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by Gregg Hurwitz
Minotaur, January 2020
400 pages
ISBN: 1250120454

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

INTO THE FIRE, the fifth book in Gregg Hurwitz's Orphan X series, is action-packed and jammed with sophisticated technology. The protagonist, Evan Smoak, would seem like an old-fashioned comic book superhero were it not for his OCD tendencies. No matter how immense the obstacles before him, he always overcomes them, and since the reader knows he will always overcome them, a bit of the tension slips away.

As aficionados of the series will know, Evan Smoak (Orphan X) has had highly specialized training as an off-the-books government assassin. Having broken away from the Program, he now calls himself the Nowhere Man and does a solo act helping good and helpless underdogs, rather like Batman. He has all the gadgets he could possibly need to aid him in his noble undertakings: a fully armed and armoured vehicle, access to innumerable powerful guns and technology so complicated as to give this reader a headache.

He wants to retire and be a normal person (although his behaviour is far from normal: a wrinkle in the sheet of his magnetically suspended bed can send him into a total tailspin). He decides his next case will

be his last, and, needless to say, it is a doozy. Max Merriweather is a sad little man wandering through life until his cousin Grant is brutally murdered, leaving Max with a USB containing information so dangerous that a veritable fleet of assassins are out to find it and wipe Max off the face of the planet. It is up to the Nowhere Man to save Max and destroy the villains.

Initially the novel is pretty predictable. Evan hunts down and defeats one set of bad guys, starts to breathe a sigh of relief that his work in this hard world is done, and then discovers more ominous criminals are behind the ones he's eliminated. Again and again and again. The reader comes to fully expect these "surprises" (after all, the first one happens only a quarter of the way into the book.) The forces against Evan and Max are increasingly formidable, the close calls pile up and when Evan suffers a severe concussion, it strains credulity just a tad that he can continue to rise to the challenge with unfailing success, blurred vision and dizziness notwithstanding.

However, the latter part of the book is genuinely gripping. There is less technology or at least less detailed description of it, and more humour (often surrounding a rescue dog and teenaged nerd). When Evan has to figure out how to assassinate an underworld kingpin while incarcerated in a maximum security prison, with only a paperclip and a newspaper as weapon materials, the suspense builds dramatically.

Hurwitz is adept at creating tension and the pace never lets up. Superpowers aside, the characters have entertaining and even moving characteristics that grow on the reader as the story unfolds. Although early chapters may leave new readers lukewarm, INTO THE FIRE will not disappoint fans of the Orphan X series.

Meg Westley is a writer and retired educator living in Stratford, Ontario.

Reviewed by Meg Westley, December 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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