Evan Smoak―government assassin gone rogue―returns in Hellbent, an engrossing, unputdownable thriller from Gregg Hurwitz, the latest in his #1 international bestselling Orphan X series.
Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X series is a wild ride, and Hellbent is no exception. It starts with a well-crafted premise: our hero, Evan Smoak, was pulled out of an orphanage at a young age to be trained as a black-ops assassin for the Department of Defense. His code name is Orphan X. Disillusioned, he left the program and went off the grid, using the alias The Nowhere Man. He helps desperate people who have no one else to help them. And now, the man who trained him to become Orphan X, whom he looks upon as a father, is asking for his help picking up a rather unusual package that isn’t what it seems. This draws him back into the maze he left behind when he abandoned his Orphan X persona.
Evan was still sitting in the kitchen, the Sub-Zero numbing his bare back, the glass of vodka resting on his knee. The phone remained at his face. He felt not so much paralyzed as unwilling to move. Movement would prove that time was passing, and right now time passing meant that bad things would happen.
He reminded himself to breathe. Two-second inhale, four-second exhale.
He reached for the Fourth Commandment: Never make it personal.
Jack had taught him the Commandments and would want—no, demand—that Evan honor them now.
The Fourth wasn’t working, so he dug for the Fifth: If you don’t know what to do, do nothing.
There was no situation that could not be made worse.
Evan is interesting and unexpected as a character—a cross between Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher with a dash of the A-Team and a sense of humor. He takes the myth of the loner to a whole new level.
Hurwitz’s writing delivers vivid scenes throughout the book. I was hooked with the first words of the prologue:
Evan’s scuffed knuckles, a fetching post-fight shade of eggplant, ledged the steering wheel. His nose was freshly broken, leaking a trickle of crimson. Nothing bad, more a shifting along old fault lines.
He inspected his nose in the rearview, then reached up and snapped it back into place.
The Cadillac’s alignment pulled to the right, threatening to dump him into the rain-filled roadside ditch. The seat springs poked into the backs of his thighs, and the fabric, dotted with cigarette scorch marks, reeked of menthol. The dome light housed a bare, burned-out bulb, the brake disks made a noise like an asphyxiating chicken, and the left rear brake light was out.
He should have stolen a better car.
Before you start reading Hellbent, you may want to make sure you have time to finish because you won’t want to get up. It could be his background as a comic writer (Batman, Wolverine, The Penguin) that helped develop his keen sense of cliffhanger development, or maybe it's the fact that this is his 19th novel. Hurwitz keeps up the page-turning pace for the entire book, all the way to the satisfying ending. And the ending is really satisfying.
It’s a great book to take with you on a cross-country airline flight or if you just want to put your nose in a book and leave it there for awhile. If you want to savor the series, start with the first book, Orphan X. While Hellbent stands on its own, you don't want to miss out on all of the fun of the first two books.
Bradley Cooper optioned the film rights to Orphan X a few years ago. I think he’d make a perfect Evan Smoak. Let's hope the movie comes soon.
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Deborah Lacy’s short mystery fiction has appeared in Mystery Weekly Magazine, the Bouchercon Anthology: Blood on the Bayou, and she has a story coming up in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She also runs the Mystery Playground blog.