Fifteen years ago my reading consisted exclusively of action thrillers from the likes of Robert Ludlum, Jack Higgins and Tom Clancy ― basically the stuff on my dad’s shelves. Over time, my reading tastes have broadened (I’m reticent to use the word “matured,” as I once might’ve, in an effort to appeal to the “literati,” because I think that does an injustice to the authors who pen them) and I’ve become a little more conscientious about selecting which thriller writers make the cut.
Guys like Mark Greaney and Gregg Hurwitz write major cinematic blockbusters; other authors are a little more direct-to-video ― you know, cookie-cutter heroes, conventional plots; not necessarily bad, but certainly not as enterprising.
“Dark Horse” is the eighth instalment in Hurwitz’s Orphan X series. Evan Smoak is Orphan X, aka ‘The Nowhere Man;’ a one-time government assassin, now harbinger of justice for those in need of his particular set of skills. Here, Smoak is hired by Mexican drug kingpin Aragón Urrea to rescue his daughter, kidnapped by a rival cartel. Carnage and chaos ensues as Smoak infiltrates the cartel and discovers this is anything but a simple exfiltration.
The action is loud and visceral, flawlessly choreographed; but “Dark Horse” will most impact readers who’ve been with Evan for the duration of the series, and witnessed his gradual humanisation. Each book inches his development forward; but Hurwitz always retains his protagonist’s badassery, even while allowing Smoak access to previously hidden emotions.
“Sierra Six” is Mark Greaney’s eleventh Gray Man novel, but also serves as a great jumping on point for new readers, as it delivers two distinct storylines set in the present and past (basically an origin story), with an overlapping nemesis. In the present day, Courtland Gentry is making ends meet as an operative for hire, working black-ops and staying under the radar because of the kill-order issued by the United States following events in Relentless.
While he’s undertaking a basic operation in India, Gentry spots a terrorist he thought he’d helped assassinate years earlier while tasked to the CIA paramilitary team Golf Sierra. Courtland decides to go it alone, finish the job, and uncovers a terrorist plot that could destabalise the whole of South Asia. Greaney’s story moves at a terrific clip, punctuated by a variety of action scenes you wouldn’t be surprised to see in a James Bond or Mission: Impossible flick.
Greaney and Hurwitz’s thrillers are basically big budget Hollywood action blockbusters of yesteryear packed into 500 combustible pages. Such movies don’t really exist anymore; they’ve been replaced by superheroes. So I’ll take ‘em any way I can get ‘em.