Q&A with Gregg Hurwitz, Author of Dark Horse
By Crime HQFebruary 8, 2022
Who or what inspired the character of Orphan X?
Orphan X is the culmination of decades of writing and research. It took a lotta years for me to find my way to Evan. And fair enough. He’s a hard guy to find. He was yanked out of a foster home at the age of twelve, raised in a covert black assassin program buried so deep within the U.S. government that virtually no one knows it exists.
And I didn’t want this to feel like nonsense Hollywood training, you know, where he’s catching flies with chopsticks. So I spent months doing research. Off I went to Vegas to visit one of my consultants, a world-renowned sniper and armorer, who got me onto every gun I write about, from Benelli combat shotguns to custom 1911 pistols. I trained—badly—in mixed martial arts, familiarizing my face with the training mat. I talked to guys who have led operations that you’ve seen on CNN, who have gone into hostile territory, under deep cover, and played offense in some of the most dangerous theatres in the world. All in an effort to show the process by which a skinny, scared kid from an East Baltimore boy’s home could plausibly transform into Orphan X, a legendary figure in the shadow service.
The idea of him derived from my friends who have worked in black ops. I wondered at a program that would take young foster kids, kids no one wanted, to raise them to be in essence expandable weapons. I wove facts into fiction, all the while concentrating on who my character would be.
Once I had a handle on Evan Smoak, I knew that this adventure would follow. And many more.
Tell us about Evan Smoak’s devotion to helping those in need.
Unlike someone like Bourne, Evan knows who he is. He knows fully what he is capable of—and all the awful things he has done. And yet he chooses to do good. That’s what makes him so compelling to me as a character.
And while he has to spend the rest of his life off the grid, while he has to bear the cross of being forever an outsider looking in, he’s got the expertise to do one thing. To work pro-bono from the shadows, helping the desperate with nowhere else to turn. It takes a wolf to keep the wolves at bay. He hates bullies, abusers, and those who terrorize others with less power. He hates it down the bone marrow because when he was a scared skinny kid in that foster home, he had no power himself. And he never forgot that feeling.
That’s the heart of what I connected with when I found this character. He devotes himself to protecting others who are living a kind of life that he himself can never have. There’s a longing in that—and a tragic shading. What if the code by which you live is also a curse?
In the new Orphan X thriller Dark Horse, for the first time in the series, the person-in-need that Evan Smoak helps isn’t (arguably) a wholly sympathetic character. Why the change?
The further I get in my writing, the more I move from portraying heroes and villains and the closer I get to writing protagonists and antagonists. Evan isn’t black or white; he’s a dangerous shade of gray. And there’s so much more complexity when he engages with and comes up against people who are equally complex. Perhaps that’s one of the features of aging, the realization that everything is more complicated than we imagined. I’m enjoying creating conflicts and clashes where Evan and I have to pay close attention to determine what the right thing to do is.
You conduct a lot of detailed research for each entry in the series. Do you have a favorite research experience?
Probably when I was with my dear friend Billy Stojack (RIP), who I based the character of Tommy after. We were out at his Vegas ranch hanging out, looking through his gear, and he gave me his big goofy grin, hefted a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and said, “Wanna go out in the desert and play adult lawn darts?”
About Dark Horse by Gregg Hurwitz:
Evan Smoak is a man with many identities and a challenging past. As Orphan X, he was a government assassin for the off-the-books Orphan Program. After he broke with the Program, he adopted a new name and a new mission–The Nowhere Man, helping the most desperate in their times of trouble. Having just survived an attack on his life and the complete devastation of his base of operations, as well as his complicated (and deepening) relationship with his neighbor Mia Hall, Evan isn’t interested in taking on a new mission. But one finds him anyway.
Aragon Urrea is a kingpin of a major drug-dealing operation in South Texas. He’s also the patron of the local area—supplying employment in legitimate operations, providing help to the helpless, rough justice to the downtrodden, and a future to a people normally with little hope. He’s complicated—a not completely good man, who does bad things for often good reasons. However, for all his money and power, he is helpless when one of the most vicious cartels kidnaps his innocent eighteen-year-old daughter, spiriting her away into the armored complex that is their headquarters in Mexico. With no other way to rescue his daughter, he turns to The Nowhere Man.
Now not only must Evan figure out how to get into the impregnable fortress of a heavily armed, deeply paranoid cartel leader, but he must decide if he should help a very bad man—no matter how just the cause.