Mission Critical, the eighth Gray Man novel from national best-selling author, Mark Greaney. Mark also wrote or co-wrote seven novels with author Tom Clancy in the Jack Ryan series and the Campus Novel series. On top of that, Mark also has another novel coming out this year, Red Metal (Out 7/16). Co-written with decorated United States Marine Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Hunter Ripley Rawlings.
Mission Critical reads like two separate thrillers combined in one, with two dangerous, highly trained assets who are part of a covert off the books, blacker than black program, code name: Poison Apple. The two assets converge on a target from different ways. One finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time, unable to stand by while people are getting killed. This asset, code name – Violator gets involved and does not stop. The other asset, on a personal vendetta she noticed while being debriefed by the CIA in a picture. She sees something that only makes sense to her and from there this asset, code name – Anthem escapes her ‘safe house’ and utilizes her formidable spy skills to get out of the country, acquire weapons, gear, and intelligence. Both on the hunt, leading to the same spot with the same target, once they run into each other, the action only picks up and the stakes get bigger and bigger as our assets learn what the bad guys are up to.
The villain of this story is former GRU director, General Feodor Zakharov. This dude however goes by the name David Mars. An English gentleman who no one ever suspected of being a Russian operative. He accomplished this by utilizing skills taught to him by his late wife, whose job was to teach Russian operatives’ language and proper dialect skills and groom them to live in England or the United States and blend in as if they were natives. Russia utilized her and bred many assets who were placed in deep cover as far back as 14 years ago in order to build their legend and establish themselves in various roles, some even in law enforcement. Utilizing these assets, Zakharov made it his life mission to hurt the west and when he learned about the opportunity that presented itself, he moved whatever chess pieces he needed to and came up with a brilliant plan to conduct a terrorist strike against “The Five Eyes conference.” An annual get together of the world’s leading intelligence agencies, with representation from the U.S., the Brits, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. With his legend in place, ‘David Mars’ planned and led the terrorist organization without any official ties to Russia. He also established shell corporations and recruited other motivated individuals from other countries to help in the attack. Specifically, he recruited Won Jang-Mi, an intelligence asset and scientist from North Korea, who adopted a legend as well, Janice Won from South Korea. Janice, a true-believer in her belief to destroy the west, she was motivated by her hatred for the west due to stories she heard as a child growing up about American troops eating North Korean children during the Korean War. This resonated with me because as a Marine, having been in Iraq and Afghanistan, patrolling the streets. We would rarely get hit by an IED or ambushed. While the Army, sometimes patrolling the very same streets got into contact just about every time. Where we better? More disciplined? Less complacent? – Maybe! But we also heard stories that the insurgents feared us specifically. Knowing the difference between our camouflage utility uniform or cammis that we wore and that of the Army. They knew when the Marines were on the move. One particular story I heard is they believed in order to become a U.S. Marine, we would have to sacrifice our first born. So, while a made-up story or myth among the enemy, they believed it. Therefore, reading Mission Critical and learning what motivated this DPRK agent, it felt believable and I love being able to relate to a story on some level. Her specialty is pneumonic plague and hemorrhagic fever. She designed a plague which once exposed to a group of people, takes roughly 5-10 days to kill. All while, the person infected is highly contagious and spreads it to anyone they come in contact with. By recruiting her, Zakharov further reduces his risk of any consequences coming back to his ‘Rodina’ motherland.
Court Gentry is overseas and is summoned by the CIA. An agency plane happens to be flying near his location and is tasked with making a stop to pick him up. From there, the plane is to continue with its original mission with Gentry tagging along for the ride, then bring him back to the states. The plane lands and picks up the passengers it was originally meant to, a CIA team led by seasoned officer Doug Spano. Spano notices Gentry in the back and attempts to intimidate him and throw him off the plane. Unimpressed by his show of force and attitude, Court rolls his eyes and simply says, call Langley at extension XXXX (Brewer) and says, “she tells me to get off, I get off.” Long story short, Court Gentry, code name – Violator stays on the plane and takes a nap. The plane lands, and Court notices their mission is a prisoner handover with another intelligence agency. Before this is accomplished, the group is attacked, and the prisoner is taken. Court, not wanting to see agency personnel killed for nothing intervenes and realizes he’s just about the only guy left alive. He hijacks another smaller aircraft, a glider and pursues the attackers.
Back in the States, another asset is being held at an agency ‘safe house.’ This asset, code name Anthem, has been a ‘guest’ here for about four months. Being debriefed and just weeks away from being set free as an asset in the field. During one of the debrief sessions, Anthem’s past is being discussed and the death of her father is brought up. The man, former director of GRU laid dead in a picture provided to her by the CIA, an attack by a lucky mortar shot roughly 14 years ago. Anthem notices something in the picture, a skin condition she shares with her father which would only present itself if the person was still alive. She realizes her father is in fact alive and Anthem, aka Zoya escapes her ‘safe house’ and makes her way to Europe in order to find out the truth about her father. Completely unaware of the current terrorist strike being planned by him and that Court Gentry, aka Violator is currently tracking a team that kidnapped a CIA prisoner and is being led to the same destination.
As I mentioned, Mission Critical reads almost like two different thrillers with two formidable assets using their skills in order to get to where they need to be. Once they converge on the same target and start to work together, more action and more killing occurs. However, the plan the mastermind ‘David Mars’ has laid out is pretty solid and it takes more than these two formidable assets to stop. Enter the third asset in Poison Apple, Romantic. This asset, a fan favorite in the series has been around the block a few times. Initially a Navy SEAL, then a team leader for a group of paramilitary operations officers tasked with running renditions, hits, black bag jobs, and other jobs deemed appropriate by the CIA. The group he led, Task Force Golf Sierra, or better known as “the Goon Squad.” Zack Hightower aka Romantic, (He’s not absolutely thrilled with his call sign) has had a long history with Violator including a time when Zack tried to kill him, and Gentry shot him. But as Zack says, “it’s cool, we hugged it out.” The amount of sarcasm this former Navy SEAL spits is pure gold. I absolutely love this character and while it took him a while to get in on the action, due to the fact that Brewer had him tasked with another assignment, trying to find a CIA mole. Once he joins Anthem and Violator. The real fun and action start.
Other returning characters in the Gray Man series, Suzanne Brewer. Already mentioned a few times in the review, she oversees the blacker than black program, code name: Poison Apple and she is not happy about it. If we look back when Brewer was first introduced to the series, in Back Blast. She initially worked for Denny Carmichael, the then Director of National Clandestine Service. And she had no problem bending the rules, looking the other way in order to further her career and agenda, ultimately switching sides when she realized it was in her best interest. Well, now she’s realizing that being in Ops, running this program, Poison Apple will absolutely not advance her career and she will never see the seventh floor at Langley. This motivates her to show us the readers her true colors and she makes some bad choices, from some she can escape from but not all, she may soon be a target herself if she doesn’t fix the error of her ways. Matthew Hanley is back and is the current Director of Operations at the CIA. Chris Taverns, a SAD Ground Branch paramilitary officer. Sir Donald Fitzroy also makes an appearance, if you remember him, he used to run the Gray Man through his Security Consulting firm as an assassin for hire, well now retired and in a turn of events, Court gets to run him for an operation.
If Mission Critical were to be made into a movie, it would have to be a trilogy. With so many moving parts, so much action, sub-plots going in every direction with just about every character involved. This Gray Man thriller is one you will not be able to put down. Mark Greaney has absolutely upped his game and has delivered the best Gray Man novel to date. The non-stop action, the brilliant humor, the believable plot has earned this thriller novel a Blast Radius of a thermonuclear explosion, a second-generation nuclear weapon more powerful than the atomic bomb. Pre-order this Gray Man novel today and don’t expect to sleep once February 19th roles around.
Author: Mark Greaney
Series: The Gray Man # 8
Pages: 513 hardcover
Release Date: February 19, 2019
Follow Mark on Twitter: @MarkGreaneyBook
Lima Charlie Rating: A BLAST RADIUS OF: A NUCLEAR BOMB (10/10) – The potential here is death on a global scale, nothing is scarier than a nuke. This is the best rating a book can get
About the author:
Mark Greaney’s debut international thriller, THE GRAY MAN, was published in 2009 and became a national bestseller and a highly sought-after Hollywood property.
Seven subsequent Gray Man novels have been released to date, including AGENT IN PLACE (2018)
Mark is also the #1 New York Times bestselling author or coauthor of seven Tom Clancy novels, including his most recent TOM CLANCY TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE. He collaborated with Tom Clancy on three Jack Ryan novels before Tom’s death in 2013.
Mark’s books are published in several languages and are also available as audiobooks.
A feature film adaptation of THE GRAY MAN is in development at Sony Pictures.
Mark has a degree in International Relations and Political Science. In his research for the Gray Man and Jack Ryan novels he has traveled to dozens of countries, visited the Pentagon, military bases, and many Washington, D.C. Intelligence agencies, and trained alongside military and law enforcement in the use of firearms, battlefield medicine, and close-range combative tactics.
Mark lives in Memphis, Tennessee with his two Catahoula Leopard dogs, Lobo and Ziggy.
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