The assassination business has come a long way since John Wilkes Booth. It would be going too far to call it respectable — the practitioners themselves would blench at the praise — but the field is getting crowded. Mark Greaney in his authorial debut, The Gray Man, gives us yet another relentless wet-work professional.
His name is… I forget. Chambers, I think. Or “Rooms.” The book is over there, but it’s out of reach. It doesn’t matter anyhow, since this guy, this one-man-army, is known mostly by his nickname, “Gray Man,” a nom-de-guerre he earned by… I don’t remember. Perhaps he is gray.
Gray Man kills people, but only bad people. An American, given a burn notice by the CIA (whose agents have standing orders to kill him on sight), he now plies his lonely trade for a British security firm catering to multinational companies, which, though themselves inherently evil, still sometimes require the assassination of people — African warlords, say — who are even more evil. Gray Man is merciless to his foes, we are told (and in those very words), but also ethical somehow, we vaguely understand. He is so secret he is known only to his snooty British boss, Sir Nigel Eliott Faw-faw Fotheringale (or something like that; I don’t remember exactly), yet nonetheless has an international reputation. He is spoken about in whispers, but thousands whisper.
He is so well-known, in fact, that when the workings of the plot require him to travel from Turkey to Normandy to rescue the eight-year-old grandchildren of his snooty employer (the twin girls having been kidnapped by an evil multinational), hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of professional assassins and “street experts” (experts in streets) are arrayed between him and his goal. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but he kills every single one of them. His technique is pretty much to run at his target really fast and kill him. Gray, though unstoppable, is not invincible: he is shot, stabbed, rolled down an Alp and dropped in a cistern. He falls into the Seine. I think he’s blown up, too, but I can’t remember.
The Gray Man is the sort of book where the manufacturer of every weapon is mentioned along with its caliber and magazine capacity. I enjoyed it immensely and read all 450 pages of its Bobbsey Twins prose with perfect pleasure.
The Gray Man
by Mark Greaney
(Jove Books, Mass Market Paperback, 464pp.)
Publication Date: September 2009