I was just thinking that, you know, it has to have been at least twenty years since I last read five hundred pages of porn. Oh, so I’ve got your attention, do I? Well, don’t get your hopes up and your shutters drawn, we’re not talking about that kind of porn. The name of this novel is Agent in Place not Aching in Lace, and it is definitely not the memoir of that carefree courtesan-dominatrix known so fondly to one and all as Haughty Felice. Now there’s a book I look forward to reading just as soon as I get around to writing it. However, I digress.

In the case of Mark Greaney’s latest Gray Man adventure, the porn on display isn’t sexual, it is violence; war porn, gun porn, choose your favourite adjective. Once upon a time I used to read a fair number of these military adventures – your Frederick Forsyths or Robert Ludlums. I’m 99% sure that I also read at least one Tom Clancy novel, although that 1% of doubt tells both of us a lot. In fact, it was a bit of a Bad Sign as Greaney cut his teeth as a writer co-authoring three novels with Clancy, so I admit to approaching Agent in Place with fair trepidation. However, I like to think of myself as a fair judge, so I thought, ‘Well, let’s give this book a go and see what’s inside.’

Truth be told, the result wasn’t half bad. To call a spade a spade, no one’s going to be throwing their copies of Tolstoy, Erich Maria Remarque or the war novels of Ernest Hemingway into the bin after denouncing them all as fakers, but I would put Greaney on level par with Forsyth in the Dogs of War fashion. Both knew or know their Hard Man Mercenary tales and both describe an automated weapon to the same finely etched schematics as Gray’s Anatomy outlines the pathways of the arterial system.

That of course is the porn business I referred to earlier, a lusting for every detail of lock, stock and barrel, and a forensic examination of each wound, how it got there and just how much blood it bursts, gushes or oozes. Plus there are (upcoming pun quite intended) rules of engagement in the description of hand-to-hand combat, whereby each maneuver – what foot is used to pivot, which gonad is met by what elbow – must be stated explicitly so that, I suppose, kids can reiterate the choreography at home.

As to the plot, the Gray Man is one Court Gentry (what? You thought his name would be Fred Epstein?), ex-CIA and now an independent Black Ops kind of a guy. I gather he has a Past, in the haunted Bogart style, but we aren’t told much about it although I assume it is limned out in Greaney’s earlier novels. No matter. He’s haunted. ‘Nuff said. Anyway, life’s funny little coincidences find him involved in kidnapping the infant son of the President of Syria and, well, as long as one is there one might as well take in the sights; as in gun-sights, crosshairs and oh look there’s the President of Syria! Complications arise.

I suppose really what it comes down to is that one’s fondness for a novel like Agent in Place is very, very much akin to one’s appreciation for professional wrestling. And! Before you make wrongful assumptions, some of the smartest, most well-read and thoughtful people I know are pro wrestlers. Yet, beyond the person involved, their craft (and I would call it an art) is down to personal taste. Either you’re willing to be swept along with their narrative and the form with which they choose to tell it or you’re not.  It’s not up to me or anyone else to tell you that you ‘should’ like or dislike something, and definitely never to tell you that you ‘must’ or ‘must not’ like or dislike something. What you enjoy is what you enjoy and life is too short to quarrel over that. So, if you like action thrillers, gun play and violence, and page turning thrillers, you will 100% enjoy Agent in Place. It is a darn good book within its genre. Well done.

Be seeing you.

Mark Greaney (Berkley 2018, Hardcover) 507 pages, $27

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