Of the three books we purchased last Friday on the way to Hong Kong, Orphan X was most clearly an airport novel. Big enough to last for a long flight, but devoid of any taxing detail or subtext to grapple with when you’re on holiday. It didn’t disappoint, which is to say it was disappointing, and I was disappointed at myself for reading it.
Orphan X is the first in a series (the franchise is confirmed by the first six chapters of the sequel being given away for free at the end of the first book) about Evan Smoak, a member of the Orphan program. This was a top secret US government project to make perfect assassin’s, which is then shut down for mysterious reasons, after which Evan turns his back on these things and goes out to help the needy when somebody needs to be assassinated. So pretty much The Equaliser by way of The Bourne Identity. Eventually it turns out not all the Orphans are shut down, and some are chasing after Evan, and … and so much blah. Let’s come back to that.
In homage to Fleming’s Bond, Evan lives in a penthouse flat (spartanly decorated with bare concrete and lots of stainless steel kitchen appliances) and is obsessed with drinking various artisanal vodkas, ice cold. Which means he likes drinking flavourless alcohol. Whoop de doo. Of course, the vodkas are clearly named, because brands are important, and more so than characterisation. Evan has a secret batcave hidden behind his shower, and a bed that floats in the air on a magnetic field, although it’s never really clear whether that guarantees a better night’s sleep. I entertained the fantasy that it requires an inordinately powerful electromagnet with a loud hum that kept him up half the night.
What else: there’s an attempt to humanise him by making him go to tenant meetings for the block of condominiums he lives in. There’s a busy single mum with a cute kid he befriends. There’s a slightly confusing, but just rather slow procedural plot where he has to figure out how his enemies are tracking him down, and there’s a terribly lame femme fatale. Oh, and some disposal of bodies with hydrochloric acid that Breaking Bad seems to have educated us as being unfeasible. Oh well.
It’s the kind of book that, annoyingly, you can’t put down. The dialogue is generic, the politics seem vaguely suspect, nobody is very interesting, the pacing is not great (when every character is made of cardboard, I suppose there’s little value staying with them to try to make to understand or care about them when you could just move to the next person or plot point) and yet you have to get to the end to see how it finishes. I suppose that’s the mark of a good craftsman at his trade, ceaselessly hewing together blocks of prose without care for the end effect. Just get it done. Possibly at some point somebody will make a movie of this, indistinguishable from any other.