“THE GRAY MAN”
by Mark Greaney (Jove, 2009)
Court Gentry is known as The Gray Man – a legend in the covert realm, moving silently from job to job, accomplishing the impossible, and then fading away. And he always hits his target. But there are forces more lethal than Gentry in the world. And in their eyes, Gentry has just outlived his usefulness. Now, he is going to prove that for him, there’s no gray area between killing for a living-and killing to stay alive.
You do have to wonder sometimes whether an author really dislikes his main character.
Take Mark Greaney for instance. As well as co-writing with Tom Clancy and subsequently keeping the Clancy name afloat for the last few years, Greaney also has his own original characters in a series of fast-paced spy thrillers to his name.
The first of these is ‘The Gray Man’ from 2009. And its principal character – former CIA assassin Court Gentry – is in for a rough ride. Within a few days he has had to escape from baddies in the desert, survive an airborne multiple combatant shoot-out in a plane’s cargo hold, get shot in the leg, have his feet cut to smithereens, and break a rib. I’m sure I’ve missed some other ailments out. But heaven forbid all that is still a bit too wussy, for good measure Greaney also has Gentry stabbed in the guts and at death’s doorstep. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say.
But you can’t keep a good man (or semi-good, in Gentry’s case) down. And perhaps that’s the point of it all. Despite the overwhelming odds, there’s nothing quite like self-preservation as an incentive to stay alive despite taking one hell of a beating along the way. That and rescuing some innocent hostages.
So, although I don’t want to spoil things for you too much before you read the book – and I thoroughly recommend you do – here’s the plot. Fresh from his latest job eliminating a big hitting Nigerian, Gentry has opened a can of worms. The new Nigerian President wants Gentry’s head on a platter – literally – and the deadline to complete the task is a short one. A major energy contract awarded to a French company will go down the pan if Gentry isn’t taken care of. Needless to say, the Laurent Group feel compelled to act to preserve the contract.
In doing so, they assemble the United Nations of marauding hit teams to congregate in Central and Western Europe to track Gentry down and catch him, or rather kill him, at any opportunity. There are Botswanans, Saudis, Venezuelans, Libyans, Belarusians, Kazaks, Indonesians, Albanians, Sri Lankans, South Africans, and one very crafty South Korean for good measure. And did I forget to mention that his old CIA ‘buddies’ in Langley would also love to get their mitts on him? They nearly do so, too.
Catching Gentry within the time constraints imposed by the Nigerian is going to be a near mission impossible. So the Laurent Group’s man in charge of the operation takes a more drastic course of action. One guaranteed to see Gentry come out from the shadows and head to a specific location for what is sure to be a good old punch up: albeit with bullets flying rather than fists.
There’s a time and a place for spy fiction like Le Carre but this isn’t it. Greaney’s book belongs at the McNab and Ryan end of the espionage/covert military book spectrum. The story ticks along nicely, with no boring bits. There’s also some inadvertent top tips in the book too: don’t trust anyone, and don’t attempt in-car abdominal surgery when the patient receiving treatment is the one driving said automobile at the same time.
And while the story shapes up nicely for the final – and very violent – confrontation, rather than a slightly conventional lead up to the final few scenes, Greaney pulls one out of the bag with an unexpected move from one of the men determined to see the end of Gentry. It would have been nicer if this was elaborated upon slightly more in the book. What I will say is that if the story ever became a video game it would make for a darn fine close quarter melee mode. Bearing in mind that the story has attracted the attention of the Hollywood bigwigs, perhaps they can take this into consideration, hint hint.
I enjoyed the book and will definitely carry on with the rest of the series. Greaney’s latest, Back Blast comes out next month. In all honesty I’m not going to manage to plough through the remaining ones before then but it’s good to know there’s a nice wee back catalogue I can dip into when requiring some fast-paced covert shenanigans – and destruction.
You can buy The Gray Man online at the usual places – go to Mark’s own website for more details.
But before you go there, read the Spies & Shadows interview with the author himself!