What are Orphan X’s ten commandments?
- Assume nothing.
- How you do anything is how you do everything.
- Master your surroundings.
- Never make it personal.
- If you don’t know what to do, do nothing.
- Question orders.
- One mission at a time.
- Never kill a kid.
- Always play offense.
- Never let an innocent die.
TITLE: ORPHAN X (Number 1)
Well done thriller. First of the series. Neat concept – a child trained up to a special purpose but without losing heart, made expert in all kinds of fighting, shooting, armaments, technology, and how to always stay one step ahead of an opponent. He is “Orphan X.” Now, Evan Smoak has left that life and serves people in serious trouble, one mission at a time. Hurwitz is skilled at creating tremendous, visually realistic scenes and twists and turns of plot that are both complicated and easy to follow (with the possible exception of the final confrontation but, it was possible to reread and “get it.”) I’ll read more of these.
TITLE: THE NOWHERE MAN (Number 2)
The Orphan x books, in general are one of my favorite thriller series, ever. Less so Book Number 2. In this entry, Evan Smoak has been captured and finds himself drugged and “helpless” in what appears to be a chalet — who knows where. He is shut up in a luxurious room, dressed in new clothing and his captor is a very strange fellow with very strange proclivities. This is still worth the read, particularly to gather more information about the Orphan program that Evan ditched. Because… you can never leave. Who is behind his capture and what do they want? Don’t worry: The series gets better again and this is still well written and engaging. The way Evan thinks and resolves dilemmas and gets out of locked rooms and trouble is totally compelling. This was just not as much fun a read as when The Nowhere Man is on a mission of mercy and none of the usual characters connected to his condominium building or acting as his suppliers of gadgets are there. (You can tell I wrote this after completing the series.)
TITLE: HELLBENT (Number 3)
Jack Johns came into Evan Smoak’s life as his trainer for the Orphan program, a deeply secret government program that trains selected foster care kids to be genius assassins, using brains and unexpected approaches, as well as street fight style to outwit and eliminate their targets. Evan was one of these, the best — Orphan X. While most Orphans were trained out of having feelings, empathy, caring, Jack trained Evan differently. He ensured Evan understood and retained his humanity and he held him to a work ethic/semi-moral code via series of “Commandments.” Anyone, even “the best” who tries to leave the program endangers it. Evan knows too much. Now Jack needs Evan to find and secure the wellbeing of his latest trainee, Joey, who washed out of training. Evan may have capacity to be something other than cold and calculating, but he has no experience with feelings. Joey is exasperating, brilliant, prefers to be connected to Evan and she is a teenager who treats him like the parent she might rebel against if she had a parent. In trying to help Joey, Evan is up against other Orphans, trained to carry out missions no one else could pull off. The two involved already have grudges against Evan and this combined with their formidable skills and personal knowledge of Evan makes this a particularly tricky mission. As usual, Hurwitz weaves in more information about Evan’s childhood and years in the Orphan program. As usual, Hellbent ends by foreshadowing the next book in the series. Fortunately, I already had it in hand and promptly read it. These are not short books1 Be sure to start them early in the day so you aren’t up all night!
TITLE: OUT OF THE DARK (Number 4)
One major problem with reviewing the Orphan X/Nowhere Man books is trying to get across how incredibly entertaining they are without one spoiler after another. Oddly, my least favorite part of Out of the Dark is the storyline about Evan’s very necessary plan to assassinate the president of the United States, former head of the Orphan program. This was a deep dark secret government operation of highly trained assassins used for highly improper hits. While the program is discontinued, if information about its past gets out, this would be very uncomfortable for President Bennett and he has shown his hand: He is working feverishly to eliminate the Orphans and their trainers by any means possible. Don’t get me wrong: watching Evan mess with cops and the Secret Service is lots of fun. And trying to kill the President provides many opportunities for Hurwitz to showcase his usual ingenuity, writing new ways, sometimes extremely fanciful and high tech and sometimes as simple as a fist full of salt, for Evan to get out of trouble. It’s also a lot of fun to find out who the President unleashes to counteract Evan’s plan and to see he’s the one who ends up dead, but I digress. I like best Evan Smoak’s current Nowhere Man mission to help Trevon Gaines a 27 year old man with intellectual disabilities, living on his own because his Mama wants him to be as self-sufficient as possible. Trevon has a checklist on his wall:
Goals for the Day
- Make more eye contact with folks.
- Smile more when you see folks.
- Ask a personal question when someone asks you one.
- Don’t overshare about stuff that bugs you.
- Be yourself, ‘cuz who else can you be.
But, one night, when he heads to his family’s home, the scene Trevon encounters is unbearable and Trevon is then forced to do something against all his training. He is now mixed up with some very dangerous men. But in his hopelessness, he meets a man who helps. He gives Trevon a phone number and the Nowhere Man agrees to help. There are some new and appealing characters in this novel — the head of the President’s security team; a very bright police officer; and a reprise of old favorites, ex Orphans, the array of residents in his condo building; Tommy the dangerous weapons supplier, etc. This is probably my favorite Orphan X book but… read them all!
TITLE: INTO THE FIRE (Number 5)
In this fifth entry, Evan Smoak, the Nowhere Man, once known as “Orphan X” continues to make amends for his offenses as a part of an exclusive and deeply secret (read: it does not exist but it does) government program. In “Into the Fire”, Evan accepts one “last” client, swearing he will then lead a normal life. Max, the black sheep of his well-to-do family whose only “success” was his now failed marriage holds a package for his cousin, a forensic accountant. It is now hot hot hot and Max is in way over his head. Hurwitz creates fascinating characters, usually complex and frequently with unconventional values. For many of these characters, he creates images of their lives, where they live or work, and expectations, how they will and often but not always react to provocation or bad luck or even minor challenges. This goes for the residents of his apartment building, his clients, the villains, and his “vendors” who supply him with what he needs for his work. This is a violent but totally engaging series and it it evolving. You can, but should not read it out of order. I’d give five stars for the series even though I end up giving four stars for each book. I’m stingy that way. But read these unless you aren’t up for violence. The thriller parts are so well executed.
TITLE: PRODIGAL SON (NUMBER 6)
The Orphan X Series became a binge read for me in 2021 and I’m currently listening to the audio version of the seventh, upcoming book, Dark Horse. In my opinion, reading these in order is very important. While Hurwitz certainly catches us up in each book, his development of the characters and their relationships is key to optimal enjoyment of the series. I loved that, in Prodigal Son, we got even more information about Evan Smoak’s years in foster care, how he got there and how he became Orphan x, part of a deep dark group of stone cold government assassins. I’m selective about what violent books I read and these are very violent, cinematically so. Hurwitz has the gift of writing excellent dialogue (internal and external); narrative details that amuse and expand our understanding; and freaking crazy scenes of epic heroism from Evan Smoak, now known as the Nowhere Man. He has a cadre of vendors who keep him in gadgets and weaponry a la James Bond. In books one through five, as the Nowhere man, Evan helps people who are in life-threatening need who are at least fairly sympathetic, good or well-meaning individuals. They are usually up against diabolical and clever villains. In Prodigal Son, Evan’s birth mother, who he never met or knew about, engages him to save the life of a man she identifies as a good friend’s son. He is the last person living who witnessed the inadvertent assassination of a US citizen by drones the size of dragonflies. Those familiar with the series know that Evan is trying to retire from being the Nowhere man, has a love interest who is a prosecutor, Mia, with a nine year old son, Peter, is a guardian of sorts to computer genius Joey, who is sixteen but living on her own with fake i.d. that says she is eighteen. Evan is forced to come to terms with finding space in his highly trained OCD self to feel feelings for his biological mother, her friend’s son, Joey, Mia and Peter. He particularly finds his current “victim,” Andrew, the man he is helping unsympathetic and annoying. Along the way, with Joey’s exceptional skills, Evan infiltrates some highly dangerous sites and faces a guy that does not care about anything at all, who is assisted by a brother/sister assassin team that are totally crazy. If you’re looking for “alls well that ends well,” there’s a twist that makes you question if this ends well. Wait for it…. Just as in book 5, Evan answers his fancy super secure phone to hear the woman at the other end claiming to be his mother, the unexpected ending in book 6 leads us into the next Evan Smoak adventure. And as I’m a few chapters in, I’m looking forward to where that takes me.
TITLE: DARK HORSE (NUMBER 7)
Dark Horse does not disappoint. As a condition of his presidential pardon (read the other books!) Evan Smoak, the Nowhere Man, formerly Orphan X must not use his considerable skills anymore. Skills gained in an intensive program under a former administration to pluck foster children from care at age 12 or so and make them government assassins to solve those problems where legal options are not options. Evan’s trainer Jack became something of a father figure and he valued instilling humanity into Evan, along with ten commandments that are Evan’s own ethical code. Along the way, Evan took on Joey, an Orphan program washout who Jack also was training. Because the government is trying to wipe out all Orphans, washouts or not, Evan took teenaged Joey (Josephine) under his wing. She is a genius with computer research/hacking/you name it.
In Dark Horse, Evan promptly breaks his commitment to retire and takes on a job for a man who heads a crime family, which goes against Evan’s values. However, the man’s daughter eighteen year old Anjelina, has been kidnapped by a vicious crime family, known f0r torture, flooding the markets with adulterated illegal drugs that kill, taking no prisoners. Evan agrees to take a deadly chance (of course) and infiltrate the cartel that holds Anjelina. Of COURSE there are cinematically vivid scene of violence and clever choices made to take out his opponents. For me, it is this COMBINED with the backdrop of Evan trying to figure out life that makes these novels so engaging. In Dark Horse, Evan’s relationship with prosecutor Mia and her young son Peter deepens. He has a parent-child like battle with Joey about her desire to go on a roadtrip with her large dog, Dog that evolves over the novel as Evan better understands, himself, Joey and what it means to have relationships. He considers whether there are grades of good and evil and demands the best of his client in saving his daughter. There are loads of great characters as usual, villains, sympathetic but not very good people, victims, perpetrators, and people trying to be better, just like Evan. I listened to this one on the audio version. I enjoyed it except for the choices of voice and tone used for all female characters. Either the tone they used in talking or the voices themselves did not work with this narrator. But as a whole I enjoyed the audio performance so I just hope he works on this weak area.
TITLE: THE LAST ORPHAN (NUMBER 8)
Phew. Let me begin by saying I was afraid this was the last book in this series. I mean, I’m still not 100% sure why it’s called “The Last Orphan,” except the president calls Evan Smoak, the Nowhere Man the last orphan in a conversation.. I always, always enjoy reading these novels and always, always do so in a day or two at most. The plots are uneven, but Hurwitz is a gifted writer who will always pull me into the story. These books all have cinematic, violent scenes, creating movies in our brains of horrible, challenging situations that only Orphan X (also Evan Smoak, the Nowhere Man) can survive. Fans, like me, know Evan’s whole backstory as a bright and athletic foster kid who gets trained, largely by Jack, his mentor, to be a stone cold killer for the government and eventually ditches that to become the Nowhere Man. In this persona, he helps people who have no place else to go for help, often experiencing serious injuries and risking death.
The returning characters in the Last Orphan include another retired orphan, Candy McClure; Tommy, the guy who gets the right jazzed up truck and various arms to Evan when he inevitably loses a truck to destruction and ditches guns; Joey, his sort of adopted teenaged girl that Even rescued in a prior novel and her dog, Dog; Mia and Peter, his neighbor, off and on girlfriend and Naomi Templeton, gifted FBI agent with a semi-respectful relationship with “X.” Bottom line in this case is that the President tries to blackmail Evan into going after a charismatic guy, Luke Devine, who is messing with an environmental bill she is trying to get through Congress. Naomi is supposed to get his cooperation. Evan, as is characteristic when someone pushes him, balks.
Still, Evan begins to do some background work, getting leads on people who have known or been impacted by this Devine. In the course of all this he connects with the family of a young man whose murder may or may not have been at the behest of Devine. The victims sister has been threatened for asking too many questions. Evan, in his Nowhere Man persona, is concerned and he moves further along with his look see at Devine. The fabulously wealthy Devine has an impregnable security system and uses sophisticated technology to gather personal information on his guests for use in making his billions grow. He has a lot of goons/bodyguards who are pretty unimpressive, which often happens with pretty much any security team Evan encounters. He’s good, but they are never as good as he is. Still, Devine himself is a cipher. He is described as getting inside people’s heads, and Evan quickly understands this is true about him. He is fascinated and put off by Devine. He remains unsure whether he should carry out the President’s wishes and whether Devine “deserves” to be killed. There is a ton of humor in this series, even when things are going wildly crazy. Evan has lots of idiosyncrasies, like a single aloe plant he considers something of a pet, a habit of burning his clothes, then dressing in an identical set of clothes and a love for rare vodka. He is OCD. Joey is messy. Their relationship is a lot of fun. Evan doesn’t play well with others, yet Jack helped him retain his humanity and he is interacting with people in ways that matter and that create lasting relationships. These relationships and the people he interacts with are often amusing. In a different writer’s hands, this series would be too much. It is Hurwitz’s writing that makes this series. I am glad that, once again, he has set us up for the next entry at the close of this novel.