The true inheritors of Mickey Spillane's tough guy mantle are not found among today's prominent authors of traditional private eye yarns.
No, the current creators of iconoclastic heroes who shoot (or punch) first and ask questions later and show minimal character development from action-packed book to book get involved with hoods of a much higher order.
"Persuader," Lee Child's seventh Jack Reacher thriller, is also his best. Reacher is still a drifter nearly a decade after being downsized by the military during the Clinton cutbacks. He had been a military cop who specialized in tracking down Special Forces-types who stepped out of line.
In the kind of coincidence that nearly every Mike Hammer book was built on, Reacher is on his way to a concert when he bumps into a face from his past - a face belonging to a military operative named Quinn who sold military secrets to the Syrians and brutally murdered two Army investigators before Reacher had personally pumped two bullets into him.
Reacher's use of his military contacts to investigate brings him to the attention of a pair of DEA agents who are trying to bust Zachary Beck, a new associate of Quinn's. Reacher and the agents hatch an elaborate plot for him to infiltrate the Beck household by "saving" him from a fake kidnapping attempt.
Most Reacher books have him isolated and surrounded by killers on every side, but "Persuader" takes that to new extremes. There's a slam-bang conclusion that is suspenseful and violent even by Child's standards.
Child's writing talents are immense, and his style is reminiscent of Stephen Hunter, but he doesn't come close to Hunter's depth of knowledge about how things really work. And while his characterizations are above average for the genre, they aren't in Hunter's league, either. It would be interesting to see what Child would do with a serious thriller, but as long as the Reacher books stay this good, no one will challenge him to.
Since he works for the taxpayer, Mitch Rapp, Vince Flynn's CIA assassin hero, probably owes as much to Dirty Harry as Mike Hammer. Each book even comes with a scene in which some offended liberal bureaucrat gives Rapp a dressing down over his methods.
"Executive Power" is Rapp's third appearance, and while he's supposed to be a desk jockey and settling down as a married man, it's not long before he swings into action.
Rapp manages to defend truth, justice, and the American way on opposite sides of the world by taking on al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists in the Philippines who have taken more American missionaries hostage and foil a plot by an ingenious Palestinian terrorist who hopes that taking out the hawks on both sides will settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Flynn's first novel, "Term Limits," in which a rogue bunch of Navy SEALs shoot American politicians for not reducing the deficit or something, was weak and insulting premise to one's intelligence, but he has since improved. His writing is competent, the plotting is taut, the action is convincing, and the weapons and tradecraft are portrayed with Tom Clancy-like detail and authenticity.
His characters occasionally rise to the two-dimensional level - which is better than most in the genre - but they often are stand-ins for such familiar heroes and villains as the corrupt Filipino general, the decadent Saudi prince who funds terrorism, the Israeli spy chief who's a little too cavalier about innocent bystanders, the liberal White House chief of staff, the worried wife, and the world-weary Navy SEAL.
When it comes to mixing Washington politics with military action, no one will mistake Vince Flynn for James W. Huston or Lee Child for Stephen Hunter, but both fill the bill for action fans looking for solid he-man thrills this summer.