Tag Archives: Mark Greaney

‘Mission Critical,’ by Mark Greaney

There really isn’t much to say about a new Gray Man novel, except that it’s a Gray Man novel. One knows what to expect – rising levels of implausible, cinematic action, improbable endurance of injuries by the hero, and a running cast of characters who, if not profoundly portrayed, are interesting and amusing.

Mission Critical (Number 8 in the series) offers a couple fresh elements – new developments in the Romeo-and-Juliet-with-guns romance between hero Court Gentry and the former Russian agent Zoya Zakharova, and the introduction of a new villain whom Court, with all his skills, actually fears.

Court is catching a ride on a CIA transport flight when a covert team transporting a hooded prisoner comes on board. Later, when the prisoner is being transferred on a tarmac in England, the team is attacked by unknown foreign agents – Court kills some of them, and is then sent by his handlers to try to retrieve the prisoner.

Meanwhile Zoya, still being “debriefed” in a safe house in the US, learns that her Russian spy father, whom she had believed dead, is still alive. She makes a snap decision to escape and find him – thus narrowly avoiding an attack on the house by hired assassins. Now she’s in the wind, and the CIA is uncertain whether to consider her friendly or hostile.

There’s a big plot underway to deliver a devastating blow to the intelligence services of all the English-speaking nations at a conference in Scotland. It will take all Court, Zoya, and their teammates can do to stop it – and there will be a price to pay.

Mission Critical was as good as any book in the Gray Man series, and they’ve all been good. High in entertainment value. The usual cautions apply for language, violence, and sexual situations.

‘Agent In Place,’ by Mark Greaney

One more book in Mark Greaney’s Gray Man series, and it’s as good as its predecessors. In fact, I think I’d rate Agent In Place as one of the best.

It seems like an odd assignment for the world’s greatest assassin, but Court Gentry, the Gray Man, has been hired by a group of Syrian expatriates in Paris to kidnap a supermodel. Bianca Medina is the mistress of a fictionalized president of Syria, Ahmed Azzam, and she has secretly borne him a son. The Syrian patriots who hired Court hope to use her to get to the tyrant.

Court succeeds, but as usual there are wheels within wheels. Azzam’s wife in Damascus is plotting against Bianca with her Swiss lover, a ruthless security expert who is himself plotting to get himself out of Syria. Just as the Syrian army, the Syrian resistance, the Russians, the Americans, ISIS, the Iranians, the Kurds and others are fighting for various purposes in the desert, one faction is fighting another in Europe, each trying to leverage the instability for their own purposes, noble or ignoble or purely mercenary.

In the style of all the Gray Man books, situations that start out complex rapidly unreel into tangles and twists and betrayals that threaten to bring Court’s storied career to a sudden and bloody end. But whatever happens, in Europe or in Syria, Court will find his moral center and do what he sees as right, even to the point of death.

Lots of fun. Agent In Place had a climactic fight scene as deeply satisfying as any I’ve ever read in a book. Cautions for violence, language, and high dramatic tension.

‘Gunmetal Gray,’ by Mark Greaney

Another Gray Man novel by Mark Greaney. The books make no claim to literary excellence or psychological depth. They’re just action movies in print form, low on credibility but high on entertainment value.

The basics of super-operative Court Gentry’s life have changed in Gunmetal Gray. (By the way, this use of the term “gunmetal” annoys me a little. Everyone assumes – as I did at first – that the word “gunmetal” refers to the color of iron or steel. Because that’s what we make guns out of today. But originally [I looked it up once] it referred to a yellow color, the color of brass – because that’s what cannons used to be made of. Not that anyone cares anymore.) Anyway, Court Gentry is back in the good graces of the CIA, not as a regular agent but as a deniable private contractor. This situation, though one he’s longed for for years, is not as good as he imagined, as he will soon learn.

A Chinese army computer hacker named Fan Jiang has defected. He had intended to run to Taiwan, but ended up in the hands of Hong Kong gangsters. The Chinese contracted with Sir Donald Fitzroy, an old (though estranged) friend of Court’s, to retrieve Fan. Sir Donald’s first two teams got killed, and so he asked Court to step in. The Chinese have added an incentive – they’ve kidnapped Sir Donald, and promise to kill him if he can’t get the job completed.

Court takes the job, with the CIA’s encouragement. They don’t care about Sir Donald – they want Fan for themselves. Court, though, plans to do it his own way – to divert Fan to the Americans while rescuing Sir Donald.

Piece of cake.

If the plot sounds kind of convoluted, it is. I found a lot of the book unengaging – you’ve got a couple kinds of gangsters plus the Chinese and the Russians (I didn’t mention the Russians before), and Court himself, running around bumping into one another like characters in a French bedroom farce – except bloodier. It was kind of hard to tell the players apart.

It got better toward the end, when Court paired up with a beautiful Russian operative who’s sort of a distaff image of himself (sparks fly). At that point my interest returned. Court comes out looking pretty good, though otherwise it’s hard to tell the white hats from the black in this story.

In spite of cynicism about the CIA (no doubt justified), there’s a basic morality and American patriotism in the Gray Man books that please me. I recommend Gunmetal Gray if you’re a fan of this kind of story, though it’s not the best of the series. Cautions for language, violence, and some off-stage sex.

‘Back Blast,’ by Mark Greaney

Court realized that people here in the U.S. were nicer to strangers than in the other places he’d traveled in the past five years–when they weren’t shooting you in the ribs, that was. And while Court had no problem with politeness, for a man who lived his life moving through society without leaving a trace, this was problematic.

In a fictional series, it seems to me, the reader expects a certain familiarity. The story ought to be the same kind of story as those that preceded it. But it can’t be too familiar. Mark Greaney does a very good job rejiggering the formula in his Gray Man novels, starring white hat international assassin Courtland Gentry, formerly of the CIA, now hunted by them.

Back Blast provides a dramatic new wrinkle — Court is finally back in the US. For five years, he’s been a man without a country, living in the shadows on several continents, taking contract hit jobs (but only against bad guys). He’s a consummate martial artist, a dead shot, and a master of camouflage — even in urban environments. But now, thanks to a grateful friend in Mossad, Court is back home. He’s in the Washington DC area, and he’s identified his target — Denny Carmichael, operations chief of the CIA. Denny put the kill order out on Court, and Court wants to know why. He wants it fixed. He wants to come home.

But Denny has deep and dark secrets to protect. His resources are almost unlimited. He has a plan — a devious and ruthless one — not only to kill or capture Court, but to make Court the scapegoat for his own crimes. It’s a David and Goliath fight — but this David is no simple shepherd boy. He does, however, have a big shock in store for him.

Lots of fun. Very satisfying. Be prepared to suspend your disbelief, of course, and enjoy the ride.

Cautions for language and violence, but not too bad. Recommended, like the whole series.

‘Dead Eye,’ by Mark Greaney

Moving along through Mark Greaney’s implausible but enjoyable The Gray Man series, we come to Dead Eye. I have to say that, though the temptation to fall into tropes is probably strong, author Greaney manages to keep the concept fresh.

The concept, in case you missed previous reviews, is this: Court Gentry is the world’s greatest assassin. Former military, former CIA, he was suddenly targeted for death by his former employers, he doesn’t know why. Now he lives as a professional hit man, but he only kills people he considers genuinely evil. He is totally isolated, with no family, no living friends, no fixed address.

Like all action heroes, Court is effectively infallible, always one step ahead of his enemies, capable of sustaining injuries that would stop a lesser man. But as Dead Eye begins, he makes a mistake. He’d be dead because of it except for the intervention of an unexpected ally – a member of the hit squad sent to kill him, who suddenly changes sides. Court is grateful but skeptical. The guy seems a little off.

His savior, Russell Whitlock (code name Dead Eye) is almost Court’s clone. He moves like him, thinks like him, even resembles him physically. And he’s been a student of Court’s career. He wants to team up. Together, he says, they’ll be unstoppable.

But that’s not what Whitlock really wants. His true plan is devious and ruthless. Court rushes through northern Europe to catch and stop him, forming an uneasy alliance with a female Mossad analyst, until the Gray Man and Dead Eye meet in one final showdown.

Dead Eye was, like all the Gray Man books, completely preposterous. But highly readable (in spite of some slips in diction). I highly recommend Dead Eye, if you don’t mind some bad language and lots of violence.

‘Ballistic,’ by Mark Greaney

If you’re looking for realism, Mark Greaney’s The Gray Man series is probably not for you. If you’re looking for pulse-pounding action entertainment, you could hardly do better.

Years ago, Eddie Gamboa went far beyond the second mile in Southeast Asia, to save the life of CIA operative Court Gentry. Later on, Eddie returned to his native Mexico, where he became a drug enforcement officer, one of the few honest ones trying to stop the cartels. Not surprisingly, that got him killed, along with most of his team.

As Ballistic begins, Court, now “The Gray Man,” international assassin without a country, is passing through Mexico, on the run after a pretty hairy mission. He stops by Eddie’s grave to pay his respects, and accidentally meets his widow. She insists he must come with her and the family to a memorial service in Puerto Vallarta the next day. But the service turns into a bloodbath when cartel gunmen start firing on the crowd. Court is able to save most of the family and get them away, but now he has two big problems – he has innocent people to protect with limited resources – and his picture was taken and published, meaning his many enemies around the world know where to find him.

The situation looks impossible, but impossible is what Court is good at.

I was about three-quarters of the way through Ballistic when I realized what it was. It’s A Fistful of Dollars.

Which is Yojimbo. Which is Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest.

The plot is a hardy perennial – and as far as I’m concerned, Ballistic is as effective a retelling as any.

This book has an interesting and somewhat strange subplot involving religion. Court is puzzled but attracted by the Catholic faith of his charges, especially that of Eddie’s beautiful sister. A very odd scene involves her explaining her faith to him in a very winsome way – but that testimony leads into to a sex scene, which was a little weird.

Nevertheless, I thought Ballistic worked very well. Cautions for language, violence, and mild sex.

‘On Target, by Mark Greaney

I’m grateful to my friend Mark for recommending Mark Greaney’s Gray Man series of thrillers. Thrillers aren’t usually my cup of tea, but these are very satisfying.

In the first book, The Gray Man, the hero, Court Gentry, was kind of a force of nature. Single-minded, relentless, highly skilled, this legendary assassin will let nothing stop him from completing a job – so long as he thinks the job is justified. No odds deter him, no setback dismays him, no injury stops him. It was very exciting, but a little fantastic. On Target, the second book in the series, mixes the formula up a little.

This time, Court has weaknesses. Still feeling some pain from the horrific injuries he suffered in The Gray Man, he’s gotten hooked on pain killers. He’s been reduced to taking work from a man he distrusts – a Russian who idolizes assassins. But the target is a “worthy” kill – the president of Somalia, a venal monster with the blood of thousands on his hands.

Only the game changes when one of his old CIA comrades contacts him. They know about the deal, and want Court to alter it somewhat. If he helps them kidnap the president, bring him out for trial, Court will be reinstated. The “Shoot On Sight” order that now stands against him will be revoked. He’ll be part of the team again.

How can Court say no?

In the days that follow, everything will go wrong. Court will be diverted on a quixotic detour to save a lady in distress. Friends will become enemies, and vice versa. Never has Court been so alone, in so much danger, so far from any help.

This book almost defines the phrase, “page-turner.”

The tension never lets up. This new, slightly vulnerable Court is more interesting than the earlier one. There’s considerable pathos in his constant fight, not only to survive, but to do what’s right – if he can just identify it among all the lies.

Highly recommended. Cautions for violence and language.

‘The Gray Man,’ by Mark Greaney

As hard to criticize as a roller coaster, and just about as true to life. That’s The Gray Man, by Mark Greaney.

A friend recommended the series, so I thought I’d give it a try. It’s a fun ride, and a nice time off for the critical brain.

Court Gentry is “The Gray Man,” a legendary contract assassin. Former US military, burned CIA operative, he now kills for hire – but never targets a man he doesn’t consider worthy of death (remember, this isn’t about realism). He never misses, and never gets caught. He is rarely even seen.

But now he’s a hunted man. A powerful African dictator wants him dead, and is offering both money and threats in exchange for his head (literally). A nefarious international security organization has pulled out all the stops, sending about twenty highly trained teams to hunt him down. If one can’t get him, another will. On top of that, they’ve kidnapped Court’s boss and his family, including his two granddaughters. To save his family, the boss will betray Court.

A sensible man would just go into hiding until it blows over – there’s a deadline. But Court isn’t like that. When the deadline passes, the granddaughters will be murdered. Court will not stand for that. He will traverse hundreds of miles, kill dozens of men, and sustain wounds that would stop or kill another man. But he will not fail in his rescue mission, even for the man who betrayed him.

As you can tell, this story is way over the top – the plot involves the kind of suspension of reason you usually find in action movies (I’m sure there’ll be a movie of this one). I didn’t believe the story for a second. But it was fun, like the aforementioned roller coaster. Pure entertainment, with rising tension and all the dramatic buttons pushed at precisely the right moments. For sheer action reading fun, it would be hard to beat The Gray Man.

I’ll probably read more. After all, my massive brain requires a rest now and then.