ll do. One would think after events such as that, America would want a strong leader to clean up the mess and pull people back together.
So, the election was in 1996, which would have been Stevens final year in office. Working under the assumption that he really was in his third year during Term Limits, that means everything in the book took place in 1995.
Maureen Elliot, Mitch Rapp’s girlfriend in high school and college, was killed in the terrorist attack on Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988. Rapp was a junior at Syracuse University then, and just twenty-two years old. Shortly after, he was approach by Irene Kennedy and recruited into the CIA. Just under two years later, in 1990, a twenty-three-year-old Mitch Rapp was dropped off at Stan Hurley’s lake house to begin his six months of training.
Half a year later, Rapp went on his first operation and loged his first kill. He goes on at least two other operations, one solo, and one with Hurley, directly following that. After the second, he meets Greta, whose Grandfather is a Swiss banker, and friends with Stan. Rapp begins a romantic relationship with her that lasts at least a year.
While carrying out an operation in Paris, Rapp is ambushed, shot, and barley escapes with his life. After cleaning up that mess, which is the storyline for Kill Shot, Hurley drops Mitch, now twenty-five, off at a Metro station in France. He tells Rapp to lie low for a few weeks, and Mitch plans to take a couple buses, hop a plane, and get off the grid. That’s the last we see of Mitch in his twenties.
The next time Rapp pops up, it’s in chapter one of Transfer of Power, as a thirty-one year-old, seasoned veteran of the CIA.
That’s six years of Rapp’s life unaccounted for, and we know Term Limits takes place somewhere in that time span.
Vince Flynn had actually planned to write one more prequel novel, which would have completed the trilogy that started with American Assassin and Kill Shot, chronicling the days of a younger Rapp. That book would have undoubtedly cleared up a lot of loose ends and questions, such as the one I’m writing about now.
Where Rapp could have been
Here’s the two most likely explanations that I can come up with for Rapp’s absence in Term Limits.
We know that Rapp was a natural runner. In fact, he dialed down his running ability and conditioning when he first got to Hurley’s so they wouldn’t realize it was easy for him and work him even harder.
“Rapp made it seem like he was struggling, but he wasn’t. Especially with the running. He could last all day if he had to, but he didn’t want to show these guys too much too soon.” (American Assassin, page-42)
At some point, Mitch began utilizing his running ability by competing professionally in triathlons. We know that he won the famed Ironman competition in Hawaii at least once, posting three more top five finishes along the way.
Side note: Can anyone else even picture Rapp losing, at anything, ever? I for one am shocked that he didn’t win the Ironman each time he competed in it!
Anyways, eventually Mitch got too busy hunting terrorists, and had to give up his days as a professional triathlete.
“Rapp no longer competed professionally, but just three years earlier he had been one of the world’s top-ranked triathletes. In the Mount Everest of triathlon competitions, the Ironman in Hawaii, Rapp had posted three top five finishes and a first place.” (Transfer of Power, page 111)
Rapp, as we’ve already established, was thirty-one during Transfer or Power. Three years before that would put him around twenty-eight years of age.
Assuming Term Limits really did take place in 1995, Rapp was only twenty-nine then
. Depending on how you take the quote from above, it’s possible that Mitch could have been in Hawaii competing in a triathlon during this time.
Another theory, and the one I find most probable, is that Mitch Rapp was out of the country hunting the man he joined the CIA to kill.
Rafique Aziz was one of the masterminds behind the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. He’s also the villain in Transfer of Power, but Rapp and he have other history, too.
In just about every book, a long scar on the left side of Rapp’s face is detailed. It’s also explained that Mitch received the scar from Aziz, and that it ultimately serves as a reminder to Rapp of just how dangerous his profession is.
Each time the scar from Aziz is referenced, it’s always in past tense, as readers have never been shown that particular scene between Rapp and he. In fact, we don’t know all that much about the incident, other than the fact that it happened in Paris.
The first time we learn of the scar on Rapp’s face is a few pages into Transfer of Power.
“His pursuit of this man had led him to some of the roughest and dirtiest cities in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. In the process Rapp had himself been shot, stabbed and hunted, and every step of the way his quarry had managed to stay just out of his reach. Six months earlier, on a rainy Paris night, Rapp had had his chance and blown it. A moment of hesitation, of stupid indecision, had allowed Aziz to escape by the narrowest of margins. Never again, Rapp had sworn a thousand times. Next time he would pull the trigger – innocent bystander in the way or not.” (Transfer of Power, page 6)
Throughout the series whenever the scar from Aziz is described, it’s essentially the same message repeated as what we’re told a book later in Separation of Power.
“And there was one more scar that he was particularly proud of. It was a constant reminder of the man he had sworn he would kill when he started on his crazy journey ten years ago. It ran along the left side of his face, from his ear down to his jawline. The plastic surgeons had done a great job minimizing the mark to a thin line, but more important to Rapp, the man who had given him the scar was now dead.” (Separation of Power, page 18)
The Third Option, however, provides some additional details not told in any of the other books.
“Rapp wasn’t sure how to play it. He had worked with Villaume and Lukas on three separate occasions, all of them in France, and he had been impressed by both men. They were proficient and dependable. They had helped Rapp hunt Rafique Aziz, a Palestinian terrorist who was one of the men responsible for the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Villaume and Lukas had been there the night when Rapp had come inches within losing his life. In fact, if Lukas hadn’t arrived when he had, Rapp would probably be dead.” (Chapter 27, page 218)
We know the hunt for Rafique Aziz was long, dangerous, and ended with Rapp almost being killed. Somehow, Aziz had gotten an innocent bystander between himself and Rapp, probably using someone as a human shield (like he does in the epilogue of Transfer of Power, which is also when we find that incident occurred in Paris) when he saw Mitch. In return, Rapp was saved by Lukas, and Rafique got away.
Chances are that Rapp was hot on Aziz’s trail – somewhere in the Middle East, North Africa or Europe – when Term Limits went down.
I really hope that if Kyle Mills ever decides to write a book between Kill Shot and Transfer of Power, this is the plot he crafts the story around. It would serve as the perfect bridge between the prequel trilogy, and when we were first introduced to Rapp.
So while we can’t know with absolute certainty what Rapp was up to in 1995, hunting Aziz is the most plausible explanation for his absence in Term Limits.
How about you, where do you think Rapp was when the events of Term Limits were taking place?
As always, I leave you with a quote.
“Underestimating one’s enemy was a classic tactical mistake — one that was usually born out of stupidity or arrogance or both.” – Vince Flynn (Consent to Kill)