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Gray Man is the first book in the popular Gray Man thriller series by Mark Greaney. It introduces the series’ protagonist Court Gentry, a freelance assassin and former CIA operative known as the Gray Man. After a job goes wrong, Gentry becomes a target himself and must use all his skills to evade capture from his former employers.
The novel opens with Gentry carrying out an assassination in Italy. He completes his mission but soon learns a trap has been set for him. Barely escaping, Gentry realizes he has been betrayed and a kill team is now pursuing him across Europe. Going on the run with just the clothes on his back and money in his pocket, Gentry must rely on his training and instincts to survive.
A key theme of the book is Gentry’s resourcefulness and ability to adapt while on the run. His CIA training has honed his tradecraft to a razor’s edge. He utilizes disguises, safe houses, and improvised weapons to continually stay one step ahead of his pursuers. Greaney vividly depicts Gentry applying his spy skills in high stakes situations, such as when Gentry uses household chemicals to assemble a homemade bomb to evade capture at a hotel.
The pacing of the novel is extremely fast. The short, punchy chapters jump between different characters and locations to build tension. There are several intense action sequences as Gentry tries to escape the expanding network of assassins on his trail. Greaney is skilled at portraying the brutal, no holds barred fights and shootouts Gentry frequently finds himself in. The action has a cinematic, high-octane feel thanks to Greaney’s background as a gun enthusiast and his research into spycraft and military operations.
While the action is relentless, Greaney does just enough character development to give Gentry depth. Through flashbacks to his CIA training and career, we learn what molded Gentry into the skilled killer he is today. His motivations are complex; though skilled at taking lives, there is a moral code underlying his actions. This code is tested throughout the novel as the shadowy forces pursuing Gentry bring innocent people into the crosshairs.
An interesting secondary character is Lloyd, Gentry’s former handler at the CIA. Though tasked with leading the manhunt for Gentry, Lloyd secretly admires and respects his former asset’s abilities. Their dynamic adds intriguing shades of gray to the story. Their cat and mouse game is an ongoing battle of wits, as Lloyd uses his insider knowledge to try and anticipate Gentry’s next move.
Gray Man delivers everything you could want from a high-octane spy thriller. It has a compelling protagonist in Court Gentry, whose skills are pushed to the limits as he fights to survive against nearly impossible odds. Greaney has clearly done extensive research to get the tradecraft and procedures right. And he knows how to craft edge-of-your-seat action sequences and chases across exotic global locations. For thriller fans, Gray Man is a must-read page turner.