The Orphan X (Evan Smoak / Nowhere Man) series by Gregg Hurwitz is a must-read for me. His latest, Prodigal Son, takes readers on a slightly different ‘journey’. Although Evan has supposedly retired from helping the helpless – a promise he made to the US President because of collateral damage from memory – here he gets a request from someone he just can’t refuse.
by Gregg Hurwitz
Series: Orphan X #6
Published by Michael Joseph
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
Evan Smoak used to be known as Orphan X: a figure as elusive as a rumour, until he came to the rescue of those who most desperately needed his help. The kind of help no one else could provide.
The kind that caused concern in the corridors of power.
As a boy he'd been plucked from a foster home and trained as an off-the-books assassin inside a top secret US government programme.
Which is why, even forced into early retirement, he dare not trust the phone call. Nor the caller claiming to be his mother. Asking him to protect a complete stranger who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
None of it stacks up. Yet it bears the tell-tale signs of the secret world that made him. And from inside it, a deadly new threat to the nation's security.
I actually liked that Hurwitz didn’t belabour the introduction of Evan’s birth mother Veronica. I’d commented in my review of Into The Fire (book #5) that I liked that the overarching plot regarding the Orphans and Black Ops program that trained (and then tried to kill) them was done and dusted in the previous instalment, as some of those conspiratorial backstories can drag on. And on.
Here we’re taken back in time to the boys home to Evan’s recruitment into the Orphan program. I wondered about the point of the backstory but we soon see as we learn how he got recruited and meet some of his contemporaries (ie. other foster kids) who were – or weren’t – so fortunate.
More importantly we meet his mother. I felt Hurwitz could have given us a little more context as she felt a little under-done in some ways. She explains why she had to give Evan up and the fact she’d intended for him to be adopted – but that hadn’t worked and, though she learned about the Orphan program she didn’t know what it entailed (ie. becoming trained assassins).
Veronica seems to be doing well for herself though… or has managed to hook up with a stream of wealthy or well-connected dudes, though ‘how’ was a bit light on. Perhaps there’s more to come, but it’s unlikely.
Again I loved spending time with Orphan program dropout Joey, teenage genius and smart-arse. Her relationship with Evan changes here as he reflects on his with his mother and his paternal instincts kick in.
We also (again) meet his neighbours Mia and her son Peter. There continues to be the tease of romance around Mia and Evan but Evan knows it’s almost impossible to leave his (old) life behind.
I really loved the non-case-related stuff happening in this book. In some ways this is one of my favourites in the series in that respect.
But this book felt long. Not belaboured but it seemed to take a long time to get to the crux of the plot and I think the pacing or set-up could have done without some of the padding. It’s a tad convoluted but essentially Evan becomes involved because someone’s life is at risk. Someone who’s inadvertently witnessed a murder. And in protecting him – someone from his past – Evan discovers Department of Defence use of drones (or microdrones the size of insects) with the power to track, swarm and kill… and think for themselves.
Again Hurwitz excels when it comes to the inclusion specifics: the dark web and technology; weaponry; fighting techniques; and there’s the usual gruesome detail of exactly what punches are thrown and which knives are used in action sequences.
We’re introduced to a couple of hired killers (part of the aforementioned padding for me) but it’s their employer who’s of interest. And we potentially meet that person. I assumed – cos I found them likeable – that they weren’t THE baddie known as doctor, but just someone who has a PhD or three.
The ‘doctor’ is very Silicon Valley / Elon Musk-like. But though he’s a genius who recognises his technology is being used for not-good, he also believes it can have beneficial uses. Like I said… he seemed likeable so I found it hard to picture him as a supervillain and waited for the arrival of some far-more-evil puppeteer.
Pacing wise, given we take so long to get to that point, the final showdown is over pretty quickly and with minimal fanfare, which I appreciated. Of course Hurwitz throws in a cliffhanger to keep readers riveted (and on edge) which means I’ll be very impatiently waiting for the next instalment in the series.
I mentioned that this series is a must-read for me. What draws me to it are the characters and the way their lives are playing out rather than the plot of each novel. Indeed, as I read this it felt comforting, like coming home to old friends.
Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz will be published by Penguin UK (Michael Joseph) and available in late January 2021.
I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.