Nowhere Man: An Orphan X Novel (Evan Smoak), by Gregg Hurwitz

I fully confess, here and now to the entire internet, that I sometimes read strictly for brain candy. I have called it elsewhere “brain floss” and, like any other candy, it’s good in measured doses but better to avoid a full diet.

So when I look at my “to read” list and just about feel like barfing. When I keep pushing other books down the list because I can’t stand the thought of digging in on that topic (this has been the year of a WWII Nazi holocaust renaissance) I grab for an old faithful. Sometimes it’s a classic reread like Chandler or Hammett, or something by Coben, or something really fun like Wodehouse.

So, okay Gregg with two Gs, and your hero who spells smoke SMOAK, give me your best. This is the second in the Orphan X series I’ve read. The premise is pretty preposterous. Evan Smoak is raised in foster homes and orphanages until around age 12, when he is adopted by the Project Orphan secret program. In this program orphans are taken in and trained to become assassins for the government. Each orphan is given a letter designation and it’s just pretty damn sweet that Evan was tagged with X, because Orphan M wouldn’t have sounded interesting at all.

Evan has freed himself from the program and taken up a new identity. He’s used the multi-millions he’s been paid to be one of the world’s best assassins to create a posh (and largely secure and bullet-proof) apartment in LA. A neighbor is a single female DA with a young son. Evan and the mom meet in the first book and work up a cautious flirtation but events always conspire to interfere.

In this book Evan is kidnapped by a crazed East European criminal who has built his fortune on kidnapping extremely wealthy individuals and draining their bank accounts. At the same time members of the Orphan Project have been assigned to kill Evan.

Yes, I know it sounds bizarre but Hurwitz is a really fun writer. Despite the shoot-em-up thrills involved in the book … the strategizing and some well-written martial arts sequences … there are really touching parts in the book. Hurwitz does an excellent job of humanizing Evan who, after all, just wants to be left alone to live a normal life. So you swing back and forth between working out a plan to kill the three guards near the barn to memories of being the smallest among a group of kids in foster care.

I believe it’s much like fantasy fiction or other books that develop a loyal fanbase. Once you’re in the world you’re in there solidly. As long as the actions are logically consistent and (a little fantastically) possible you’re willing to be there with Evan for the full ride. Bad writers are all activity, minimal humanity, and logically inconsistent. Hurwitz is none of that.