Tag Archives: Orphan X

‘Out of the Dark,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

Coming up: a review of Gregg Hurwitz’s Out of the Dark.

But first, this urgent news update:

January 25, Deadline.com: EXCLUSIVE: Gregg Hurwitz, author of the best-selling Orphan X series, has inked what’s described as a “significant seven-figure deal” with publisher Minotaur Books for the next three volumes in the series. The next book in the series, Out of the Dark: The Return of Orphan X, hits shelves on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Dave Lull just sent me the above item, and it pleases me no end, because there can’t be enough Orphan X books for me. No doubt the TV series will ruin the concept, but keep the books coming, Gregg.

And now for our book review:

Wetzel had read somewhere that Hollywood directors liked to hose down streets to make the asphalt sparkle on film. Washington was like that naturally, a black-ice kind of town—lose your focus and you’d slip and break your neck.

Any review of the Orphan X books requires a little orientation lecture, but that’s OK, because it’s fun to tell.

Evan Smoak is “Orphan X.” As a boy, he was “recruited” from a group home into the super-secret, ultra-deniable US government “Orphan” program. Under this program, smart, athletic kids whom no one would miss were trained to be the world’s most dangerous assassins and covert operatives. But gradually, under the direction of a bureaucrat named Jonathan Bennett, the program lost its focus and become badly corrupted. Jack managed to break free and, subsidized by income streams he can still tap (I never quite followed how that works), he now lives in secret in Los Angeles. His home is a luxury apartment, impenetrably secure, and from it he operates as “The Nowhere Man.” He’s a sort of a hero on call. People he helps refer him to other people who need a hero. One case at a time, Evan attempts to do penance for the sins of his earlier life.

He has one major existential challenge – Jonathan Bennett is now the president of the United States. And for several years he has been systematically been killing off the few surviving Orphans. But of all the Orphans, Evan Smoak is the one he is most determined to eliminate – though Evan has no idea why.

In Out of the Dark, Evan is busy planning the assassination of the president. A challenge, but he thinks he can carry it off. On top of that, he needs to save an autistic young man who, simply because of his naïve honesty, is targeted for murder – along with his whole family – by one of the most dangerous drug lords in the world.

All the usual pleasures of a great thriller are present in Out of the Dark – rising suspense, heart-pounding danger, lots of high-tech electronics and computer hacking. (Frankly I found some of the action scenes over the top, but I was happy to suspend disbelief.) But what sets the Orphan X books apart is the sharpness of the writing – great characters, crackling dialogue, moments of wit. As well as just good, well-crafted prose. It’s a pleasure to read Gregg Hurwitz.

Highly recommended, with cautions for violence, adult themes, and mature language.

‘Hellbent,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

Hellbent

She felt like an anchor to him, not dragging him down but mooring him to this spot, to this moment, locking his location for once on the grid. For the first time in his life, he felt the tug as something not unpleasant but precious.

In the course of Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, which I reviewed a few inches south of this location, he mentions that thriller writer Gregg Hurwitz is a friend of his. This reminded me to check on what Hurwitz has been doing lately. Lo and behold, he has a new Orphan X book out. I snatched it up greedily, and was richly rewarded. Hellbent is a humdinger, the best (in my opinion) of a superior series.

As you may or may not recall, Evan Smoak is Orphan X, the Nowhere Man. He was recruited out of a group home as a boy, to be part of the CIA’s ultra-secret Orphan Program. The Orphans, all people without families, were trained to be deadly assassins and commandos. Not only were their actions deniable by the government, their very existences were deniable.

Around the time Evan’s lifelong nemesis Van Sciver (Orphan Y) took control of the program, Evan managed to escape, with the help of Jack Johns, his mentor and surrogate father. Now, still with access to secret bank accounts, he lives a hidden life in a large LA apartment. His existence is spartan, his apartment almost empty of adornment. He spends his time helping people, but actual human relationships would give Van Sciver – who’s still searching for him – points of access, so Evan doesn’t have any.

But now Jack has asked him for a favor – to collect and protect a young woman in danger, Joey. Joey was scrubbed out of the Orphan program, but Van Sciver is still trying to hunt her down and kill her, along with another ex-Orphan and the boy he has been mentoring. In order to carry out Jack’s wishes, Evan will have to allow another human – and a pretty disorganized one – into his ordered life. And for him, that may take more courage than fighting a team of Orphans and Secret Service mercenaries, plus the MS Thirteen street gang (which he’ll also have to do).

Exciting, clever, and very moving in parts, Hellbent delighted me. I recommend it very highly. Cautions for language, violence, and mature themes.

‘Orphan X,’ by Gregg Hurwitz

Orphan X

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book.

Evan Smoak, hero of Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz, does not officially exist. As a young boy he was taken (voluntarily) from a group home for orphans, to join a secretive US intelligence team. Members of the Orphan Program are highly skilled agents and assassins, entirely deniable and expendable in case of capture. Evan was raised in near-isolation by his handler, Jake Johns, a good man who taught him not only tradecraft, but human values as well. He instilled in Evan his own Ten Commandments, rules of operation by which he has lived ever since.

But around the time he was thirty, Evan decided to come in from the cold. He left the program, at great personal cost. Now he’s a kind of freelance hero. When he helps someone out of a life-and-death situation, he tells them to give his phone number to one other person, and only one. This keeps his work from becoming overwhelming.

But when he gets a call from a woman in debt to the Las Vegas mob, whose father is being held hostage until she pays up, and then shortly after is contacted by another “client,” he knows his system has been compromised. Someone with skills similar to his own is hunting him. Who should he trust? How can he be sure who really needs his help?

And what should he do about his neighbor, a single mother, to whom he’s attracted? Particularly considering the fact that she works in the District Attorney’s office?

Gradually, he starts to break Jack’s Ten Commandments, one after another.

One can’t help thinking of a cross between Jason Bourne and Batman here. But Orphan X digs deeper, uncovering layers of dysfunction and contradiction in the personality of a man who lives to do good, but doesn’t know how to relate to other human beings. When I was a kid, I used to watch TV Westerns, in which the heroes often seemed to travel from place to place with no other occupation than Righting Wrongs. When I got older, I began to wonder how they paid the bills (for the record, The Lone Ranger, at least, owned a silver mine). But there’s a deeper question – where does the hero go to meet his own emotional needs? Is he really a good man if he doesn’t dare – or know how – to love?

Orphan X is the first book of a series that I eagerly anticipate following. There’s one sequel to date, which I’ll review soon. Aside from the exciting (sometimes improbable) plot and vivid characters, the writing here is top notch. Cautions for language, violence, and mature themes. Highly recommended otherwise.