Review of “The Gray Man” by Mark Greaney

 

the gray man

Author:  Mark Greaney

Publication Date:  2009

Publisher:  Jove Books, The Berkeley Publishing Group

ISBN: 978-0-515-14701-8

Agent: Scott Miller, Trident Publishing Group

Source of Book: Local library

 

Blurb:

Courtland Gentry is a good man. But he’s a great assassin…

To those who lurk in the shadows, he’s known as the Gray Man. He is a legend in the covert realm, moving silently from job to job, accomplishing the impossible and then fading away. And he always hits his target. Always.

But then there are forces more lethal than Gentry in the world. Forces like money.  And power. And there are men who hold these as the only currency worth fighting for. And in their eyes, Gentry has just outlived his usefulness.

But Court Gentry is going to prove that, for him, there’s no gray area between killing for a living and killing to stay alive.

(Source of Blurb:  Back Cover)

Review:

I really enjoyed this book. The Gray Man is becoming one of my favorite thriller characters. I tend not to enjoy superheroes, but the Gray Man has shot and killed his way into my heart. The plot is very simple. The Gray Man is a professional assassin, and it seems like agents from many nations are all simultaneously trying to kill him while he is engaged in a rescue mission. The plot is a little preposterous (actually very preposterous), but it is a lot of fun. I particularly enjoyed a scene in which the Gray Man is driving to the rescue while a veterinarian’s assistant is giving him a blood transfusion while suturing up a stab wound in his stomach area. Good quips abound. The author, Mark Greaney, has a great imagination and is a terrific action writer. The book moves from action scene to action scene without letup, and I managed to read this very quickly.

The Gray Man is a “complex” character as well. He only seems to kill bad people, and he abhors acts of dishonesty. I have a feeling the author had a huge amount of fun writing this book, and creating difficult situations for the “Gray Man”. I enjoyed the author’s creativity, and my sense of disbelief was overshadowed by the cleverness of the almost absurd situations in which the “Gray Man” found himself.

I normally prefer a more intellectual story, but this one is a lot of fun. I highly recommend it. Buckle your seatbelt and have a really great ride.

I have read two other books in Mark Greaney’s “The Gray Man” series and enjoyed each of them, so I wanted to read his debut novel, so I sought it out. I was not disappointed.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Link to Author’s Website:  https://markgreaneybooks.com/

Purchase Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002N83GSA/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

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Review of “A Man Called Intrepid” by William Stevenson

 

a man called intrepid

Author:   William Stevenson

Publication Date: 1976, 2014

Publisher:  Skyhorse Publishing

eISBN: 978-1-62914360-6

Source of Book: BookBub

Blurb:

The classic real-life story of the superspy whose vast intelligence network helped defeat the Nazis in World War II.

A Man Called Intrepid is the account of the world’s first integrated intelligence operation and of its master, William Stephenson (no relation to the author). Codenamed INTREPID by Winston Churchill, Stephenson was charged with establishing and running a vast, worldwide intelligence network to challenge the terrifying force of Nazi Germany. Nothing less than the fate of Britain and the free world hung in the balance as INTREPID covertly set about stalling the Nazis by any means necessary.

(Source of Blurb: Skyhorse Publishing)

Review:  This was an amazing book to read. A Man Called Intrepid proves that truth can be as exciting as fiction. I learned a great deal from this book that I hadn’t previously known. The book is really a series of true stories about operations run by Stephenson out of his headquarters in New York City. It brings light on some of the terrible decisions Churchill and Roosevelt had to make before and during World War II. I developed a greater appreciation of these giants as well as the numerous men and women who actually performed the operations described in this book. Many of them died at the hands of Nazi Germany, and many of those who lived received little or no recognition. The sacrifices these people made are awe-inspiring.

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in World War II or espionage in general. For an aspiring writer, plotlines abound, interesting characters occur throughout, and magnificent stories of the conflicts inherent in espionage operations are well documented. The capture of the Enigma Machine and various related codebooks, the issues involved in the ill-fated, and infrequently discussed raid on Dieppe, and the exfiltration of Niels Bohr, and the raid on the Shell Building in Denmark are some of the particular operations that remain with me after reading “A Man Called Enigma”. It is a classic.

I obtained this book through a promotion on BookBub.

I posted this review in Goodreads and Amazon.

Rating: 4.8/5.0

Review of the “The Little Drummer Girl” by John LeCarré–the Television Series

“The Little Drummer Girl” by John LeCarré, was reworked into a televised series of 6 episodes. Since John LeCarré is at the top of my favorite authors list, I decided to watch this. I was not disappointed. This was a very entertaining adaptation of a great story.

“The Little Drummer Girl” concerns a low level actress who is recruited by Israeli Intelligence to infiltrate a group of Palestinian terrorists. She is recruited because of her acting skills, and her slightly leftist past provides a possible infiltration strategy. Her infiltration is successful, but conflicts over the risk she must take versus the benefits of the information she may provide increase as the series progresses. Also, she may have a love attraction with her control in Israeli intelligence as well as with some of her Palestinian contacts.

I was riveted for 6 hours watching this. Michael Shannon was particularly chilling as the Israeli agent orchestrating this operation. The other acting was highly professional, but just not standout for me. I felt there was some confusion at the beginning of the series as to what was happening. The fact that I had read “The Little Drummer Girl” some time ago helped me to follow the plot, but I imagine someone not familiar with LeCarré’s work might find it difficult to keep up with what is going on. The beginning seemed pretty true to LeCarré’s story, but the ending seemed quite different from what I had remembered from the book. It was still very much a LeCarré ending, however, albeit somewhat foggy and a little bit confusing.

Overall, this was an outstanding effort. If you are a fan of LeCarré’s brand of story, you will find this a great ride.

Review of “The Canonical Order” by T.R. Kurtz

Canonical Order CoverI joined a group on Goodreads with the subject of espionage. Within this group, T.R. Kurtz offered a free electronic copy of “The Canonical Order” in exchange for an honest review. I took Mr. Kurtz up on the offer and within a few days I received a copy of the book on Kindle. I read the book, and enjoyed it a lot. I had email exchanges with him and gave him a much more detailed review. I do hope it helped him in some small way on his publishing journey. It is fun to correspond with writers who are at different stages of the process, and I would like to congratulate Mr. Kurtz on completing and publishing a very decent military thriller. I hope he continues, and I look forward to reading his next work. I published the review below on Amazon and Goodreads, giving The Canonical Order” 4 out 5 stars.

Overall I was impressed with this book. The author’s knowledge of weapons and tactics is excellent. I saw nothing that seemed incorrect or out of line.I think the writing of the action scenes is excellent, particularly those taking place at the conclusion of the book. I enjoyed the final action scenes the most. There was a lot of really gripping tension at the conclusion of the book, along with a few clever twists at the end. The story is interesting and comes to a very believable ending.

The weakness of this book had to do with the premise that the protagonist is a member of a military organization that supports the Catholic Church. I think this notion is what differentiates “The Canonical Order”. I think it has to be fleshed out more to fulfill its potential . Please don’t get me wrong, this is a very enjoyable and well-written thriller.

The Critique Group

The writers’ group I recently joined had its first critique night since I joined.  The way this worked was that you uploaded a 2500-word maximum of something you wanted critiqued by members of the group. You needed to do this about a week before the meeting. Anyone who paid dues for the year was free to submit something. You didn’t have to submit a first chapter, but you needed to add an introduction if you submitted something that was not a first chapter to put it into context. There was neither pressure to submit anything, nor pressure not to submit anything. If you were willing to critique someone else’s work, you could email the leader of the group and state your preferences for what you wanted to critique. The group had an informative, entertaining and very well-done video available of a puppet telling you how to critique something. I listened to the puppet since this was to be my first experience with a critique group. The group leader would form the groups based on common interests as best he could.

I chose to submit a chapter from the middle of the novel that had some action involved. Since I have never written any action scenes, I wanted to test myself to see what I had done. I spent a good deal of time polishing my manuscript before submitting it. I volunteered to read things in the thriller and science fiction genres, but said I would read anything except poetry for which I have no talent whatsoever.

Within about four days of the meeting I received my reviewing assignment and spent time giving it a decent review. It was science fiction, and it was really good. Very intimidating! I wished I had written it. The submission was a first chapter of a novel at the conceptual stages, and it did everything a first chapter is supposed to do. I had to look pretty hard to find things that could be improved. I was pretty effusive with my praise. The chapter deserved it. I also tried to offer a few suggestions and found a few typos. I was assigned to a group of three people. Only one of them made a submission.

I was a bit intimidated by the process, since I had the sneaky feeling that I was probably the least experienced writer in the room. When the groups formed, I found out I was correct. The piece that I reviewed was from a science fiction writer who actually makes his living by writing. He had published about 17 novels on Amazon. He really knew what he was doing. The other member of the group was a full-time editor. I was out of my league.

The critique went well. I learned a lot in the process, and I have to say the other members of the group were very helpful and supportive. I could not have asked for more. Each had constructive comments, and I was surprised how different each of the participants saw the work.

All in all it was a very valuable experience. I felt supported and valued, which was probably the most important part of the process. I felt I had something to contribute to the group, and I felt like I could hold my own in a group of writers who had far more experience than myself.

If you are looking for a little friendly support and hoping to network a bit, look around your geographic area for a writing group. I was very surprised how many there were within a reasonable driving distance. I have learned a lot from this group in the short time I have been associated with them, and I hope to continue working with them. They are a group of very decent people with a lot of knowledge about the craft of writing and the business of publishing.

 

 

Review of Zack Bagans’ Halloween Special

 

I have some guilty pleasures that I hate to admit, and watching travel shows has been one of them. Hence my interest in the Travel Channel. As I recall, the Travel Channel used to be a place for travel shows. That seems to have changed over the years. Travel Channel morphed into the Poker Channel, and it rode on the interest in televised poker matches. Now it seems heavy on “paranormal investigations” with some very light travel thrown in as the investigators visit numerous sights reputed to be haunted. One show that seems to have lasted for a very long time is “Ghost Adventures” led by Zack Bagans and a host of other paranormal investigators accompanied by  a plethora of electronic gadgets.

On Halloween,  after all of the trick-or-treaters had completed their rounds, I parked on the sofa to channel surf, and settled in on Zack Bagans’ Halloween Special filmed in Zack’s own museum in Las Vegas. Who knows, I may place a paranormal investigator in one of my hoped-for novels, so I wanted to tune into this apparent cultural phenomenon. It was supposedly a live ghost hunting episode in the “Haunted Museum” in Las Vegas where Zack has accumulated a number of objects and exhibits that have been the source of huge paranormal activity as a result of some past incident or violence surrounding the object. Because of the supposed dangers involved in this investigation, Zack had assembled emergency paramedics, a few witches he was acquainted with through his travels, a rabbi, some other paranormal investigators he knew. If things really got tough, he had an exorcist on hand. I hadn’t heard of Zack’s museum, but the internet told me he was asking $44 a head to tour his museum. Reviews were generally very positive despite the steep price. It seems most of the guides had some sort of paranormal experience during their work at Zack’s museum. There were a few skeptics expressing themselves in the reviews I read, but most reviews were glowingly positive.  We tuned in.

Zack and his team arrived at the museum with a police escort. The crowd of onlookers cheered wildly. The high point of the show was to be the opening of something called the Dybbuk Box that was promoted as  the most possessed object on the planet. It had something to do with the Holocaust  Hence the presence of the rabbi. There was also a witch in the basement doing various incantations all night. A second witch entered the cellar later in the show. One witch was dressed in black and the other witch was dressed in white. It looked like a conflict between witches was brewing. Peggy, the creepy haunted doll was taken out of her case. A haunted mirror was uncovered. A Ouija board was used by some investigators. Electronic contraptions were spinning and sparking. Incantations were heard from the witches in the basement. Much going on here. The principals of the show said they felt chills and sometimes acted strangely. The investigators often claimed they heard strange noises. The Dybbuk Box was touched and never opened. Zack decided it was just too dangerous. The rabbi was not very concerned with anything and seemed to disappear from view. Nothing happened with the witches. Peggy the creepy doll did not do anything. Paramedics remained outside the museum.

In my own humble opinion, absolutely nothing happened during this show, but Zack and his investigators claimed they got real good evidence for future analysis. I can’t say I enjoyed the show, but I did watch it in its entirety, and felt pretty stupid when I finally went to bed. I didn’t get it, but I got a lot of laughs out of it. I can’t argue with someone who has had a successful show for so long, and operates a museum that costs $44 a person to get in. It is not my cup of tea, but Zack must be doing something right. I may even watch another episode of Ghost Adventures, if the spirit moves me. Saying I didn’t like the show might attract negative entities or put a curse on me, and I don’t have the phone number of my local exorcist.

Writing Groups

I went to my first writing group meeting two months ago and to my second writing group meeting one month ago. I can’t say I am hooked yet, but I will go to my third meeting this coming month. I am new to the novel writing process and had no idea what to expect.  I know I need some type of feedback and perhaps a healthy dose of encouragement since my writing has stalled somewhere between the first draft and the second draft. Here’s what happened in the group.

The first meeting took place in an upstairs room at a bar in a small town about a half-hour drive from my home. It started promptly at 7:00 p.m. but I underestimated the drive time and arrived shortly after the meeting started. The group seemed very friendly and welcoming and I made a very short introduction and then sat down and listened to the main speaker, a successful full-time science-fiction writer who talked about his own struggles and his writing process. He knew what he was doing. The talk was engaging, and generated a lively question and answer period. It was an enjoyable night, and a great change of pace for me. I have learned that writing can be a very lonely endeavor, and meeting a group with similar struggles is encouraging.

Whenever I attend a presentation, I try to pick out one or two “take-aways” from the meeting. In this case, I was a little surprised that my major “take-away” was the use of noise-cancelling headphones. The presenter  actually wrote a lot in a local Wegman’s to avoid the distractions of home and family. He used noise cancelling headphones to screen out ambient noise and listen to some music appropriate to his writing. The headphones also served to send a message to passers-by that he was engaged in serious work and was not to be disturbed. It worked! A second successful full-time writer in the group echoed the value of noise-cancelling headphones.

As a very low-tech aspiring writer, I had no idea of the value of noise-cancelling headphones and went out and bought a pair. Good ones are not cheap, but they do screen out ambient noise. I downloaded a free one-hour sounds of a rainstorm, which seems to work really well for me. I haven’t figured out which type of music to listen to, but for now the rainstorm is doing a great job for me as I write this blog and do the associated work in trying to build an audience. The novel is still stalled, but the engines are starting to run a little bit despite the constant sounds of a rainstorm.

The second meeting I attended was much the same structure. This time, I arrived early enough to have dinner with the group before 7:00 p.m. which helped to meet people in a more informal setting. The invited speaker was a publicist, and talked about the world of publishing and marketing books. To me, this is a very depressing message. Writing your book is one thing, marketing it is almost a full-time job, particularly if you are not facile with the wonderful world of social media. My “take-away” from this meeting was that you need to get familiar with social media early on because there is a steep learning curve to master the nuances of various platforms. So I will try to keep up with this blog, partly to learn the process and make my inevitable mistakes before I am involved in any book launch.

Next month is a critique session where the members submit work for critique. That should be highly entertaining but intimidating at the same time. These people appear to be very good writers.

 

Stay tuned.