Reading Gregg Hurwitz’s Orphan X, which introduces Evan Smoak, a former agent of a government organization so secret it has no acronym, my thoughts turned not to Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne, a comparison many reviewers have made, but to Eoin Colfer’s Artemus Fowl. When my son was a pre-teen, he and I read every volume of Colfer’s series of adventure novels centering on the exploits of Artemus, a pre-teen magician and “criminal mastermind.” Colfer described the series as “Die Hard with fairies.”
Orphan X is not Jason Bourne, not because the character Evan Smoak lacks any of the skill set of Bourne — Smoak possesses those skills and more — but because Gregg Hurwitz, like Eoin Colfer, is a writer’s writer. Robert Ludlum, for all the success of the Bourne trilogy, was a movie producer’s writer. The Bourne novels made terrific movies, but they are ordinary novels, more like movie treatments than fully-executed fiction.
Orphan X, though, is a fine novel, composed with a screenwriter’s ear for dialogue and a novelist’s eye for pacing and structure, a writer’s deft touch with language, character and scene. Gregg Hurwitz, had he made the choice, could have been an accomplished literary novelist, winner of prizes and read by — perhaps thousands. Instead, Hurwitz, to his credit, chose to become an adventure writer, whose work has been and will be read, heard, seen by millions. Hurwitz has written novels, movie scripts, and Batman comics. But Orphan X may represent his best work, Evan Smoak his most compelling character. If Artemus Fowl is “Die Hard with fairies,” Orphan X is Batman with an everyman’s secret identity, if everyman were trained in several esoteric martial arts and equally skilled with military weapons and computer software.
If you enjoy thrillers, don’t miss this one.