AGENT IN PLACE by Mark Greaney has lots of action, some current events, and a great storyline. The main character, Court Gentry, known as “The Gray Man” ventures into places where not many would dare to go having to overcome some very bad people. The reader feels as if they are placed right into the center of the Syrian Civil War as they go along for the ride with Gentry as he faces all of the different factions and players including mercenaries, the Free Syrian Army, ISIS, the Russians, just to mention a few.

The novel begins with ISIS about to execute Court. The story then backtracks a week ago to show readers how Gentry got in this mess to begin with. Because he was never an official employee of the CIA, Court decides which missions he will choose, some for the Spy Agency and some from freelance work.  In this case he is working on his own for the Halabys, leaders of the Free Syria Exile Union who hires him to kidnap the mistress of the Syrian President, the model Bianca Medina. The plan is to have her release information that will deal a serious blow to the Syrian regime and hasten the end of the cruel civil war. Complications arise when she refuses unless her son is rescued from the grips of his father, Ahmed al-Azzam, the Syrian President. After agreeing to this new job, Gentry realizes that there is a tangled web including Syria’s First Lady who wants Bianca and the heir to the throne dead. The tension ratchets up even higher from here.

His nickname of “The Gray Man” suits Gentry since he always seems to keep a low profile and work in the shadows.  He’s a fiercely loyal and trustworthy individual and when he says he’s got your back you can believe him. What makes him special is his desire to do what is necessary to make sure the bad guys never are a threat again. It is a welcome relief considering the real world has the bad guys winning way too much.

Elise Cooper:  Wishful thinking on your part about Syria?

Mark Greaney:  I wanted Court to operate with a mission he thought of as noble.  Because I have been interested in this Civil War ever since it started I decided to create this idea for the story.  Assad is currently using chlorine against his people and seems to get away with quite a bit.  It seems over the years governments say, ‘we will never let this happen again.’  When it happens again they look the other way and appear to do nothing.  It is pretty pathetic.

EC:  Do you think some readers will think it impossible for Court to enter into Syria and come out alive?

MG:  I hope not.  Look at the mass murders in Rwanda.  I firmly believe if we had sent in five hundred Marines we could have saved most of the approximately 800,000 who lost their lives in just ninety days.  I wanted to show how even one person can have the power to make a difference.

EC:  You show some of the multiple factions in Syria?

MG: Many of those who are anti-Assad or in my case anti-al-Azzam are radical Jihadists.  There is the saying, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ but the reverse is also true.  Then there is Russia that basically wants to use Syria as an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, where they have a military presence.  All these groups including those against the Russians commit atrocities, but then there are the innocent children and those who just want to live their lives.  It is not like World War II where there were distinct good guys versus bad guys.

EC:  What about your Syrian First Lady, Shakira Azzam?

MG:  There is a kernel of truth about this character and the real Syrian First Lady.  In this book, she is a power broker because she is the villainous.  She is beautiful, brilliant, and was once referred to as ‘the Rose of the Desert’, and ‘Lady Diana of the Middle East.’ But in actuality she is a master manipulator and wants to be in control. Now, after seven years of a Civil War, her public image has been destroyed, and she is now referred to as ‘The First Lady of Hell.’

EC:  How would you describe Bianca?

MG:  She is gorgeous and very naïve.  I think she was duped.  I hope she became a sympathetic character as the story unfolds.  Her viewpoint was skewed by what the Syrian regime put out.  I think throughout the story she gains strength and realizes the truth about what is happening.

EC:  It is surprising that you write about Syria having a liberal attitude about Islam?

MG:  A lot of people are surprised by the attitudes in Syria.  Women do not have to wear the hijab, they date, and there are some Muslim men who drink.  If these same people lived in Afghanistan they would have their heads chopped off.  Damascus has a lot of bars and discos.  Even the Christians there are not persecuted, mainly because they support Assad.

EC:  I remember reading that Walt Disney would act out his scenes.  Since your action passages are so detailed do you do the same?

MG:  I think about them a lot.  I will be walking my dog and try to figure out how Court will get out of trouble.  The scene in the hotel where he is fighting ISIS and Bianca’s bodyguards I tried to find the right weapons he would use, his plan to avoid any surveillance cameras, and his escape route.  Something else I think about, ‘did I write this type of action before?’  It gets harder and harder to keep it fresh after writing sixteen thrillers.

EC:  Do you want your action scenes to be realistic?

MG:  It is very important to me not to make them so complex they are not understandable.  Of course, I am obviously pushing the envelope, but I do want everything to be possible.  I hope Court is not viewed as a Superhero like Captain America.  Instead, he should be seen with vulnerabilities and can get hurt at any time.

EC:  What do you want readers to get out of the story?

MG:  Really good entertainment, but I always put in themes of adversity, courage, and the virtue of right/wrong.  Although Court is now cynical he does have a moral compass.  I want him over time to be weathered physically and mentally.  I am a reader also and I enjoy fiction because it is much fairer and just then what is actually happening in the real world.  This is why I put current events into the storyline, to make it more interesting and to shine a light on my novels about something that is happening in the world.

EC:  Can you give a shout out about your next book?

MG:  The next book follows right after this story.  Court will be back working with the CIA.  His mission involves finding the person responsible for the leaks that are getting a lot of people killed.  The Russian female operative, Zoya Zakharova, now turned CIA asset, will be at the center of the next book that will also bring back Matthew Hanley and Suzanne Brewer.

AGENT IN PLACE(The Gray Man Book 7)
Mark Greaney
Berkley Press
Feb. 20th, 2017