Minotaur Books, 2016, 356 pages
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.
Grabbing the listener from the beginning, Orphan X is a masterful thriller, the first in Gregg Hurwitz's electrifying new series featuring Evan Smoak.
Evan Smoak is very blatantly a Jason Bourne clone. The author cites Bourne and many other fictional protagonists as inspiration in the foreword. So you know what you are in for - a super-dooper-secret agent taken off the streets as an orphan and turned into a superhero for a "black box" government outfit that's off the books and completely deniable, expandable, etc. He eventually leaves employment after suffering moral qualms about his job, and has taken up a crusader's mantle, finding people in dire straights and using his special skills to help them, ala the Equalizer.
There is nothing new here. So it's all in the story and whether Gregg Hurwitz can take a reliable and well-worn trope and make it entertaining, without being too cheesy.
He does. Evan, "Orphan X," is of course practically superhuman, tougher than a roomful of Shaolin Green Beret ninja Gurkas, but Hurwitz stops just short of making him a parody (like Trevanian) or a laughably bad Gary Stu (like this piece of crap). His descriptions of Evan's martial, technical, and espionage skills have just enough of a whiff of plausibility to let you suspend disbelief, at least if you can do the same thing for other genre novels.
The first part of the book introduces us to Evan and his Batman work, helping girls enslaved by traffickers and beautiful gamblers who've gotten themselves millions of dollars in debt to the Mob. Intersecting with this improbable career path is his life in a managed apartment complex where he has to interact with a comical cast of fellow residents constantly bugging him with mundane nonsense and personal dramas. This is the "secret identity" part of Evan's life, which naturally sometimes creates conflict with his need to suddenly jump out windows and blow up bad guys.
We learn more about the government's Orphan program once Evan finds that one of his clients is not what she seems (shocker), setting him up for further conflicts with other former Orphans.
This is the first book in a series, and I liked it more than I thought I would. As I said, it's not very original, but if you like an occasional over-the-top action thriller, this is a good beach read with a likable, almost-but-not-quite ridiculous protagonist.
Also by Gregg Hurwitz: My review of Tell No Lies.
My complete list of book reviews.