Review of “Agent in Place” by Mark Greaney

I really liked Mark Greaney’s “Agent in Place”, the 2018 installment of his “Gray Man” series. I generally don’t like the former Navy Seal, Green Beret, or Central Intelligence Agency superhero that has superhuman skills, a razor-sharp intellect, and a bit of an attitude, but Greaney’s “Gray Man” made me want to read more of these. The “Gray Man” is an assassin who sometimes works for the U.S. government and sometimes acts as a free-lancer if he is so inclined. The action takes place largely in France and Syria. The “Gray Man” is commissioned by a group of Syrian freedom-fighters to kidnap a fashion model in Paris. The “Gray Man” gets more deeply involved with the freedom fighters as the book progresses and encounters all manner of villains during his quest. Apparently the “Gray Man”, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie “True Lies” only kills bad people. There are many bad people here. There are weapons galore, and much bloodletting, leading to what I have to admit is a very thrilling and satisfying climax.

I started off not wanting to like this book, but the “Gray Man” drew me into his world. I had to admire Greaney’s ability to craft a story which had a very satisfactory feeling. Greaney created a final scene that involved the expected amount of righteous violence. The interesting part of the final scene was the vicarious pleasure that I am almost ashamed to admit I felt at the conclusion of this book. I usually prefer more of an intellectual ending, but I really enjoyed this one. Greaney tapped into a fantasy that I didn’t realize I had. I am sure many other readers felt the same way. I do not want to spoil anything for future readers, but I really had fun with this one.

My only criticism is quite small. I believe Greaney relied a little bit too much on the assumption that a reader had read other “Gray Man” novels. I was not invested in this character at the beginning of the book and felt it to be very slow going. I almost put it down. Something turned me around midway through the book, and “The Gray Man” and I became friends. A reader can enjoy “Agent in Place” without having read any of Greaney’s other books, but the reader may not relate to “The Gray Man” in the first few chapters.  I will seek out his world in the future.

I borrowed this book from my local library, having seen it on a new book display. I’ll be back for more.

I also published this review in Goodreads.

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Review of “Killing Floor” by Lee Child

“Killing Floor” was Lee Child’s first novel in his highly successful Jack Reacher series. Child undoubtedly created a great character–the lethal loner with a great mind and unlimited military skills and knowledge. Child also creates a compelling setting in this book, a small town somewhere in Georgia. These are huge accomplishments given that Child is British. Most people reading this novel would swear that Child is an American writer who spent a great deal of time in the South. His series turned out to be a massive popular hit in both print and film, so it would really be tough for me to say anything too negative about this book. I honestly liked the book a lot, even though I enjoy characters that have more flaws. The ex-military superhero is almost a cliché nowadays, but Jack Reacher is certainly one of the best.

Child knows how to write, but his style might upset grammar purists. He uses a lot of sentence fragments, but his words somehow “sound” good. Child pulls it off. He makes these fragments tell his story, which is a great accomplishment. I would guess that Child reads his work aloud as part of his writing process. That is why I say his reading “sounds” good. There are lessons here for an aspiring writer. You can “break the rules”, but you better be good at it. Child is very good at it.

This book presents Reacher as a little bit of a Sherlock Holmes by showing off his deductive skills as well as his martial prowess. I got a kick out of these, and I enjoyed watching his plot unfold as the story progressed. The plot is very plausible and surprisingly complex. The small town in Georgia is not quite what it seems. I found the fact that Reacher’s long-lost brother was investigating the plot from a different angle to be a little too much of a coincidence. In addition, I had to suspend my belief a bit when no one came to investigate his brother’s disappearance even though he worked for the U.S. government.

All in all, this was a great read for me. It was fun to watch a master at work.

Review of “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William L. Shirer

I just completed reading a masterpiece! This is not just an ordinary masterpiece, but an 1143 page masterpiece. This took me a great deal of time to complete. Yes, it took time from my attempts to write myself. Was it worth the time? Absolutely.

Anyone trying to write a modern day thriller should read this fine work. It includes themes present in many if not all thrillers written today,  including insane leaders, racial hatred, fanaticism, military strategy, use of power, the role of propaganda, national pride, and the horrors of modern warfare. I would submit there are a huge number of thrillers that are based either consciously or unconsciously on the collective experience of World War II.  If anyone asked “How the hell could this ever happen?” this book will explain it to you. Ideas and themes for thrillers abound here.

You even get a feel for some of the major characters.  Many of the evil villains in some modern day thrillers are probably based on characters discussed by Shirer.  He is writing history, and the nature of the characters he discussed shines through in his writing. Granted, he had very evil material to work with, but a reader will feel he knows some of the characters in this saga. A great example of this would be the character of Hermann Goering. Shirer seems to take particular pleasure in describing Goering as “corpulent” many times in his work as he discusses this despicable character with all his complexities and quirks. My guess is that Goering is the model for many “corpulent” villains in today’s books and movies.

The version I read was the 30th Anniversary Edition of “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William L. Shirer, published in 1990.  Apparently Shirer was criticized because he was not an historian, but I am glad he persisted and completed this profound work. I am proud to say I read all 1143 pages of text, and learned a great deal about this incredible era. To the best of my knowledge, nothing he wrote was debunked or proven false, which is a credit to his meticulous researching and fact-checking when confronted with contradictory statements by those whose documents he used as sources and personal interviews with many on both sides of the conflict. In addition, the book is eminently readable. Mr. Shirer knew how to write, and how to do monumental research. The fact that this book was written well before the birth of the internet only adds to its impressiveness.

I purchased this book in almost mint condition from a used book sale at a nearby library for $1.00. It may have been the best $1.00 I ever spent. Please support your local library!

Review of “Need to Know” by Karen Cleveland

 

I enjoyed Karen Cleveland’s “Need to Know” very much.  It was one of the few espionage books that I have read that were written by a female author, and I found that to be very refreshing. The book is a hybrid between an espionage thriller and a domestic thriller, and I admire the author’s ability to succeed in this particular innovative niche.  The book is well-written and maintains the tension throughout. I have a feeling this will turn into a movie of some sort, and I will be anxious to see it.

The protagonist, Vivian, is a female CIA analyst who is working in counterintelligence focusing on Russia. She develops an algorithm to identify Russian sleeper agents and makes a discovery that threatens her family.

After Vivian’s children are threatened, she makes some very bad decisions that were inconsistent with her supposed intelligence as a CIA analyst. The reader must accept that the threat to Vivian’s children drives her to make these very foolish decisions. On one hand, I like a protagonist with normal human flaws, and Vivian certainly has a lot of these. She is no stereotypical superhero with unlimited capabilities. She is very human. There may just be too many flaws for some readers to accept, however.

The plot has a number of twists, that I found to be clever, but some readers may not agree. I found some of the these twists a little hard to accept. Vivian is very naïve (especially for someone supposed to be a CIA analyst). This is sometimes  difficult to swallow.  I also felt that some of the investigative procedures described toward the end of the book were not realistic. These are small flaws. This is the author’s debut novel, and she did a great job with it.

I obtained this book from my local library. I saw it in the new book display, and I jumped at the opportunity to borrow a 2018 book in an area in which I focus my reading. It was a great find, and I will be watching for Karen Cleveland in future novels or on a movie screen. I have a feeling we will be hearing more from her in the near future.