"Evan Smoak is a hunted man, but he knows how to strike back!"
Reviewed by Magdalena Johansson
Posted January 29, 2019
Thriller | Suspense Spy
Evan Smoak is a trained assassin known as Orphan X. He was
part of the Orphan Program until he broke with it and used
everything he had learned to reinvent himself as the Nowhere
Man. Now he helps those that are desperate and have no one
else to turn to. However, now someone is killing off all the
Orphans, someone very high up in the government. Evan
decides to strike back to take out the man behind the
killings, the man who started the program, the President of
the United States.
OUT OF THE DARK IS BOOK four in the Orphan
X series. I've previously only read the first
book, and a lot has happened since I read ORPHAN
X. Nevertheless, the book was easy to get into, and I
liked both "missions" he took on in this book. Besides his
vendetta he is helping a young man whose entire family
pretty much has been killed off because he crossed the wrong
man. I must say that as much as I liked Evan's vendetta
against the president this case was most heartbreaking.
OUT OF THE DARK is action-filled, but there are also some
funny moments, often when he's with a neighbor and her son.
Evan is trying pretty hard to be an ordinary man, but it's
not easy when you've been trained as an assassin since you
were a kid. I recommend not only this book, but to find the
rest of the books in the Orphan
X series to read. I know I'm eager to read the ones
When darkness closes inâ€”he's your last, best hope.
Evan Smoak returns in Gregg Hurwitzâ€™s #1 international
bestselling Orphan X series.
Taken from a group home at age twelve, Evan Smoak was raised
and trained as part of the Orphan Program, an off-the-books
operation designed to create deniable intelligence
assetsâ€”i.e. assassins. Evan was Orphan X. He broke with the
Program, using everything he learned to disappear and
reinvent himself as the Nowhere Man, a man who helps the
truly desperate when no one else can. But now Evan's past is
catching up to him.
Someone at the very highest level of government has been
trying to eliminate every trace of the Orphan Program by
killing all the remaining Orphans and their trainers. After
Evan's mentor and the only father he ever knew was killed,
he decided to strike back. His target is the man who started
the Program and who is now the most heavily guarded person
in the world: the President of the United States.
But President Bennett knows that Orphan X is after him and,
using weapons of his own, he's decided to counter-attack.
Bennett activates the one man who has the skills and
experience to track down and take out Orphan Xâ€”the first
recruit of the Program, Orphan A.
With Evan devoting all his skills, resources, and
intelligence to find a way through the layers of security
that surround the President, suddenly he also has to protect
himself against the deadliest of opponents. It's Orphan vs.
Orphan with the future of the countryâ€”even the worldâ€”on the
ExcerptPROLOGUE: PERENNIAL RAIN
Evan is nineteen, fresh off the plane, trained up,
mission-ready. And yet untested.
His first assignment as Orphan X.
He adjusts rapidly to this foreign place, a city with
drizzly rain, imperious ministry buildings, and men who kiss
on both cheeks.
His backstop is impeccable, endorsed by visas, a
well-stamped passport, verifiable previous addresses, and
phone numbers that ring to strategically placed responders.
Jack, his handler and surrogate father, has built for him a
suitably banal operational aliasâ€”enterprising young
Ontarian, recently separated from his equally young wife,
eager to shepherd his family's home-siding business into
territories unknown. He and Jack worked the identity,
kneading it like dough, until Evan was aligned with it so
thoroughly that he actually felt the sting of his domestic
setback and the fire of ambition to expand into this brave
new market. Evan has learned not to act but to live
his cover. And he does his best to stash away the part
of him that does not believe his alias until the point at
which he will require it.
He moves frequently around this gray city to prevent
degradation of cover. Now and then in the streets,
he comes across others his age. They seem like creatures of
a different species. They don backpacks and trickle in and
out of hostels, drunkenly recounting school tales in foreign
tongues. As always, he remains separateâ€”from them and
everyone else. The United States has no footprints in this
country. There will be no rolling-car meetings, no physical
contacts from an embassy. If he fails, he will expire in a
cold prison, alone and forgotten, after decades of
suffering. That is, if he's not fortunate enough to be
One night he is meditating on a threadbare blanket in a
hotel seemingly as old as the country itself when the
mustard-yellow rotary phone on the nightstand gives off a
It is Jack. "May I speak to Frederick?" he says.
"There is no one here by that name," Evan says, and
Immediately he fires up his laptop and pirates Internet
from the travel agency across the avenue. Logging in to a
specified e-mail account, he checks the Drafts folder.
Sure enough, there's an unsent message.
Two words: "Package waiting." And an address
near the outskirts of the city. Nothing more.
He types beneath: "Is it a weapon?"
A moment later the draft updates: "You're the
weapon. Everything else is an implement."
Even from across an ocean, Jack casts arcane pearls of
wisdomâ€”part koan, part war slogan, all pedagogy.
Evan logs off. Because they communicated within a saved
message inside a single account, not a word has been
transmitted over the Internet, where it could be detected or
On his way out of the rented room, Evan freezes, hand
wrapped around the wobbly doorknob. He has been tasked. Once
he goes through that door, it is official. Seven years of
training has brought him to this moment. His body is gripped
by a comprehensive, bone-crushing fear. He doesn't want to
die. Doesn't want to crack rocks and eat goulash in some
labor camp for the rest of his days. Doesn't want his last
moments to be the pressure of a Tokarev nine-mil at the base
of his skull and the taste of copper. The perennial rain
streaks the window, a tap-tap-tapping on his
nerves. He's sweated through his shirt, and yet the
tinny doorknob remains cool beneath his palm.
Like a prayer, he hears Jack's words in his ear as if he
were right beside him: Envision someone else, someone
better than you. Stronger. Smarter. Tougher. Then do what
that guy would do.
"Act like who you want to be," Evan tells the stale air
of the hotel. He vows to leave his fear behind him in that
He opens the door and steps through.
The bus out of the city reeks of body odor and sweet
tobacco. Sitting in the back, Evan applies a thin sheen of
superglue to his fingertips to avoid leaving prints. He
prefers this to gloves because it looks less conspicuous and
allows him better tactile sensation.
Uneven asphalt erodes into a winding dirt road carved
into a mountainside. Eastern Bloc municipal rigor dissolves
into hamlets in shambles. Bedsheets flap in the wind.
Buildings lean crookedly. Riding a wet gust, a muezzin's
call to prayer. It is as though they have traversed not
communities but continents.
The address belongs to a walk-up apartment overlooking a
cart- congested road. Evan mounts the curved stucco
staircase, padding across blue-and-white Turkish tile, and
knocks on a giant arched door, its wood embellished with
rusting metal straps. It creaks open grandly to reveal a
round man in loose-fitting clothes of indeterminate style.
"Ah," he says, wireless spectacles glinting. "I trust
your journey was safe?" A sweeping gesture of arm and draped
sleeve accompanies his softly accented English. "Come in."
The ceiling is high, churchlike. A Makarov pistol rests
in plain view on top of a television with rabbit-ear
antennae. The man and Evan pass through clattering bead
curtains into a cramped kitchen and sit before shallow teak
bowls filled with figs, dried fruits, and nuts.
The man produces a small plastic bag with
only Magic Markered on the
label in Cyrillic. Inside the bag is a single bullet casing.
Evan examines it through the plastic. A copper-washed steel
cartridge from a 7.62 Ã— 54mmR round.
It dawns on him that this shell holds a fingerprint,
that it is to be left behind to direct blame elsewhere for
what Evan will be instructed to do.
He thanks the man and moves to rise, but the man reaches
across the table, wraps his brown fingers around
Evan's wrist. "What you hold in your hands is dangerous
beyond what you can imagine. Be careful, my friend. It is an
The next morning Evan takes to the city neighborhoods he
has been scrupulously exploring for the past few weeks. He
knows where to make inquiries, and these inquiries land him
in the back of an abandoned textile factory, speaking to a
trim little Estonian over an industrial weaving loom on
which Sovietski rifles are laid out at fastidious
The preserved shell in Evan's pocket requires a round
that fits a limited range of guns. He looks over the Warsaw
Pact offerings, spots a surplused-out Mosin-Nagant with a
PSO-1 scope. He points, and the Estonian, using a clean gun
cloth, presents it to him. As he observes Evan examining the
Russian sniper rifle, his smile borders on the lascivious.
The gun will give Evan a two-inch grouping at a hundred
meters, which is all he needs, but he affects a negotiator's
displeasure. "Not a world-class rifle."
The man folds his soft pink fingers. "It is not as
though you are going to the National Matches at Camp
Evan notes the reference, tailored for him, a North
American buyer. He lifts a wary eye from the scope, regards
the little man in his ridiculous suit and pocket square.
The Estonian adjusts his tie, dips his baby-smooth chin
toward the rifle. "And besides," he says, "three million
dead Germans can't be wrong."
"Alvar?" A weak feminine voice turns Evan's head.
A beautiful young girl, maybe fifteen, stands in the
office doorway, naked save for a ratty blanket drawn across
her shoulders. Her eyes sunken and rimmed black. Bones
pronounced beneath her skin. Behind her, Evan spots a filthy
mattress on the floor and a metal cup and plate.
"I'm hungry," she says.
Evan catches her meaning through his grasp of Russian,
though he presumes she is speaking Ukrainian. He makes a
note to add this linguistic arrow to his Indo-European
The Estonian seethes, an abrupt break in his
middle-management demeanor. "Back in your fucking bedroom. I
told you never to come out when I am conducting business."
She doesn't so much retreat as fade back into the
Evan hefts the rifle, as if he will be paying by the
ounce. He flicks his head toward the closed door. "Looks
like she keeps you busy."
Alvar grins, showing tobacco-stained teeth. "You have no
idea, my friend."
To the side a pallet stacked with crates of frag
grenades peeks out from beneath a draped curtain. The
Estonian notices Evan noticing them.
"My friend, 1997 has proven good to me," he says. "It is
the Wild West here now. Orders coming in faster than I can
fill them. High quantity now. These are the kinds of movers
who move nations."
"For which side?" Evan asks.
The man laughs. "There are no sides. Only money." At
this prompt a wad of bills changes hands.
Seventy-two hours later, Evan finds himself in the sewer
beneath a thorough-fare, stooped in the dripping humidity,
Mosin-Nagant in hand. He stands on the concrete platform
above a river of sludge, waiting. The eye-level drainage
grate set into the curb grants him a good head-on vantage
down the length of the boulevard. In the distance, squawks
from mounted speakers and the roar of an erupting crowd. The
parade drawing nearer.
Various coded dispatches from Jack have filled in some
of the blanks. The target: a hawkish foreign minister
gaining power by the day, vocal about nuclear development.
Breathing the swamplike air, Evan waits. A cheer emanates
from the street above him. He lifts the rifle, the tip
inches from the mouth of the curb inlet, and clarifies his
view, allowing the scope to become his world.
Children held aloft on shoulders laugh and clap. On the
banked curve of visible street, sawhorses hold back the
masses. Miniature flags flicker before faces like swarming
The front of the processional, a phalanx of armored
SUVs, turns into view several hundred meters away. The
vehicles head up the stretch of asphalt toward Evan. His
view is slightly offset from each windshield as it flashes
in the muted midday sun.
Evan aligns himself with the rifle to reduce recoil and
allow for quick repeatability if he has to cycle a second
shot. He calculates the mechanical offsetâ€”the
one-and-seven-eighths measurement between the crosshairs
and bore axis. Then he adjusts the intersection
point for ninety meters, the spot where the vehicle spacing
is optimal for the angle he requires. His field of view will
diminish the closer the car gets. If the target passes the
mark, his shot will grow more difficult by the meter. It
must be ninety metersâ€”no more, no less.
He sets himself in position. Aside from the breath
cooling his pursed lips, he is still.
At once, looming large in the scope, is the target. A
tall, balding man with a dignified bearing, lean in a dark
suit, surrounded by various generals in full regalia and his
wife in a flowy aubergine dress. Waving to the crowd, they
are clustered in an open boat of a vehicle that brings to
mind the Popemobile.
One hundred ten meters. One hundred.
There is a problem.
The foreign minister's wife turns to face the opposite
side of the street, completely blocking Evan's view. Her
head right in front of her husband's.
Panic. In a split second, Evan falls apart and
If he has to go through her, it's better to penetrate
the eye socket so there's only one chance for the skull to
deflect the round. Evan lays the crosshairs directly on her
He takes the slack out of the two-stage trigger,
breathes breath number one. He is looking directly into her
eye, into her. Mascara on the curled lashes, joy crinkling
the upper lid. She is not part of the mission. Should he
disregard her as collateral damage? In the corridors of his
mind, Evan listens for Jack but hears nothing aside from the
hiss of passing tires and the frenzied stir of the
Second breath. Exhale. The final half breath before the
If he waits any longer, a host of new problems will
present themselves. A one-millimeter movement of his finger
pad gets it done.
Inconveniently, Jack's voice announces itself now, a
whisper in his ear: The hard part isn't turning you
into a killer. The hard part is keeping you human.
The vehicle coasts forward. It is on the X. The dark dot
of her pupil, the minister's head pulling back, aligning
perfectly behind her. Now.
And then they are past.
Evan discards the half breath. Sweat stings his eyes.
His mind races, recalculating, adjusting intersection
points, dialing back the magnification, faces zooming and
shrinking as he fights to hold the mission together in the
circle of the scope. As he's feared, his field of view
diminishes, complications stacking on top of complications.
He breathes. Focuses.
Slack out of the trigger. Mag dialing back, back. There
will be a moment, one moment, to get it done right and
clean, and when it presents itself, he will be ready.
The generals shuffle around the wife, smiling beneath
mustaches, the minister's face popping in and out of view,
there and then gone. Seventy-five meters now, the preceding
vehicle squeezing the angle tighter and tighter, diminishing
it to a slice.
The universe is reduced to the tunnel of the scope.
There is nothing else, not even breath. The wife turns, her
sturdy bosom filling the vantage, the minister drifting
again behind her. Evan waits for her arm to rise for another
wave to the crowd, and at last it does, a sheet of cloth
draped wing-like beneath her arm. The minister is invisible
behind it, but Evan has tracked his movement, anticipates
how far to lead him.
He exhales slow and steady, then pulls. The bullet
punches through the gauzy cloth an inch and a half below the
wife's straightened elbow.
Evan's hands move of their own volition, manipulating
the bolt for a follow-up shot, the shell spinning free and
clattering at his feet. But there will be no need for a
second bullet. The foreign minister leans propped against
two of the generals, his eyes vacant, one cheek dimpled by a
hole the size of a thumb. His wife's mouth is stretched wide
and trembling in a scream, but Evan can hear nothing over
the eruption of the crowd.
He drops the weapon into the stream of passing waste
below. After pocketing the kill brass, he takes out the
plastic bag and shakes onto the dank ledge the copper-washed
steel shell case with its invisible fingerprint, a
fingerprint that he now knows belongs to a Chechen rebel of
They will search the crowd, the surrounding buildings,
the parked vehicles before they will think to look beneath
the earth, but nonetheless Evan runs to his exit point and
emerges through a manhole cover into a park five blocks
north. He walks three blocks east, away from the quickening
commotion, and boards a bus. A few klicks later, he
exits, flips his reversible jacket inside out, and zigzags
the city, the spreading news on the lips of passersby,
wafting in snatches from cafÃ© tables, blaring from car
Once he's safely back in his rented room, he logs in to
the e-mail account and creates a new saved message
consisting of a single word: "Neutralized."
A moment later the draft updates: "Close the
Evan stares at the words, feeling the glow of emotion
beneath his face. He runs a hand over his short hair, and
his palm comes away damp with perspiration. He stands up,
walks away from the laptop, walks back. Types: "Request
He hits refresh. Hits it again.
Nothing. Jack is thinking it over.
Seventeen anxious hours later, Evan finally receives a
response, and two hours after that he is standing at the
specified cross street, having reached Jack at a pay phone
from a pay phone. He's caught Jack on the front edge of an
East Coast morning, though he seems as alert as ever, his
station-agent's mind shaping his responses into neat packets
of words, articulate silences, loaded intonations.
"All he did is provide a cartridge case," Evan says.
Jack says, "That's all he did of which you're aware." "He
seems loyal. An asset."
"Don't believe everything you think."
The breeze blows flecks of moisture into Evan's face,
and he hunches into the collar of his jacket, turning this
way and that, watching pedestrians, vehicles, the windows of
the towering, stone-faced buildings all around.
"He's not a friend to us," Jack says. "He's a friend to
everyone. A businessman. He doesn't just sell cartridge
cases with fingerprints. He moves weaponry."
"Fissile material. Highest bidder. He is a complicating
factor in our work there. That has to be enough for you."
"What about the Sixth Commandment?" Evan says, anger
creeping into his voice. " â€˜Question orders.' "
"You've questioned them," Jack says. "Now execute them.
Close the operation. Your friend and anyone else you might
have used. This cannotâ€” will notâ€”come back on us."
The steady hum of a dial tone follows.
Evan wanders the neighborhood until he comes upon a GAZ
Volga, a four-door sedan as common on these streets as a
Chrysler in Detroit. He hot-wires it and leaves the city,
driving into a bruise-colored sunset. He parks several
blocks from the apartment with the curved stucco stair- case
and then closes the distance under cover of the rapidly
falling night. Only once he's reached the blue-and-white
Turkish tiles does he remove his pick set. The rusting lock
on the arched wooden door gives itself up within seconds.
Evan steals silently across the dark front room with its
vaulted ceiling. The Makarov pistol remains in its place,
resting atop the antique television. It is loaded.
In the rear of the apartment, the kitchen is lit, and
carrying through the beaded curtain is the static-filled
sound of an animated radio announcer rattling on in a
language with which Evan is unfamiliar. Tajik? Bukhori?
How little he knows of this life he is about to
The hanging beads slice his view into vertical slats.
The man sits at the small chipped table, facing away,
spooning soup from a bowl. An old-fashioned radio rests on
the counter beside a hot plate. A prosaic little portrait:
Man Eating Dinner Alone.
Evan steps through the curtain, the clattering beads
announcing his presence. The man turns and looks back
through his wireless spectacles. There is a moment of
recognition, and then the lines of his face contract in
sorrow. There is no anger or fearâ€”only sadness. He nods once
and turns slowly back to his soup.
Evan shoots him through the back of the head.
As the man tilts forward, his chair slides back a few
inches and his body remains resting there, chest to the
table's edge, face in the soup.
Evan lifts him out of the soup, upright into the chair,
and cleans his face as best he can. His left eye is gone,
and part of his forehead. As Evan returns the dish towel to
the counter, he comes upon a crude clay ashtray, shaped by a
He vomits into the sink.
After, he finds a bottle of bleach in a cabinet and
sloshes it into the drain.
As he exits onto the dark staircase, he becomes aware of
a man easing up the stairs, drawn perhaps by the sound of
the gunshot. The man's left fist gleams even in the shadow.
They freeze midway down the stairs.
The man is all dark silhouette to Evan, just as Evan is
to him. The man's head dips, orienting on the pistol in
Evan's hand. The man lowers his own gun, opens his other
palm in a show of harmlessness, and shakes his head. Evan
nods and brushes past him.
Ten minutes later, halfway back to the city, his knotted
chest still prevents him from drawing full breaths.
His next stop is the abandoned textile factory. As he
enters, darting through the warren of giant fabric rolls,
the trim Estonian appears suddenly. He holds a no-shit
Kalashnikov, its curved magazine protruding like a tusk.
Evan has brought a pistol to an AK-47 fight. They are stand-
ing by the industrial weaving loom where they met before.
The Estonian cocks his head with benign curiosity, but
his grip stays firm on the assault rifle, his small eyes
hard like pebbles. Even at this hour, roused from sleep, he
wears neatly pressed trousers and a tailored shirt, though
one flap remains untucked. The door to the office behind him
is closed, but a smudged glow illuminates the fogged glass
of the window.
The men square off in an uneasy truce, not aiming their
weapons but not putting them away either.
"I need your help," Evan says. Slowly, cautiously, he
raises the Makarov, then fiddles with the slide. "It keeps
The Estonian's smile appears, a neat arc sliced through
soft pink cheeks. "That is because you did not buy it from
me." He reaches for the gun. "But seriously, this is a
statistical near impossibility. Makarovs do not jam."
Evan knows this, but it was the only excuse he could
fabricate in the moment.
The Estonian shakes his hand impatiently. Beneath his
other elbow, the muzzle of the AK nudges forward. "Well?"
Evan is forced to relinquish the pistol.
The Estonian takes it, then sets down his own weapon on
the loom. He drops the magazine, examines it, then grins at
Evan's ignorance. "The underside of the magazine feed lip
has a burr from grinding on the clearance." With the toe of
his loafer, he hooks a cardboard box and tugs it out from
beneath the loom. Digging through the contents, he
produces a new mag- azine, jams it home, and hands the
pistol back to Evan.
"I'm sorry," Evan says, and shoots the man through the
The Estonian falls back, his palms slapping the
concrete. He is trembling, his arms wobbling violently. A
cough leaves a coat of fine spittle on his blue lips. His
pupils track up in little jerks, find Evan. Never has Evan
seen such terror in another person's face.
Evan crouches, takes his manicured hand. The nails are
clean and cut short. The Estonian clutches Evan's fingers,
grips his forearm with his other hand, pulls him closer. The
partial embrace in another context would be affectionate.
Perhaps it is even now. Evan lowers him gently to the floor,
cradling his head so it doesn't strike the concrete. He
holds the man's hand until it goes limp.
Then he rises, walks back to the humble office, and
opens the door. The girl, bloody-lipped and ashen, lies
balled up on the mattress. A heroin kit rests on a metal
folding chair. She is naked, spotted with bruises, skin
tented across bones. Her left shoulder looks dislocated. It
is impossible that she would not have heard the gunshot.
On a metal desk across from the mattress, a cigar box
brims with bills. Evan picks it up, sets it on the floor by
her thin arm. "You're free to go now," he says.
She rolls her eyes languidly toward him. "Where?" she
says. He leaves her there with the box full of cash.
That night he beds down at a different hotel, logging in
to e-mail and leaving a draft for Jack. "Operation closed."
He checks departure times out of the second-largest
airport of the neighboring country. Tomorrow will be a busy
And tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
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