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Battle of the Assassins

The Big Thrill Interviews Bestselling Author Gregg Hurwitz

By Adam Meyer

Book Cover Image: Lone WolfWith his ninth Orphan X novel, LONE WOLF, novelist, screenwriter, and ITW co-president Gregg Hurwitz wanted to put his hero, Evan Smoak, at the center of a mystery unlike any he’s ever faced. In the opening pages, Evan gets a call on his secret cell phone from a little girl asking for help. It’s the daughter of his half-brother, Andre, who Evan hardly knows. She’s lost her dog, Loco, and wants Evan to find it.

For Hurwitz, who’s always looking for new ways to explore the character of Orphan X, aka Evan Smoak—a man rescued from a foster home as a child and transformed into a world-class assassin—this was the ideal scenario. “It’s a different kind of threat,” he explains. It all starts when Evan meets his father for the first time. But when the reunion doesn’t go as hoped, Evan spirals downward.

“It’s the first time he’s ever drank to excess,” Hurwitz explains. “It’s the first time he’s a train wreck. And so he goes off on this little tiny adventure, but guess what? He’s needed in a way that’s much bigger than anything he’s been needed for before.”

Author Photo: Gregg Hurwitz

Gregg Hurwitz

Indeed, Evan’s attempts to find the missing dog soon lead him into much deeper trouble as he walks in on the assassination of one of the world’s leading AI experts. The perpetrator is a ruthless female hitwoman known as the Lone Wolf. While Evan fends off the Wolf and rescues the man’s teenage daughter, Jayla, he also ends up in a breathless pursuit that will take him across Los Angeles. He soon finds himself in one harrowing situation after another, even as he tries to stay true to his own personal commandments.

“Every line of dialogue or engagement or action sequence, it has to reflect on Evan,” Hurwitz says. “It has to be Orphan X. That’s something I always have an eye on. And so one of the things I wanted to illustrate as he’s making his escape, it’s like he can’t kill a cop. He’s got to cover all this stuff. He’s toggling between full-lethal and less-lethal modes. There are all these challenges that exist between all those different encounters.”

Now, in order to protect Jayla from meeting the same fate as her father, Evan must track down the Wolf. “I wanted there to be a menace that’s a sort of yin to his yang, a female assassin who is as deadly as he is, thrown into the mix,” Hurwitz says. “She doesn’t care about anything. She’s cold, sort of psychopathic, but not like the creepy serial killer psychopath. She just sees the world in very bare terms. There’s those who hunt and eat and those who are the prey, and she’s going to do her job, and she’s going to see it through.”

That ruthless efficiency is a perfect foil for Evan, a cold-blooded professional in his own right but one who is slowly becoming more human. “He was trained to garrote people,” Hurwitz says. “He was trained to calculate the wind drift of a sniper round, but he never learned the strange language of intimacy. The series is about him cracking open.”

In that sense, the Lone Wolf is the ultimate danger for Evan, especially as he finds himself connecting more deeply with his own blood family and with various returning characters, like Joey, his tech-savvy sidekick. “Where I am really lit up and glowing creatively,” Hurwitz says, “is when there’s a physical threat that mirrors a psychological threat that mirrors an emotional threat, that is also wrapped in some philosophical piece of where the culture is, and what we’re trying to contend with and make sense of.”

That ability to tell a page-turning thriller and dig deep into human psychology and social issues is a big part of what keeps Hurwitz going as a novelist. “It’s the best job in the world—I get to look at anything that interests me,” he says. “Any dark corner of society or any dark corner of the culture, I can just wander over and shine a flashlight on it. So, if I’m engaged and interested when I’m writing it, then readers are engaged when they’re reading it.”

Even as Hurwitz keeps his own career going full-throttle, he continues to dedicate himself to his role as co-president of the International Thriller Writers. “Our organization represents more books in print than any organization in the world,” he says.

Among the things he’s helped shepherd along during his tenure, Hurwitz cites ITW’s work in helping authors deal with advances in AI, as well as international outreach, including the creation of the first ITW International Library in Nigeria. Of course, unlike Evan Smoak, Hurwitz knows he can’t do it alone. He cites many in the organization who make its work possible, especially executive director Kimberley Howe. “She’s the quarterback; she’s the power forward for us,” he says. “She’s done an incredible job. There’s no way I could do my job without her.”

As for what motivates him to do this work, he says, “I love helping younger writers, younger in their career, everyone who breaks in in some way. There’s nothing more exciting than when you find that person with that incredible voice and talent. And it’s such a blessing to be in a position where I can help people in ways that are concrete, with advice, with connecting with an agent, with connecting with a producer or a manager, or in different ways.”

Of course, Hurwitz’s primary job remains telling the ongoing saga of Evan Smoak. “There’s a lot to do with him, which is pretty great,” he says. “I’m fortunate, but I also think that’s why it took me 16 books to find a character like this, who I have more waking hours with than I do with my wife and kids. So, it better be someone who’s challenging and infuriating and incisive, and that knocks me around and engages me deeply.”

With LONE WOLF being the ninth novel in the series, Hurwitz is hard at work on the tenth. It’s a big number, and while he can’t share plot details yet, he acknowledges this will be a special one. “Huge milestone. And you’ll see that it’s building to a point that after the tenth book, nothing will be the same in the franchise again.”


The Big Thrill Interviews Bestselling Author Gregg Hurwitz

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