Action, drama, and mystery — the Orphan X series has it all. I got sucked into the series with the very first book, and my husband is now hooked on the series, too. The first book, Orphan X, introduces you to retired off-the-books intelligence asset Evan Smoak. Evan has reinvented himself, using his skills and resources to help those in perilous situations. He starts the series all alone, a man almost incapable of making connections, yet through the series people tend to connect to him. And, in book 5, Into the Fire, enters a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Dog to the series. That pretty much sealed up my love for this series. Book 8, The Last Orphan, is being released on February 14, 2023 (yay!).
Now, I had to wonder — a Rhodesian Ridgeback, that’s a pretty specific dog breed, with pretty specific traits — how did he end up in the book? Turns out the best-selling author Gregg Hurwitz has a love for the breed, being that they are part of his family. DOGSTER got the chance to chat with Gregg about his latest release and his pups.
DOGSTER: Tell us a little about your dogs …
Gregg: We just lost our big boy, Cairo. He was a 125-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback, the biggest we’d ever seen. Incredibly gentle animal. You could lie on him like a mattress and take a nap. For the last year, he was tri-pawed, having lost a front leg to cancer. Very stoic, never complained. He is missed every day.
Zuma, our middle pup, was from a litter named after my Orphan X thriller series. He’s very mischievous and smart. Loves cuddling. If I’m working and he wants my attention, he will climb into my lap. I work on a rolling chair and have a standing desk with wheels; I was on a Zoom conference once and he got his front paws on my shoulders and I grabbed the desk and the whole enterprise — author, dog, chair, desk — rolled across the room and hit the wall. He’s about 110 pounds, also black mask, and devastatingly handsome.
Nala, our baby pup, is ridiculous. She sleeps on her back with her paws sticking up and her head shoved across my neck and face. At 70 pounds, she’s what we call our “miniature Ridgeback.” Absurdly loving.
DOGSTER: In the very first book, Orphan X, when Evan’s neighbor Mia asked him what made him happy, he said, “Rhodesian Ridgebacks.” In what ways is your main character Evan’s likes or dislikes influenced by yours?
Gregg: Evan is a tougher, more taciturn version of me. He has a deep connection to Ridgebacks. After getting yanked out of a foster home at the age of 12 to be trained to be an off-the-books assassin for the DoD, he was raised in the farmhouse of his handler, a former CIA station agent named Jack Johns. Jack had a Ridgie named Strider, and Evan became very close with that dog.
Evan is a quiet, solo operator, essentially designed to be an expendable weapon. He has a hard time with personal relationships; I’ve noted a few times that he doesn’t understand the strange language of intimacy. But he found a strong connection to Strider (and eventually to Dog the dog) because dogs represent unconditional love with zero judgment. A favorite dog joke? If you lock your spouse and your dog in the trunk of your car for 24 hours and then open it, which one is happy to see you?
DOGSTER: I was excited to see Dog appear in Into the Fire. Why introduce him with a dog-fighting ring?
Gregg: Because I needed a good excuse for Evan to kill a whole bunch of people we would immediately forgive him for killing. And folks who run dog-fighting rings fit the bill. And also, Dog is a wounded warrior much like Evan. Evan was the smallest kid in his foster home and had to build himself up to what he is today: Orphan X. Dog the dog was a bait pup, injured and small, when Evan rescues him. They’re very much alike.
DOGSTER: Will Dog be making an appearance in The Last Orphan? What else can we expect from this latest Orphan X novel?
Gregg: Dog is part of the core team now, so he will certainly be making an appearance. The latest Orphan X novel finds Evan Smoak facing his most dangerous mission yet. While it’s a continuation of the series, it’s also a great jumping-in point for new readers. Dog will be happy to greet anyone.
DOGSTER: You portray Dog as very sweet, even though this is a breed that was bred to hunt and be a protector. What has your experience of Rhodesian Ridgebacks been and do you feel that writing about one in your series makes Dog a sort of ambassador to people who don’t know anything about Rhodesian Ridgebacks?
Gregg: They are the perfect animal. They are very sweet and loving. They’re beautiful and dignified, always posing as if waiting for someone to come along and paint their oil portrait. They’re very playful and love wrestling. They are serious chowhounds. And if someone is threatening to their owners, they are a dozen kinds of badass.
Cairo had a bark that would wobble the walls of the house. He used to sit in my lap when I was sitting in an armchair, and he was so big that all four of his paws were still on the floor.
I hope I’ve conveyed that with Dog the dog and that more readers decide to have Ridgebacks in their homes. They are an unimprovable breed.
DOGSTER: Do your dogs keep you company when writing?
Gregg: They are underfoot when I type or snoozing in my office. I love having them around. Except when they wrestle, it’s like Jurassic Park in my office. Folks unfamiliar with the breed think they are trying to kill each other.
DOGSTER: Do your dogs make appearances with you, like for book signings?
Gregg: I wish. They’re too big.
DOGSTER: Where can readers go to see more about you, your dogs and Dog?
Gregg: Readers can connect with me on Facebook @gregghurwitzreaders, Twitter @GreggHurwitz and Instagram @gregghurwitzbooks and also sign up for my newsletters at www.gregghurwitz.net. And I post lots of dog pics.
Check out the Orphan X series here: