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Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz

Published by Minotaur Books on January 29, 2019

Each Orphan X novel has impressed me more than the previous installment. Greg Hurwitz continues to humanize Evan Smoak, adding substance that most tough guy protagonists lack. I’m even getting used to the subplots, which involve Smoak’s sideline as a protector of the unfortunate. While Smoak’s apparent invincibility is still a little hard to swallow (assaulted by a dozen guys with machine guns? no problem), the action scenes are written with such detail that it is easy to set aside disbelief and get lost in the story.

Smoak’s new plan is to kill the president. This is a fictitious president, Jonathan Bennett, who rose to the presidency from a gig in the Department of Defense, where he sent Smoak, a/k/a Orphan X, on his first mission. The president wants to erase all the details of a 1997 assassination — an assassination that Smoak carried out at the not-so-tender age of 19 — by having Smoak killed. Bennett also had someone killed in a previous novel who was close to Smoak, so Smoak intends to return the favor. Why Smoak’s dirty deed in 1997 is important to Bennett is something Smoak does not immediately understand, but he makes it his mission to find out while he plots the president’s assassination.

Meanwhile, Judd Holt (a/k/a Orphan A) is biding his time in a supermax prison until he gets the chance to kill Smoak. The president releases him for just that purpose.

The subplot deals with Smoak’s Have Gun - Will Travel sideline as the Nowhere Man, a problem solver for those who need his muscular assistance (except that Smoak, unlike Paladin, does it for free). This time the call for help comes from a developmentally disabled (albeit high functioning) young man whose immediate family has been wiped out in retribution for the young man’s failure to follow orders issued by a drug cartel. So Smoak takes a break from killing the president and battling Orphan A to take on a drug cartel.

All in a day’s work.

Smoak’s plan to kill the president and then to escape is worthy of a Mission Impossible movie. Some scenes — Smoak appears in the mist, gives a speech, and when the person he’s talking to looks for him again, he has vanished — suggest that Smoak is Batman without the cape and cowl. There’s even a character who seems to be based on the X-Files’ Cancer Man. But it’s all fun, and even ideas that aren’t entirely original are assembled in original ways. The truth behind Smoak’s mysterious 1997 mission is so plausible it’s scary.

On the whole, this series has been getting better since its inception. The ending assures that the storyline will take a turn after Out of the Dark. I’m curious to see what the Nowhere Man does next.


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