It’s rare for authors, especially thriller writers, to make their lead characters shorter and less good looking than themselves, but Mark Greaney’s assassin, Court Gentry, is average and unremarkable in his physical appearance. In the fifth installment of the Gray Man series, Back Blast, Gentry uses this natural camouflage to his advantage when he goes to Washington, D.C., to find out why his former bosses at the CIA want him dead. Greaney recently sat for a studio interview in Memphis with Stephen Usery of WYPL’s Book Talk.
Chapter 16: Back Blast is the first in the Gray Man series to come out in hardcover. Why did your publisher decide to bring Court Gentry up to the big leagues?
Mark Greaney: I don’t know. My agent from the very beginning said that he’d seen authors come out in hardback too soon, and it ended up hurting their careers. I went from mass market paperbacks up to the nicer trade paperbacks, and now I’ve finally made it into hardback. My books are published in several languages, and the actual first hardback that I’ve ever seen of this series was The Gray Man in Italian, which came out last year. It wasn’t even in English. I can’t read it.
Chapter 16: What’s the name in Italian?
Greaney: Tre Giorni per un Delitto. You thought I wouldn’t know that!
Chapter 16: Well, what does that mean?
Greaney: “Three Days for a Crime.” I think.
Chapter 16: It’s been more than three days since Court Gentry was burned by the CIA. What’s kept him out of the U.S. for so long?
Greaney: I write all my books as stand-alone novels, but there is a longer story arc that transcends one book. Gentry is an ex-CIA hit man who has been on the run from the CIA for five years. He has never really known why they are after him. He’s tried to find answers throughout the books, but now here we are in book five, and I’ve teased it long enough. It was just time to go big with that arc and bring him back to the United States to find out why.
Chapter 16: In the last book, we saw how much facial recognition software and cameras around Europe and America change the way operatives work. So what are the challenges for Gentry?
Greaney: It gets a lot more complicated for people writing cloak-and-dagger books! Right now there are so many cameras looking at you, so instead of reasserting in every chapter that your character has a hat and sunglasses on, there’s a little bit of a conceit that he has the ability to spoof these things by physical actions he takes and recognition of locations he’s in. I tried to play it accurately without taking away from the story because you could write a whole 160,000-word novel about a guy trying to walk across D.C. without getting his picture taken.
Chapter 16: Court goes to the poorer parts of town, where there are fewer chain stores. The security is left up to each mom-and-pop store, and they’re not going to have the resources that big companies have.
Greaney: He just wants to go in and get something to eat at one point, and he had to go to five or six different convenience stores to find one where they don’t have a camera shining on the front entrance where they can see his car. He’s less interested in them seeing him come and go, because he plans on never being there again, but he doesn’t want them to see what kind of vehicle he’s in. There’s lots of little tradecraft things that I’ve wanted to incorporate into the books, as long as it adds to the story.
To download a podcast of the full interview—or to listen online—click here.
Stephen Usery is the producer of Book Talk, an author-interview program that airs daily on WYPL FM 89.3, as service of the Memphis Public Library. He lives in Memphis.