"Orphan X" Review by Mark Billingsley
"Orphan X" by Gregg Hurwitz
There is a lot of excitement in the book world, and the suspense/thriller genre in particular, about Gregg Hurwitz's new series featuring Evan Smoak, aka "Orphan X". As a writer Gregg Hurwitz is a wonder. He comes to the field of fiction writer with an amazing curriculum vitae, having garnered a bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University and a master's degree from Trinity College, Oxford in Shakespearean tragedy. He was also an award-winning pole vaulter at Harvard University and soccer player at Trinity College. Before reading his bio I would have said that "Orphan X" was the first of his works that I had read, and very happy to finally have discovered his work, but that would have been incorrect. I was more familiar with his work than I knew, since Hurwitz is also an accomplished screenwriter for major movie franchises and a successful television series. While these accomplishments might encourage some writers to rest on their laurels ( or, I don't now, maybe even just take a rest), Hurwitz has filled in his spare time by penning several popular comic book installments for DC and Marvel, notably "Batman, The Dark Knight", which I have in my collection, (what?) and several in the "Wolverine" series. In his spare time he has been known to teach fiction writing at local universities. I mention all of the above to emphasize that Hurwitz brings a lot of talent, experience and enthusiasm to the tasks of fiction writing and that "Orphan X" is a an excellent example of those attributes realized in print.
The story opens with a 12-year-old Evan being driven to an undisclosed location by Jack, shortly after being beaten up by older boys at a tough, urban orphanage, unaware that his life is about to change dramatically. He will soon be adopted by Jack, front man, trainer for a black ops government program, and warrior-philosopher of the highest order. Jack is tasked with identifying, procuring and training a new generation of underground agents, assassins actually, living drones that can be set on a target and bring about its destruction with surgical precision. Evan killed his first man at the age of 16. It was a very successful program and, by the time he was a young man, Evan was one of the very best agents it produced. It was a sad day for the program when Evan began to develop a conscience.
When Evan went rogue he had the advantage, due to a twist fate, of having access to a ridiculous sum of black money. That money would finance his next endeavor, protecting the weak andrescuing the desperate. As campy as that may sound, Hurwitz makes it work. What follows is a series of actions by Evan orchestrated from his 21st floor aerie and fortress of solitude in LAs Wilshire district. Evan's possession of practically unlimited funds, state of the art weaponry, mastery of surveillance techniques and equipment and relentless drive make him an agent of formidable skill and resources, and he put's it all in the service of the powerless and vulnerable.
There is a lot to love about this book and character. We have a steadfast, inexorable hero, the defenseless and sympathetic victims that he would protect from a host of ruthless and implacable villains all brought together by brilliant, talented writer at the top of his game. Whats not to love? In my opinion, the reason this story works so well is that Hurwitz has tapped into the metaphoric vein of gold described by the likes of Jung and Campbell in their masterworks as the archetypal hero. That hero may be known as the Dark Knight, Miyamoto Musashi,or The Count of Monte Cristo but they are all literary incarnations of one the hero's thousand faces. This one is rendered beautifully. Mark Billingsley