Written by Gregg Hurwitz — There was considerable interest in Orphan X, the first book in Gregg Hurwitz‘s Evan Smoak series, which rocketed up the best seller lists. Now, there’s even news that Bradley Cooper may star in the movie adaptation. For us, however, the big news is the sequel, The Nowhere Man, which comes out Thursday 26 January.
Hurwitz includes enough back story in his latest book to ensure readers new readers are quickly up to speed with events, and here’s what you need to know. Smoak was co-opted at an early age into a secret government initiative to produce highly-trained assassins – the Orphan Programme. What remained of his childhood was spent learning numerous martial arts, weapon skills, espionage and counter-espionage techniques. So far so Jason Bourne, but although Smoak left the programme, unlike Jason Bourne he did so with his memories intact.
Now Smoak spends his time helping others who can’t help themselves. He’s the self-styled Nowhere Man, an avenging angel at the end of a telephone line, while at the same time trying to hide from what remains of the Orphan programme. Its agents see him as a loose cannon who must be captured and killed.
To keep himself safe, Smoak is off grid. Phone numbers, emails, financial transactions – they all lead to dead ends for anyone trying to track him down. But one man has cracked his system and Smoak is captured and transported to a mountain hideout. Rene Cassaroy’s business is kidnapping, theft and murder, and business is good. He identifies rich, soft targets, and abducts them to his isolated home. Once there, they are forced to give up the security details of their accounts. Their money is transferred into Cassaroy’s Swiss bank account, before the victim conveniently disappears. Cassaroy employs a gang of South American narco gangsters to provide security and ensure co-operation.
Smoak knows he has just a few days to escape, despite what appear to be impossible odds. He doesn’t know where he is, each night he is gassed to sleep, and even if he can get passed the armed guards and the vicious dogs, the cold, mountainous environment presents a formidable enemy. His only advantage is that Cassaroy and his gang have no idea of his abilities.
We are firmly in thriller territory here and Hurwitz knows the rules of the game. He starts at 90 miles an hour with Smoak disrupting a particularly vicious people smuggling ring, and never slows down. To pause is to risk the reader relinquishing the suspension of disbelief, and looked at in the cold light of day, so to speak, there is plenty here that is implausible.
However, Hurwitz provides enough excitement and momentum to keep us engaged. Smoak is perhaps a little too humourless, but has a satisfying hint of darkness in his character. The set-up – essentially a puzzle which Smoak must solve with a combination of cunning and violence – is excellent. Cassaroy, a psychopath and narcissist with some interesting neuroses, makes an excellent Bond-style villain. Many of the world’s super villains come together to bid for the right to kill Smoak at the end of the story, making for a fantastically over the top finale but it feels exactly right.
The Nowhere Man isn’t aimed at fans of noir or literary crime fiction, and I expect they are unlikely to pick up such a book. Lee Child and James Patterson have both shown just how big the market for escapist fiction is, and The Nowhere Man is a superior example of this kind of improbable thriller.
For more on action thrillers, have a look at our brief introduction to the genre here, with an audio interview with Lee Child courtesy of Brum Radio.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars