Dark Horse
January 24, 2022

Book Review

Dark Horse

reviewed by Lou Jacobs


Welcome back to Orphan X #7. Reading an Evan Smoak tale is truly a guilty pleasure; like eating dessert before dinner. Evan isn’t a superhero, but rather a kind-of Batman. He’s a highly skilled assassin who just wants to help powerless people.

Evan was a twelve-year-old boy rescued out of the projects of East Baltimore, only then to undergo a seven-year grueling training course under the tutelage of his handler, Jack Johns. Jack was the closest thing to a father and family he had ever known. This was part of a clandestine black ops “Orphan Program” created by the Department of Defense, creating a cadre of assassins of unparalleled abilities that were both deniable and expendable. Each sent out on a mission to destroy a high-value target without backup.

As his trainer, Jack knew it was easy to train Evan to kill, but hard to have him retain his humanity. Eventually Evan wanted out after a decade of covert killing, no longer wishing to be a lethal weapon of the government. He was one of the few Orphans with an actual conscience, and once out, found himself with a lot of time on his hands and a unique skill set. Thus, he embarked on his own program as a pro bono freelancer, helping those innocents who find themselves in impossible situations. And eventually, he became known by his enemies as The Nowhere Man.

Evan remained on call 24/7 for the unfortunates, awaiting a 1-855-2-NOWHERE call on his high tech, untraceable, and indestructible RoamZone phone. Evan thought he was ready to lead an ordinary life—whatever that was—without the prospect of death lurking around the corner. But was he?

Evan always answers his phone: “Do you need my help?” But on this occasion, the answer throws Evan into a moral quandary. “Yes, God has punished me,” comes the reply. “My eighteen-year-old daughter, Angelina, has been taken by my enemy, the La Familia Leon Cartel.”

This mission involves rescuing Aragon Urrea’s daughter, from the grips of Raul Montesco (also referred to as The Dark Man)—the psychotic and volatile cartel leader of the Leones Cartel, embedded in a heavily guarded fortress in Mexico, surrounded by an arsenal of weapons and vicious thugs and assassins (“Sicarios”).

This call certainly poses a dilemma for Evan. Aragon, like himself, is both a bad and good man. He is an unconventional businessman, although involved in the drug trade, and is also the patron of the small town, Eden, in south Texas, which flourishes under his guidance. He benevolently supplies legitimate employment and aid to the helpless, while meting out justice to the cruel and malevolent.

After careful and thorough investigation with the aid of Joey Morales, Aragon is deemed worthy.

Joey makes a welcome reprise in this book, being a fan favorite. She was a wash-out from the Orphan Program, who wound up in Evan’s charge. Now, sixteen-years-old, this feisty, smart aleck, is the smartest hacker he has ever known, taking college computer-science classes at UCLA that she could actually teach. Her only desire is to take “a road trip” by herself and her loving dog, “Dog,” for a few months—which Evan keeps shutting down.

Hurwitz proves to be a master storyteller as he uncouples this riveting barnburner of a thriller. Dark Horse is exquisitely plotted with unexpected twists and deceptions, laced with cinematic fight scenes, brimming with violence and suspense. This venture into The Nowhere Man is much more introspective than prior outings. Explored in depth are the gray areas of morality, family, relationships, and humility, while delving into the hellish underworld of drugs and the cartel families.

This seventh installment of the “Orphan” can certainly be enjoyed and devoured as a standalone, but will force the reader to quench their thirst with the previous novels. Personally, I switched back and forth between reading the book and listening to the audio, narrated by Scott Brick. His wonderful voice inflections brought the multiple characters to life in the “theater” of my mind.

Thanks to NetGalley, St.Martin’s Press – Minotaur Books & Macmillan Audio for providing an Uncorrected Proof & Audio of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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