A top-secret government program rescues orphans from the streets, covertly trains them to become instruments in service to their goal, until one subject breaks from the organization in rebellion and spends his life running from those who feel they own him while trying to help those in need. This one sentence synopsis is chock-full of tropes from the international spy genre, calling to mind works like The Bourne Identity, James Bond, and others. However, with this as its backdrop, Gregg Hurwitz has managed to launch a new series without it feeling derivative or falling into the landmines that so many before him failed to foresee. Orphan X is at once, both familiar and original.
Evan Smoak is a man who now lives his life as the Nowhere Man. When his unlisted cell phone rings, he knows that someone is being wronged in some way and he must act to stop this injustice. Taking on one assignment at a time, when he is successful in helping out a needy individual, that person is instructed to pass the phone number on to only one other troubled citizen. In this way, Evan is able to stay under the radar and out of the sight lines of the government organization hunting him down.
When his latest assignment does not go as planned, Evan Smoak realizes that his past is catching up with him. If he doesn’t discover the leak soon, those involved in the Orphan program – both those in charge and the other Orphan agents – might succeed is stopping him forever.
Gregg Hurwitz is to be commended for keeping the action high, but the techno-babble low. Orphan X could easily have become a shoot ‘em up thriller with massive details on guns, explosions, and the like. But instead, Hurwitz chooses to dig deep into the heart of Evan Smoak and elucidate the man under the armor. Some of the most affective and effecting passages in the novel involve the interactions between Evan and the young son of his upstairs neighbor. Evan – a man who never had parents – stumbles through learning what it means to be a role model and doesn’t always get it right. It is rare to see failings like this in a man who is purported to be a superhuman, killing machine.
This is not to say that the action scenes are lacking, however. Nor are necessary details overlooked. One extended sequence in which Evan researches a sniper’s perch overflows with tension and enough technical detail to craft true verisimilitude. Like many scenes in the book, readers will easily envision this happening on the big screen.
Evan’s childhood on the streets of East Baltimore is touched upon, while the majority of the present day action takes place in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Since the Nowhere Man’s “job” could take him, the setting for future adventures is limitless.
It is obvious that Orphan X is a set-up for an extended series featuring Evan Smoak, but Gregg Hurwitz does a nice job of telling a complete story in this first novel. There are threads left open, but readers won’t come away feeling like half of the story is still missing. Hurwitz uses the out-of-fashion technique of titling each chapter which works to entice the reader to consume just one more chapter and also helps to give the novel the feel of a classic.
Evan Smoak is a vodka connoisseur and readers should immediately recognized Orphan X as a top-shelf thriller. It is time to belly up to the bar and consume this well-crafted series debut from Gregg Hurwitz.