“Orphan X – Orphan X #1” by Gregg Hurwitz

This is a well-written example of a male wish fulfilment fantasy, where we play the tough, competent hero in a world where problems can be solved with violence and sacrifice, women need to be rescued and bad people need to be killed.

Every now and again, I get the urge to take a holiday from myself and spend some time imagining being someone I know I’ll never be and someone that, deep down, we know we don’t want to be: a disciplined, potent, loner who has all the toys and all the money but is still driven by a code of honour to protect the weak.

“Orphan X” gave me a top-of-the-range opportunity to indulge myself this way. It’s a well-written male wish fulfilment fantasy, where I got to be “The Nowhere Man”, Orphan X a tough, competent hero in a world where problems can be solved with violence and sacrifice, women need to be rescued and bad people need to be killed

The hero pays a price, of course, or else he wouldn’t be a hero. Orphan X is burdened with isolation, the constant risk of death or injury and the need to keep secret who he is.

I liked the fact that Orphan X isn’t just a rapidly sketched personae for some kind of be-an-assassin-for-a-day video game. His character as Evan Smoak is well constructed and, with a little suspension of disbelief with regard to skill levels and pain tolerance, very plausible.

While we follow the action-packed plot we learn how he has been groomed to be a weapon since his early teens and how it came to be that he decided that he should be a self-directed weapon and not just a blade to be used by anonymous sponsors.

The question of what constitutes ethical behaviour for a man who spends his time killing people was thoughtfully handled, borrowing something from the “pay-it-forward” mindset.

Smoak’s slow, accidental slide into a relationship with a young boy and his working-single-mother, did a lot to fill out Orphan X’s character.

I was impressed when Hurwitz turned both Smoak’s ethical code and his relationship with the boy against him, turning them into things that could destroy him and making him far more vulnerable than these kinds of heroes usually are.

In the end, I liked Evan Smoak, although I really, really wouldn’t want to be him. He’s more human than Jack Reacher and more ethical than Jack Bauer.

He’s still an emotionally distant, frequently ruthless killer, crippled by the training that took away much, but not all of his humanity.

As an entertainment, within the conventions of the genre, “Orphan X” was first-rate. A strong, clever plot, lots of graphic action scenes, lots and lots of toys with all the technical details provided and just enough emotional content to stop it being weapons-porn without turning into anything mushy or chic-flickish.

I read “Orphan X” as part of my “Thirty Firsts 2019 TBR Reading Challenge.” Part of the challenge is to rate my eagerness to read the series (Yes / Probably / Maybe / No)I’ve rated Orphan X as a Probably. I’m not in any rush but the next time I’m in the mood to play Batman without the melodrama of wearing a cape, I’ll visit with Evan Smoak and see what he does next.

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