Published by Minotaur Books on January 17, 2017
As an action novel, The Nowhere Man rocks. It’s full of chase scenes, explosions, shoot-outs, and fistfights, some of them quite clever. As an action novel that makes sense, The Nowhere Man is lacking. I took a sort of guilty pleasure in enjoying it, but I found the enjoyment to be almost equally balanced by aggravation.
Fiction often demands the willing suspension of disbelief and I’m happy to do that for the sake of a good story, but sometimes the challenge of believing the impossible impairs my ability to lose myself in the book. That was the case with The Nowhere Man. I liked the action but I have serious reservations about the plot.
Kidnapped American girls who are sold as sex slaves is the latest fad in thriller crimes. Investigate the real-world statistics and you’ll find the crime almost never happens, but exploiting every parent’s nightmare is this year’s way to sell books, and Gregg Hurwitz has jumped on the bandwagon.
Fortunately for teenage American girls who are about to be shipped to Serbia, Evan Smoak, the Nowhere Man, is there to help. Evan is one of those thriller heroes who was recruited by the military from an orphanage and turned into a killing machine. There are so many of them in thriller world that one of them is probably your neighbor. And, of course, the government is trying to track him down and kill him, because that’s always what happens to government-produced killing machines in thriller world.
If it’s easy for abused kids who have nothing to contact Evan, it shouldn’t be all that difficult for the government, with all its resources, to find him. Evan’s ability to stay beyond the reach of his pursuers while spreading word of his existence to anyone who might know an abused kid is my first reservation about the plot.
As Evan is working against a deadline to rescue a kidnapped girl from a container ship, he is himself kidnapped. That leads to a lengthy story that departs from the “dark hero rescues abused kids” theme, changing the plot into “dark hero rescues himself.” While the reason for Evan’s captivity is improbable, the story moves fast and it gives Evan a chance to show off his talent for killing bad guys. The fact that he is given so many chances to kill bad guys instead of being hogtied is ridiculously improbable. In fact, the bad guys almost make it easy for him to kill bad guys, and that detracts from the story.
Near the end, Evan twice shows up in a spot that allows him to inflict mayhem on bad guys with no explanation at all (probably because none could be imagined) of how he got there.
Evan is a little crazy and that’s always an interesting feature in a protagonist, but his craziness is forced. None of the other characters exist in more than one dimension. The primary villain is a bigger cartoon than Snidely Whiplash.
I like the pace of The Nowhere Man. Most of the action scenes are very well done and I enjoyed reading them. The story would probably make a great action movie, because the special effects would distract the reader from all the implausible things the reader is asked to accept. In a book, however, the reader has time to think about those things. On too many occasions, I thought “Why is this bad guy being so stupid?” or “How could that possibly happen?” That makes it difficult to recommend the book with any degree of enthusiasm, despite my appreciation of some of its parts.
RECOMMENDED WITH RESERVATIONS