Courtland Gentry, aka The Gray Man, gets caught in a maelstrom of chaos where his morality is his biggest disability. His past has built a legend as the anonymous singleton operator, the freelance assassin who can blend in and disappear anywhere, and the traitor who’s hunted by his former American employers. But this time, Court’s worse off than when he was hunted by the spymasters of Langley.
The last five books of the series finished an overarching arc where Court Gentry fixed his problems with his home country, but that’s got him trapped again as a contractual deniable asset for situations too volatile for their direct involvement. He’s sent to the Far East as a pawn in an intelligence coup that starts setting the dominos off right from the beginning.
His objective, the extraction of a Chinese cyber operative who’s on the run from his government, turns into a layered game with many levels of deceptions and trickery. The Chinese want their high-value asset turned defector dead, while the Russians and the United States want him for themselves because of the intel in his head. But there are no good sides in this action-packed cluster@#$% of chaos.
All the characters(and organizations) involved are in it for themselves with varying agendas, all as morally gray as it can get. In this tactically brutal but well-portrayed world, without any good or bad, every move is in a shade of gunmetal gray.
Court Gentry’s former private-sector employer(aka his broker for hired killings) Don Fitzroy is back but in a grave spot within the hunt for the rogue Chinese hacker Fan Jiang. This gives The Gray Man a personal motivation for the spooks at Langley to exploit and use him as a pawn in a bigger game. Though Gentry isn’t the smartest fish in the sea, he outmaneuvers, outfights, and survives all the sharks involved.
Zoya Zakharova, the protagonist of the Russian angle of the story, is a highly capable and likable SVR operative who faces most of her obstacles from within her own team. She struggles to battle the professional egos of her male counterparts but gets her own career ruined. Her multiple chance encounters with Court Gentry amid chaotic action sequences, before they actually get to know each other, are a delight to read. The many layers of well-orchestrated action scenes, the build-up, the planning, unpredictability, and the colliding objectives of many groups were truly satisfying and awesome.
This book uses the Zaslon paramilitary unit, which is the Russian SVR’s trigger-itchy counterpart to the American SAD/SOG unit. Their operational procedures, planning, execution, and tactical details are written with fun and cinematic details.
Mix those Russian Zaslon forces, SVR operatives, Chinese military counterintelligence, MSS paramilitary, a Vietnamese crime organization, a Thailand-based crime empire, dead Brit mercs, angry SAD/SOG operatives, self-serving but smart and cunning spymasters at the CIA, a tactically stupid but harmless hacker who accidentally leaves behind chaos, and a completely gunmental gray man. That’s the recipe for this epic, detailed, complex, and action-packed chaos-fest of fun.
At over 660+ pages, this is a long story that takes its time to build up, and gradually weave the intricate web of chaos that left me awestruck when I finished it. Mr. Greaney’s written this in a way that makes all the action sequences believable, and in a way crazily logical, considering his attention to detail and the build-up in his prose. He’s made the effort to establish every character, twists and turns, and crazy scenarios with his narration that’s very smart by the standards of today’s action thrillers.
This story has a perfect mixture of elements that contain; part Hong Kong action movie, part Michael Bay action, part neo-noir, part old school espionage and tradecraft, part contemporary covert and tactically fun action epic. The overall experience gave me a delight that’s missing in many contemporary mainstream action thrillers.
This book would make an awesome 14 episode Netflix season. Maybe that’s not too far away as Netflix has already started adapting The Gray Man to a limited series with Ryan Gosling as Court Gentry. It would seem contradictory to put a face like Gosling into an inconspicuous character who can blend in anywhere. But I won’t complain as he’s played a few neo-noir protagonists with brilliantly gritty performances. I feel that’s his real talent when he’s not wasted in rom-com roles.
Gunmetal Gray is not for people who want happy endings where the good heroes win and the villains die. This is a smart story where there are no good or bad sides. Though some characters are despicable, they are all fleshed out with relatable motivations and realistic personalities, while still being awesome and likeable in their own ways.
In this world of morally dark and gray characters, Court Gentry’s idealism and moral goodness become his operational disability that puts him in more trouble than he can handle, especially when his morality keeps conflicting with his deceptive masters at Langley. His relationship with Zoya is beautifully constructed and feels like the best thing to have happened to both of these damaged and dangerous characters. Their time together in the last quarter of this book changes Court in a way more powerful than all the previous books in this series.
While most stories in this series show Court operating as a proper freelance killer with mostly no external resources or support, this installment had him operating under the CIA’s full funding. That included Tom Ford suits among other luxuries, all matched with the added strains, deceits, chaos, manipulations, dangers, and the personal stakes they placed on him.
The long-form, detailed prose did slow down my reading of this book but didn’t hinder the experience. It requires a more severe attention span(focus) than reading fast-paced, pulpy, fast-fiction stories. Though this book may not captivate all thriller readers, it’s a classic that’ll be a gem for action-thriller connoisseurs.
In these divisive times with social and political extremes in all countries, this book was a smart yet crazily fun piece of entertainment. Gunmetal Gray avoids all forms of politics and does not show any nation or group as either heroic or villainous. There are varying levels of lesser evils with these characters, and this book is a gem in our era’s action-thriller genre.