The seventh book in the Orphan X series opens in south Texas, at a party for Anjelina Urrea, daughter of “unconventional businessman” Aragon Urrea – in actuality, as much of a cartel as any other south of the border. When he steps away from the party to deal with a young man who has forced himself on a woman, armed, masked gunmen invade the party and take Anjelina away. Indications are that she’s been taken by the Leones – one of the worst of the worst of the Mexican cartels, led by a bonafide psychopath. The opening is quite long- enough for us to know that Urrea is a bad man who also provides good things: the town is healthy, protected, people are taken care of, and he has a bit of a philosophical bent, not unlike Evan.
Evan Smoak, AKA Ophan X AKA The Nowhere Man is rebuilding his penthouse condo after it was destroyed in the previous book. Although I think most of the Orphan X books can be read as standalones, I’d advise reading at least the one before this for context, since the book opens in what could only be termed (for Evan Smoak) complete disarray.
Smoak hires temporary day laborers to help out in the evenings with the more unusual pieces of his rebuild. One evening, one of the (presumably) Mexican laborers asks if he is a bad man, or if he can help a bad man. Evan gives the man the usual number and tells him to pass it on.
And pass it on he does – to Urrea. When Urrea calls, Evan answers, as he always does. He has something telling him to say no on this one, but ultimately, he agrees to help, and the story takes off. Joey and Dog arrive to take over coordination of the legit rebuild of the condo, and also to provide IT services to Evan (Vera III in place!) as he heads to Texas and ultimately across the border to deal with the Leones.
This is by far the most gruesome of the Orphan X books. If you’re really squeamish, you might want to skim over those parts. There’s one really bad one involving a floor buffer – you should definitely skip that one.
One of the more interesting things about Dark Horse are the lengthy talks between Evan and Urrea about the nature of good and bad, and what bad men do for good reasons or for the greater good. They do slow down the action a little, but that turns out to be necessary, as do the moments when Joey and Mia come into the story. If those breaks weren’t there, it would be nonstop infiltration, fighting, killing, and bombs. There is nothing wrong with this, but we could read Mack Bolan or The Punisher for that.
As we rush headlong to the end, sometimes things are not quite what they seem.
While I didn’t like this one as much as the last one, I did enjoy it quite a lot: it’s true to what we know of Evan Smoak and continues his evolution from a disposable killer into a real human being.
Five out of five stars.
Thanks to St Martin’s Press/Minotaur and NetGalley for the reading copy.