My version: Hardback
Genre: Fiction Thriller
Publisher: Michael Joseph, Penguin Random House UK
First published: 2019
From the cover:
For President Jonathan Bennet, reaching the White House was the realisation of a lifetime’s ambition. He’s leader of the free world and the most powerful man on earth. But public support for his administration is wearing thin. And if the terrible truth about his rise to the top was exposed it would bury him.
He will not let that happen.
As a boy, Evan Smoak was taken from his foster home and inducted into a top secret Cold War programme. Code-named Orphan X, he was trained to become a lethal weapon, then dispatched around the world to do whatever was required to keep his country safe. When Evan discovered the mission was rotten to the core, he got out using his skills to hide in plain sight while helping those who can’t help themselves.
But Evan knows about the president’s dark past. And that’s dangerous knowledge. To save himself and his country, Evan must ask himself one simple question: how do you kill the most well-protected man on earth? And, when he knows you’re coming for him, how do you stay alive long enough to try? One thing is certain: a desperate call for help from another unfortunate in urgent need of Evan’s protection isn’t going to make it any easier…
The idea of an honourable US President only exists now in the world and minds of thriller writers. So, to say ‘and if the terrible truth about his rise to the top was exposed, it would bury him,’ does stretch believability. Even amongst those of us fortunate enough to remember a time when there were half-way decent US Presidents. However, Gregg Hurwitz does pull the trick off pretty well, though the President here, is in the background, meant, I think, to be a menacing figure, pulling the strings behind the scene.
The main player, is of course, Orphan X. The link with previous books here, isn’t so much other Orphans, but more with Evan Smoak’s growing – Bourne-like – realisation of what he was turned into. Which, ironically, is what enables him to help people now. Though that is squared off by his realisation of what he is, was, and what he didn’t want to be any more. Now, he can’t help it. It’s when you find yourself thinking about that sort of thing, that you realise how good a book is.
As a thriller, it is very near perfect, even though Robert Crais is quoted as calling it ‘The perfect thriller’ on the front. For me, what keeps it from being the perfect thriller, is that president, and some of the ridiculous Vodka nonsense. Thinking that someone can taste the difference enough between Vodka made using condensed clouds from somewhere or other, or any other supermarket Vodka, is ridiculous. The ridiculousness isn’t that someone can taste the difference, I’m sure there may be someone or other that will say they can, but to have it as a character trait, just doesn’t work. It says nothing about the character, as it is the product of his indoctrination. Obsessiveness, maybe, but that’s covered in a variety of other ways. His awkwardness and feelings about family and the woman who lives in the same building are though, exceptionally well-done. Overall, then, the best Orphan X thriller so far and as close to perfection as you and I are gonna come any time soon.