Gunmetal Gray Too Much of a Stretch Even for a Spy Novel

By Mark Greaney
Berkley/Penguin, 505 pages

Freelance assassin Court Gentry is up to his old tricks, this time in Asia. Whether or not that's a good thing is up to the public to decide, but this reviewer is ready to have Gentry retire to a sunny island.

If author Mark Greaney's name doesn't ring immediate bells, think of Tom Clancy, who died in 2013. Greaney co-authored seven of Clancy's novels, two of which when Clancy was mortally ill and five that appeared (or will) posthumously. Greaney also worked on his own Gray Man series, the first installment of which was published in 2009. Gentry is the Gray Man, so known for his ability to do his deadly work in the shadows and, usually, off shore and off anyone's official books. He is such an efficient killer and spy that he's a legend that few can place by face. For those who've not read Greaney, his work is firmly in the spy/thriller category and Court Gentry is Jack Ryan on steroids. Several familiar characters appear for series fans—including Matt Hanley and Donald Fitzroy–but the novel is a stand-alone, not a sequel.

Gunmetal gray is fast-paced action. The basic set up is that twenty-six-year-old computer whiz Fan Jiang has defected from China and everyone wants him. The Chinese simply want him dead, as his codes could reveal plenty of Chinese intelligence, including all those China has hacked and how to return the favor. The British, Vietnamese, Thais, Russians, and Americans would like him alive so he can help them crack Chinese spy networks. This is a novel that validates Josef Stalin's remark, "I trust no one, not even myself." To that end, the CIA dispatches Court Gentry to Shenzhen, China in search of Fan Jiang–even though Gentry doesn't work for the CIA and the agency once tried to kill him. To what degree can the CIA trust a contracted lone wolf with a penchant for making his own rules? How much can the CIA not tell him before he figures things out and goes rogue? How can it trust that the groups he's playing aren't his real employers?

If you like action that makes James Bond seem like an old fart feeding pigeons in the park, this novel is for you–but enjoying it requires that you turn off anything resembling logic faculties. Before this one is done, you will land in China, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok, and Singapore. There will be explosions, shootouts, arson, paratrooper clashes, rice paddy wading, jungle treks, perilous cliff climbs, high-tech spy gadgetry, and clandestine ship boarding. There will be more double crosses than you'd see at an Eastern Orthodox keychain shop and more hair's breath escapes than a Harry Houdini highlight reel. Along the way, Gentry will best or confound the Chinese military, sections of MI6, a Russian elite unit, the CIA, Vietnamese and Thai organized crime syndicates, and the Italian Mafia! The bad guys in this novel are essentially humanized orcs in that it only takes one Gentry to wipe out scores of them. There is even a scene in Hong Kong in which a cornered Gentry manages to best around fifty people trying to kill him. He also manages to find some time to do a single noble deed and a bit of romancing. I mean, c'mon! Nobody's that good. And if he is, the book's ending makes no sense.

No matter—not much of this book does. It's Rambo-like in its absurdities and its flowing testosterone, and an answered prayer for those who think all we need to do is look out for #1–trust, morality, help, and conscience be damned. I won't deny that this is a thriller in the truest sense, but it's kitchen sink slop as literature. First I was intrigued. Then my heart raced. But the moment my brain engaged, "Ooo. Ahh." gave way to "You've got to be kidding!"

Rob Weir

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