Orphan X
Gregg Hurwitz
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Buy *Orphan X (Evan Smoak)* by Gregg Hurwitzonline

Orphan X (Evan Smoak)
Gregg Hurwitz
Minotaur Books
368 pages
January 2016
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This off-the-grid thriller introduces a new protagonist with the skills of a superhero and the accoutrements of a black ops assassin: the mysterious Orphan X. Trained since childhood to participate in a government-sanctioned program, Evan Smoak went out on his own after a violent confrontation took the life of his handler/mentor, Jack Johns. Years of rigorous training have left Evan with a deadly skill set and a defunct organization. In lieu of that connection, Smoak becomes a champion of the disenfranchised, available to those in desperate need of assistance, a sort of modern-day “Equalizer” to deal with the bad guys and protect the innocent from predators. A catechism of commandments from his earlier days guides him in the various ventures he undertakes. The only way Evan can be reached is through a technologically-protected phone number, each victim asked to pass the number along to one person in trouble.

Needless to say, Evan practices the critical rules of his trade: home base hidden behind layers of false internet connections, a rigorous attention to maintaining martial arts and mental skills, and the use of sophisticated technology to insulate access from outside. With a number of safe houses and vehicles, Evan resides primarily in an expensive penthouse in L.A., a network of devices obscuring both his former identity as Orphan X and his current persona, a surplus of funds available in offshore accounts. Religiously vigilant, Evan practices the healthy paranoia of one who lives outside the boundaries of society with the freedom to travel at a moment’s notice. No longer operating under orders as Orphan X, he applies hard-earned lessons to survival in his present incarnation.

The unraveling of Smoak’s precise security begins shortly after he helps 17-year-old Morena Aguilar and her younger sister who are under the thumb of a dirty cop who controls a whole Los Angeles neighborhood of young women trapped in poverty. After Morena has escaped her particular nightmare and moved to her grandmother’s home in Las Vegas, Evan receives a call from another stranger asking for help. Katrin White is young, beautiful, and in trouble. She owes a large gambling debt in Las Vegas; the lenders threaten to kill her father if she doesn’t pay. Following the protocols that have kept him safe at each new assignation, Evan meets Katrin at a specified place. In spite of his meticulous planning, an attempt is made on her life, the beginning of a harrowing cat-and-mouse game that pushes Evan to the limit of his physical and mental endurance. He tries to keep Katrin safe while figuring out why this case has so quickly escalated to mortal combat: “They’d gone to the nest level. They’d brought in professionals.”

This first novel in a new series offers an impressive protagonist in an unusual profession, an adrenaline-fueled tale of a former assassin pursued by unknown adversaries in a landscape where cutting-edge technology meets superior physical and mental training, Evan forced to question every action, every relationship along the way for signs of deception. The back story (told in chapters interspersed through the thriller) explains not only Evan’s extraordinary life and training but the powerful social isolation necessary to secure his chosen career. Brief moments of personal interactions suggest a man of substance and integrity, relationships a threat to his security and ability to intervene for those in need. The twists are unexpected and shocking, ratcheting up the suspense as Evan moves between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, desperately trying to save his client while learning the identity of an enemy determined to take him permanently out of play.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2016

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