Featured Review: ‘Hellbent’ by Gregg Hurwitz

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Do you need my help?

That’s how former government assassin turned vigilante Evan Smoak answers his special RoamZone each time it rings. As a rogue, highly-trained former member of the Orphan Program, a top-secret government project designed to turn children into killers, Evan has left that life behind. Now he’s known only as the Nowhere Man, the last hope for many people in desperate need. 

This time, however, Evan recognizes the voice on the other end of the phone. The person in desperate need of help is Jack Johns, Evan’s mentor and former handler. 

Charles Van Sciver, the head of the Orphan Program, is shutting things down. That means scrubbing everyone still linked to the program, including Evan Smoak, one of the original recruits, who was designated Orphan X. After many failed attempts (shown in past books) Van Sciver finally decides that the best way to get to Orphan X is to go after his handler.

Unable to get to Jack in time to save him, Evan listens in horror as the only father figure he’s ever known is apprehended by a team of operators sent by Van Sciver. Moments later, Jack’s body falls from a helicopter hovering at sixteen thousand feet above ground. 

For the first time in his life since meeting Jack, Evan Smoak feels lost. Too stunned to do anything, Orphan X considers his options, all the while thinking about the message Van Sciver sent to him as the painful truth eats at him. He’s the reason Jack Johns is dead.

At the young age of twelve, Evan was plucked from a Baltimore orphanage and placed in Jack’s care. Like the other handlers, Jack raised Evan to be a killer, teaching him all the necessary tradecraft and skills he’d need to succeed. And succeed, Evan did. But Jack did one thing differently that none of the other handlers even considered with their recruits–he raised Evan like a son and taught him to remain human by ensuring he held onto his conscience. So while Evan is a killer, he’s not a mindless killer, which is what ultimately led to him breaking from the Orphan Program years prior and taking up the mantle as the Nowhere Man. 

Ready to move, Evan begins by retracing Jack’s footsteps. While the message from Van Sciver is painfully clear, there’s another message for Evan to focus on. Before falling from the helicopter, Jack left a coded message of his own–a final mission, and one that Evan must complete at all costs. 

Evan quickly learns that, with the Orphan Program being shut down, Jack had taken in another cast-off and began training them according to the same commandments instilled in Evan. His dying wish is for Evan to find the last Orphan and make sure Van Sciver doesn’t get his hands on them. 

Fueled by his intense thirst for revenge, Evan accepts his mentor’s final mission but also sets his sights on finally burning the Orphan Program to the ground. To do that, he’ll need to stay one step ahead of Van Sciver, the coldest killer the program’s ever produced, and his loyal assassins. 

All of this is made more difficult when Evan’s RoamZone rings yet again. In the midst of trying to find the young Orphan and avenging Jack’s death, there’s now another person in need of the Nowhere Man’s help. Plus, to top it off, Evan is about to learn that the Orphan Program stretches far above Van Sciver, a twist that he didn’t see coming but something that must be dealt with. 

So far, three books in, Gregg Hurwitz is pitching a perfect game. One of the things that makes this series so good is that Hurwitz keeps finding legitimate reasons to continue telling Evan’s story. Unlike other series where authors keep sending their heroes on new world-saving missions, Hurwitz continues to think up compelling scenarios to drop his protagonist into.

The first book (Orphan X) saw Evan helping someone who accidentally got caught up in danger caused by his former life, and the second book (The Nowhere Man) followed Evan who, coincidentally, found himself in the very type of situation someone would typically call him for help with. And while the first two installments are terrific, Hellbent, which features the most personal mission for Evan yet, is something special. 

Well-written and engaging, Hurwitz’s pacing is quick and relentless as Orphan X soars to new heights in Hellbent, a serious contender for best thriller of the year. Someone tell Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne to move over–Evan Smoak is the new king of the genre. 

Book Details

Author: Gregg Hurwitz
Series: Evan Smoak #3
Pages: 403 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1250119170
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: January 30, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 9.5/10
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