Category Archives: Fiction

Court Gentry: 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!


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Spy Author Interview: Mark Greaney (Tom Clancy)

Spies & Shadows TV, Mark Greaney Interview, Commander-in-Chief, Tom Clancy


Bestselling author Mark Greaney has co-written several books with ‘techno thriller’ legend Tom Clancy as well as his own solo spy thriller novels.

And since Clancy’s death in 2013, Greaney has stayed true to the characters created, continuing the adventures of the Ryans in subsequent novels. His latest novel under the Tom Clancy mantle is ‘Commander-in-Chief’  – available now. 

But how will Mr Greaney fare when subjected to the Spies & Shadows questioning?
Read on…

Your new book, Commander-in-Chief. Pitch it to us!
It’s a book about a Putin-esque Russian leader who is simultaneously threatening the Baltic States as well as trying to get his money out of Russia, because of paranoia about inner threats. President Jack Ryan Sr. is working diplomatically and militarily to thwart the Kremlin’s aims, while his son, Jack Ryan Jr., is following the dirty money trail, which leads to organized crime and a lot of violent characters.

There is land warfare and naval warfare, espionage, statecraft, international finance, and a lot of thrills in this one.

For anyone not familiar with the previous Jack Ryan books written either by yourself or with Mr Clancy, can C-in-C be read as a standalone story, or do readers have to read the previous books before this one?
You can absolutely read it as a stand alone. The characters are introduced in the opening and the plot itself doesn’t require knowing previous Clancy novels.

How long did the entire process take, from initial idea, through to finishing writing, through to the finished printed book in your hand?
I talked ideas with my editor last December, began working on it in the spring, and turned it in in the late summer. There was the usual editing, proofing, printing, etc., so I finally got a copy in my hands in early November for a December 1 release.

Spies & Shadows TV, Mark Greaney portrait, Commander-in-Chief, Tom Clancy
Photo: Mark Greaney

That sounds like it took an entire year, but I also wrote another book during that time, and got married [Congratulations!  BG] – so I was able to fit in a few other things. My honeymoon was in the British Virgin Islands, and it just so happens to be one of the locales in the book! I also did research in Lithuania, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Poland, went on board a US Navy destroyer and visited US Marine Base Camp Pendleton in California.

After a fair few books to your name, you must have established a solid routine that serves you well. What does the typical writing day comprise?
I’m a morning person, at least when it comes to writing, so I get started by 6 and keep going as long as I can stay semi-focussed. I’ll do reading related to the book in the afternoons or evenings mostly. These books are very research heavy, so the actual crafting and writing of the story is just one facet of the work that goes into it. I do work 7 days a week, some harder than others, but usually I am enjoying myself.

If Commander-in-Chief makes it to the silver screen, who would you be your first choice of actors (past or present) to play the Ryans?
Harrison Ford for Jack Ryan Sr- That’s a no brainer. Chris Pine might make a reasonable Jack Jr. He played senior in a reboot of the film franchise for Paramount, and while I was bothered they didn’t use one of the Tom Clancy’s original books for the story, I thought he was fine in the role.

You worked with the late great, Tom Clancy on several books. How did that all come about?
We shared the same editor, Tom Colgan, at Penguin. He worked with me on my paperback series, The Gray Man, and he worked with Tom on his massive Jack Ryan novels. Clancy was looking for a new coauthor, and Tom Colgan thought of me and put us together. I did three books with Tom Clancy before he died, and Commander in Chief is my 3rd since his passing.

What did you most enjoy about working with him?
He was an idol of mine so our first meeting- at his home in Baltimore, will go down as the most amazing and surreal occurrence of my life. Twenty minutes after shaking hands we were talking about Chinese tanks and French jet engines and Cold War spycraft.

The awesome responsibility of taking on these well known characters and putting them in contemporary scenarios is probably the best part of the work, but having the calling card “Tom Clancy’s coauthor” was a great way to open doors and meet a lot of interesting people, so that is a fun aspect, too!

What made you decide to continue the association with him after his death?
I thought it over for a long time, and finally decided that if I was still only a reader of his books (which I had been for 25 years before I started writing with him) I would want someone sincere and respectful of the series to take it over.

I didn’t want his characters to change personalities, or make any huge changes at all, and I thought I was the right guy to steer the ship, at least for the first couple of books. I just agreed to do a 7th book in the series, but I held off for several months, because I wanted to know I had a plot before I agreed to do it. Someday someone else will come along to write Jack Ryan novels, and I’m perfectly fine with that, but for now I’m giving it my all.

How much free rein do you have with the publishers when it comes to plots and setting etc? Are there any plots, characters, or other details where your agent, publisher, or the authorities have vetoed it?
I am lucky to have a great relationship with my editor. We come up with ideas together, I go and write them up into a 15-20 page synopsis, and then we talk it over. I usually get what I want because Tom, my editor, agrees with me, but when he doesn’t he makes his case and I almost always see his point.

There have been a few ideas I’ve had that he thought sounded a little weak, but I managed to talk him into letting me write them up to see if I could “sell” them in the book- If I really believe I can pull something off I’ll just write it and see what he thinks at the end. After I turn in the entire draft he might come back and say a part of the book feels a little slow, a little preachy, a bit too coarse for a Clancy book, or something along those lines, but these are always small and easily correctable issues.

Tom Clancy’s family gets a final “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on the book, and so far at least, it’s always been thumbs up. They’ve been very supportive!

As you’re probably neck deep in C-in-C publicity activities just now and can’t think too far ahead, you’re allowed to roll your eyes at this question, but what’s next with the Ryans?
Actually this is what I’m working on right now – my editor is waiting for my synopsis for the new Clancy book, so I am playing around with ideas. Can’t give away anything yet, because it all could change, but I have a big picture idea that I think would make an exciting book. Now I just have to add about 200,000 more words and I’m done!

When you’re not glued to your computer writing or thinking about plots and characters, what pleasurable distractions do you have?
For an American, I watch a lot of soccer. I played as an amateur into my mid-30’s but got hurt, so now I just watch MLS, EPL and Bundesliga matches. I do a lot of firearms training, partly for book research and partly because I enjoy it.

Just this year I trained under the lead carbine trainer for Naval Special Warfare (Navy SEAL’s) and have done a lot of pistol shooting. Just bought my 2nd AK-47 and joined a new firing range, so I expect to blow a lot of money on lead in 2016.

I travel a lot for research, and I’m off to S.E. Asia in 2016 as well as the Balkans, but my wife and I also want to do some more traveling in Mexico. On top of this we have 2 dogs, so they keep us busy.

Thanks Mark!

Commander-in-Chief is available at all good bookshops, published by Penguin (UK) and G.B. Puttnam’s Sons (elsewhere).
Visit Mark’s website at for more info about the Clancy books and the Gray Man series.