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Gregg Hurwitz on the Shadowy Origins of Orphan X

The Amazon Books editors chose Gregg Hurwitz's nonstop thriller Orphan X as one of the Best Books of January. Headlined by the enigmatic Evan Smoak, an ex-assassin with a conscience, Orphan X is a galvanizing and suspenseful novel full of surprises—and launches a new series.

We asked author Gregg Hurwitz to give us some insight into Evan Smoak, what make makes him tick, and what lies ahead.

Amazon Book ReviewAmazon Book Review: Orphan X's main character, Evan Smoak, is an enigmatic U.S.-trained assassin whose backstory you gradually reveal as the action moves forward. How much of Evan's background did you know before you put your fingers on the keyboard and started writing his story?

Gregg Hurwitz: Orphan X is certainly the biggest thriller I've written—but at the end of the day, none of that matters without the character. It all really centers on Evan Smoak. It took me a lot of years and a lot of typing to find this guy, someone I wanted to devote years and years of my life to. It's not just because of Evan's Black Ops training or his mental toughness, conditioned by Jack (his handler in the Orphan Program) since Evan was twelve—but it's the part of Evan that is conflicted that really speaks to me. As Jack tells him, "Making you a killer is easy. The hard part is keeping you human." Evan's moral compass was never broken and now he spends his life protecting people enjoying "ordinary lives"—those who live a kind of life he himself could never have. He's an outsider with his nose up to the glass, looking in. And there's a longing there. His greatest strength is also a curse of sorts. And I find that incredibly compelling. 

I always knew that the primary focus above all else, beyond plot and research, had to be this character and what lives at the heart of him. 

Amazon Book Review: Parts of Evan's background are a mystery even to him. Do you have plans in upcoming Evan Smoak books to go even deeper into Evan's past?

Gregg Hurwitz: Yes—what I'm looking forward to the most is delving into Evan's past. Orphan X certainly gives us bits and pieces but a lot more is left out. He certainly has a mysterious background and upbringing, and future books will give me a chance to lift the curtain ever so slightly to shine light on these dark corners of Evan's past. 

Amazon Book Review: You're very detailed about the technology and the weaponry that are used by Evan and the people who are hunting him. Can you tell us about your research process?

Gregg HurwitzGregg Hurwitz: I didn't want Evan's training to feel like B.S. Hollywood stuff—you know, where he's catching flies with chopsticks or balancing on his finger atop a cliff in Tibet. So once I had a handle on who Evan was, I knew I had to dig into research to give Orphan X that ring of verisimilitude.

One of my consultants, a world-renowned sniper and armorer, got me onto every gun I write about, from Benelli combat shotguns to custom 1911 pistols. I trained in mixed martial arts, accruing a garden of bruises and familiarizing my face with the training mat.

I talked to guys who led operations that you've seen on CNN, who have gone into hostile territory, under deep cover, or played offense in some of the most dangerous theaters in the world. All in an effort to show the process by which a skinny, scared kid from an East Baltimore boys' home could plausibly transform into Orphan X, a legendary figure in the shadow service. 

Amazon Book Review: Of the fifteen novels you've written, what's the one you recommend to people when they say, "I haven't read you before, but I'd like to start."

Gregg Hurwitz: Orphan X! This is the starting point to the next chapter of my career. This is the book I had the most fun researching and writing. And it's the closest to my heart. ​

Amazon Book Review: What books are on your bedside table right now?

Gregg Hurwitz: I just finished Lee Child's Make Me (loved it) and it hasn't yet been set it its alphabetic/chronological spot on my bookshelves (yes, I am that geeky). Robert Crais's The Promise (spectacular). And William Goldman's Which Lie Did I Tell?, his follow-up to Adventures in the Screen Trade.

Amazon Book Review: Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of Evan Smoak's next challenge?

Gregg Hurwitz: I don't want to give too much away. But it will involve his finding himself in the most difficult position (literally and figuratively) of his entire life.


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