Book review: Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

Saturday, January 30, 2016 Permalink

Orphan X (aka Evan Smoak), is being described by many as ‘the next Jason Bourne or Jack Reacher’. Indeed many of my fave authors are attesting to the fact via quotes of endorsement on the book and / or via author Gregg Hurwitz’s website.

And—though I’m sometimes cynical about that kind of publicity—I’m relieved to say the accolades are well and truly deserved in this instance.

Book review: Orphan X by Gregg HurwitzOrphan X
by Gregg Hurwitz
Series: Orphan X #1
Published by Penguin UK
on January 19th 2016
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: B019PPA32A / 9780718181840
Pages: 368

The Nowhere Man is a legendary figure spoken about only in whispers. It's said that when he's reached by the truly desperate and deserving, the Nowhere Man can and will do anything to protect and save them.
But he's no legend.

Evan Smoak is a man with skills, resources, and a personal mission to help those with nowhere else to turn. He's also a man with a dangerous past. Chosen as a child, he was raised and trained as part of the off-the-books black box Orphan program, designed to create the perfect deniable intelligence assets---i.e. assassins. He was Orphan X. Evan broke with the program, using everything he learned to disappear.

Now, however, someone is on his tail. Someone with similar skills and training. Someone who knows Orphan X. Someone who is getting closer and closer. And will exploit Evan's weakness---his work as The Nowhere Man---to find him and eliminate him.

I was disappointed in Hurwitz’s last book, Don’t Look Back; but have been a fan for a while and heard him speak (several times) when he was at a Writers’ Festival in Brisbane (Australia) a decade or so ago.

Given the fuss attached to Orphan X, I had high hopes… and I was not disappointed. In fact I was possibly surprised as it easily surpassed my heightened expectations.

Orphan X (or the Nowhere Man) is not your typical operative or assassin. Hurwitz goes to great pains to tell us that the former orphan, adopted by a man who shaped him with one goal in mind, is ordinary. He can kill you with his pinky finger but is nothing special to look at. There’s no ex-military forces look about him. He’s not described as ruggedly handsome. Instead he blends in with the crowd. He’s forgettable.

However, looks aside (and don’t we all wish that was possible!) he’s far from ordinary.

And like many of the former assassins in novels, (the man known as) Evan Smoak developed a conscience. He got out of the business which saw him working deep undercover for some government agency and now helps the helpless.

Until his past catches up with him.

I LOVED Evan Smoak and everything about him. Hurwitz drip-feeds us information about Evan’s past through memories of his ‘adoption’ by Jack Johns and the years that followed. The novel’s written in third person but we’re in Evan’s head so privy to his thoughts… from his obsessive attention to detail to his difficulty in dealing with others and trusting those around him.

The inclusion of the cast of eccentric characters from Evan’s apartment building is a great idea. On top of that, there’s the potential love interest in Mia… and his relationship with her adopted son Peter, reminding him very much of his own story.

Hurwitz has set this up perfectly so we know there’s more to come. More backstory to be learned about Evan’s life as Orphan X… not to mention his life before meeting Jack. (Why did Evan have to change his surname, for example…?) And then there’s Mia and Peter and some of Evan’s neighbours, all of whom I’m looking forward to meeting again.

I must admit I occasionally got lost in the fight scenes. Hurwitz is very detailed and graphic and I think my eyes glazed over (as they so often do during ‘action’ sequences). It’s obviously something he’s researched extensively however, as many (many) different fighting styles are referenced.

Hurwitz also offers up every boy’s (or man’s) wet dream via Evan’s apartment… it’s a bit like a bat cave with its reinforced walls and secret rooms.

I could not put this book down and easily read it in a night. The pacing’s great and the action keeps coming. And the fact I’m calling Evan by his first name is also a sure sign I’ve developed some kind of kindred bond with the gentle hero.

I’ll be surprised if this isn’t picked up for the little or big screen at some point but until then I’ll (im)patiently wait for the next instalment!

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz will be released by on Penguin UK on 25 February 2016, but is available now elsewhere, including here in Australia.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

  • Daniela Ark
    January 31, 2016

    Oh I think I may give it a try. I think I need a break again from fantasy/sci-fi. Great review!

  • Bec/audiothing
    January 31, 2016

    Well that’s a book I would never have considered, I think you just may have changed my mind.
    I know what you mean by being a bit leery of the old “critical acclaim”, I just reviewed one that had peer acclaim and many 5 star reviews. How the heck do you review that when you don’t like it!

    • Debbish
      February 1, 2016

      I just read another with lots of author endorsements on the cover, but I noted they talked more about the series and characters than this particular book!

  • MarthaE
    February 4, 2016

    I like the sound of the protagonist. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • Debbish
      February 4, 2016

      You’re welcome Martha. I read something later about the film rights being sold to Sony as a vehicle for Bradley Cooper, so I hope that plays out!

  • Henry Bartram
    January 6, 2017

    Just read Nowhere Man. Absurd on every level. Should not be classified under crime – maybe adult fantasy. All the women want him! All the baddies copter in for meat auction and must die! Aaargh!!!!

    • Debbish
      January 7, 2017

      Nooooo! Say it isn’t so! I’m hoping to get / read it soon. I loved the first in this series so much I’ll be disappointed if the second is a let-down!

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