Friday, December 10, 2010

On Target - Mark Greaney

On Target
A Gray Man Novel
Mark Greaney


When we last saw contract assassin Court Gentry at the end of THE GRAY MAN (slight, but really unavoidable spoiler) he’d been shot, stabbed, beaten half to death, and still managed to save both the day and his own dignity. When we meet him again at the start of this, his second outing, he’s mostly healed from the previous mayhem. But, during his convalescence, he picked up a nasty little addiction to painkillers, aided in no small part by his slightly shady doctor. While this might be understandable in a civilian, it’s a serious impediment to continuing a career as a paid assassin, where any misstep or hesitation could be your last.

It’s an interesting an unexpected character development in a thriller starring a guy who should be hyper-vigilant and completely clear-headed. While the addiction, and Court’s struggle with it, seems quite realistic and makes him much more human and vulnerable, I found myself a bit disappointed with this new, more fuzzy-thinking Gray Man. A lot of the fun in the previous entry revolved around Court’s nearly superhuman ability to think or act or shot his way out of any situation. That, after all, is how he became a legend in certain circles as The Gray Man.

This time around, he’s working for pretty much anyone who will give him a paying contract (subject to his own moral compass and approval of the job.) That’s how he ends up taking a job from Russian Mob overboss “Sid” Sidorenko, a man who would, under normal circumstances find himself at the business end of one of the Gray Man’s many weapons. The job in question is to take out the despotic leader of a ravaged African country. Court is set to take the job when he’s contacted by his old pals from the CIA. These pals are currently under orders to shoot Court on sight, so it’s a fairly surprising development. The CIA has some different ideas about what to do with the African leader, and they’d like to use Court’s Russian contract as their way in, making him a sort of double agent. If he agrees, and succeeds, they’ll rescind that pesky shoot-on-sight directive and welcome him back into the fold. With many misgivings, but not much left to lose, Court agrees.

While the first book was a sort of world tour, assassin style, most of this novel takes place in Africa. The job starts going wrong pretty much from the get-go, and there’s one snafu after another. There’s a rather lengthy section involving a female human rights lawyer foolishly travelling alone in this lawless land who wants to think that Court is really a nice guy who’s just gone off the rails. The reason for her presence becomes clear later, but these sections seem to drag.

Maybe it’s the old sophomore curse. THE GRAY MAN was hugely entertaining, very fast-paced and almost impossible to put down. That’s a tough act to follow. ON TARGET is filled with great action scenes, but the pacing and drive really picked up in the second half, leading up to an ending that was classic Court. The final pages give me hope that the upcoming novel, coming in 2011 and excerpted at the end of this one, will return the ‘old’ Court to his fighting form.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2010
ISBN# 978-0-515-14845-9 (paperback)


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