Aurbach had always looked as if he’d just been awakened from a deep sleep and told that his dog had died.
I watched THE GRAY MAN film on Netflix, which I was aware was based on a series of novels about The Gray Man, intelligence op and assassin on the run Courtland Gentry. Who goes by Court, and is also referred to as Sierra Six and Violator. Flicking through Amazon one evening, I tripped over the book series. I have a weird tic when looking at long book series. The first book is where the author is testing the idea, feeling their way into it. The most recent one will be where the writer is working off muscle memory in most cases. So I jump in the middle, where the writer is comfortable but in the midst of evolving the project. BACK BLAST is book five of an eleven book (and counting) sequence.
The first thing to note is that the film adaptation, by the Russo brothers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, is a wild take on the source material. They’ve stirred several books together, mixed characters together, de-aged some and entirely invented others.
On book five, the author still wants a new volume to be a jumping-on point (book six, which I picked up on sale, takes place 24 hours after the end of book five, and is less of a clean entry), and so I found I could follow along just fine. Greaney’s style seems to me to be somewhere between Lee Child and Tom Clancy, with a hint of Dan Brown’s peculiar skill of ramping up to a chapter ending to make you want/need to tip over into the next chapter. The emotional work is taut and clipped, the inner lives of characters are largely classified top secret, and the technical writing takes large precedence. Court Gentry also throws up quite a bit towards the end. The motivations are clean and simple – after five years on the run from the CIA because they put a kill order on him for no reason he can see, he wants to come home to America, so he runs an op on the CIA in turn – and the central mystery threaded through it is actually well done. As an example of manly violent action storytelling that actually tries to suggest an ethical centre of some kind, I can see its appeal. The grey thing is more grey in the book than in the film, perhaps, but what the film misses a little is Gentry’s determination to, in a grey world, actually try to be good.
Writers like Greaney – like Lee Child, like Clancy – are incredibly successful and have an incredible amount of readers. This leads readers of Serious Literatures to dismiss them. But Clive Barker once said something about Stephen King, that I’m going to paraphrase from memory and butcher: Stephen King operates on the minds of millions and millions of people, and it’d be foolish to ignore that and what he’s saying to those minds, so it’s on you to find out. I read these writers in that spirit.