Reviewed in the United States on February 11, 2019
Mark Greaney pulled out all the stops in his ambitious, fast-paced novel, The Gray Man, published in 2009. His main character has a long history of exercising his civic responsibility in a highly skilled, technical, and tactically proficient manner. At present, he is employed as an anonymous problem-solver, trouble-eliminator, and crisis management expert for a private firm worth trillions, after having been summarily dismissed from the CIA for inefficiency, insubordination, incompetence, or other such "politically incorrect" nonsense. He's had to prove himself ever since in order to polish and restore his tarnished sterling-silver reputation to its former glory. Now, he's the spitting image of the Tin-Star Man--I'm thinking of Marshall "Gary Cooper" here, fully re-tooled, steeled to the task at hand, sharpened, and re-assembled into the seven million dollar version of a "Robocop" prototype, or a reasonable fully-human facsimile thereof, who must have recently escaped from Oz and the Emerald City. He is being sent on an entirely new mission altogether this time: save "Dorothy" from the terrible clutches of tyranny, in a manner of speaking, and possible torture. As I might have previously mentioned, having callously let the proverbial cat slip out of the bag, he is as tough as nails, in the peak of physical condition, mentally prepared, exceptionally skilled and very determined to follow through on the assignment he's been given, once he has deemed that the operation is necessary, sufficiently and significantly important, and ultimately worthwhile. In this particular case, "failure is not an option." There are two narrowly winding roads before him, "Do or die." He is tuned, wound, ramped up and ready to go, fully intent and totally focused on achieving the required successful outcome of his mission.
For example, you may ponder, what if a certain weapons manufacturing consortium, subject to a hostile takeover by unscrupulous rogue-raider businessmen has been surreptitiously supplying N. Korea, or other such sanctioned nation, with strategic raw materials, top-secret technology, classified support and guidance for advancing their WMD program?
There is only one man in the entire world who can breech their security and poke a hole in that theory, if he's still alive. The "Gray Man." What a stupendously powerful idea for a novel!
R. Royce decided that he's not going to be disturbed early on Sunday morning. He planned on watching television instead and relaxing around the house.
"What's on tv?" inquired his good friend and long-time business associate, Cornelius Korn, later in the day. He had a six-pack with him and sat down on the easy chair adjacent to the overstuffed sofa on which Royce was reclining, and thumbing through a glossy magazine.
"Same-o. Same-o." he said, lazily.
"Want to go out in the field and shoot some pheasants?" asked Korn. "Tis the season."
"Not particularly," said Royce. "I'm more of a fisherman. I can tag along though, if you want some company."
"Hiking through the woods will be good exercise for you," said Korn.
"I think so, too. Let's go."
"You can be the Caddie and carry the golf bag and equipment," said Korn, interjecting some humor into their adventure.
"Why not!" said Royce. "I should get out of the house and do something practical and constructive." He put on some boots, a sweater, a warm jacket, and a hat that folded down over his ears. He put some extra-warm woolen socks and fur-lined leather gloves in a nylon sports bag. Korn had all of the accouterments already stowed away in the trunk of his vehicle. They kept the firearms readily accessible. The rifles and shotguns were out of their hard-sided cases and had been placed in the back seat under some blankets.
"Looks like you're loaded for bear," said Royce. "I may want to do some target shooting myself."
At the end of the day, Cornelius returned the worn and exhausted Royce back home and watched over him as he dropped onto the living room sofa he'd left hours before.
"Would you like some warm tea?" asked Meghan Thomas, his live-in companion and their business associate. "Let me get you a blanket." When she returned with the tea and blanket, she stood next to him, put her arm around his shoulder and inquired discretely, "How was your hunting trip?"
"Well executed," said Korn. He could be strictly business, when the situation warranted attention to detail.
"Cornelius had casually neglected to mention that some people who were out and about looking for him had recently discovered his whereabouts," said Royce. "We led them into a trap at about the same time they were preparing to ambush us. The authorities were hidden behind a clump of trees on-site when the perpetrators made their presence known to us. We can thank our lucky stars that "the desperados" had been stopped in the nick of time. The sheriff arrested them on the spot and his deputies transported them to the county calaboose without incident. We had a close call."
Recapping the events of the day, Alexis Sue Shell, the fourth member of their bridge club and garden party, said "When Cornelius vanished from view, you dropped five in a row, sort of like the local community college basketball team on a hot shooting streak."
"I was wondering why you put me in the tree-top blind with a tranquilizer gun," said Royce, "telling me not to come within a hundred feet of you." Korn had calmly walked over to each of the men where he lay prone on a soft bed of leaves. They were sleeping soundly and peacefully, Korn noticed as he covered each one up with a warm, woolen blanket.
Three others had been spooked and quickly fled the area when they heard a rapid succession of pump shotgun blasts in the air above their position. It momentarily froze them in their tracks. Alexis had noted the arrival of their vehicles earlier through the ruby-coated lenses of her binoculars. Upon their safe return to town, they were all apprehended by local police officers. In a state of disbelief, the assailants were fingerprinted and automatically given a police record. They had been charged with the crime of littering. Their five aggressive friends were not so fortunate, however. Charged with illegal firearms possession and assault with a deadly weapon, they would go directly to jail.
The sheriff asked Cornelius about the incident after the fact. Korn said that he'd been out hunting and shot at a flock of birds that had suddenly sprung up in front of him. He asked if Korn had permission from the owner to hunt on the land.
"'The Thin-Man' owns the woods around here," said Korn, a serious look on his face. "A thousand acres of trees, rolling hills, natural grasses, and creeks, that are adjacent to the national forest game preserve. You've probably heard of him as "Slender Man." He's been in the news an awful lot lately. An apparition, ten-feet tall, some say, he has a very slender body with long, slender arms and looks as if he's walking around on stilts in the fog, if he's not actually floating in thin air. He wears a tuxedo, the formal dinner attire of a butler. Legend has it that he was once the harmful by-product of children's imagination having run wild. People now say that he comes in through the LCD screens of their electronic devices, such as cellular telephones, televisions, and computer monitors, mostly at night. He appears like a magician, and slowly begins the methodical process of taking over their minds, making them do strange and bizarre things. They behave as if they were hypnotized and couldn't help themselves."
"Grown-ups just think of him as their worst nightmare," said Alexis Sue, sounding pleasant and convincing, yet having accepted the inevitable. "Don't you boys ever get tired of your camouflaged hide-and-seek paint-ball games?"