Evan Smoak, one of the world’s most dangerous assassins, returns in Gregg Hurwitz’s second Orphan X thriller, The Nowhere Man (Minotaur, Jan.)

What next? It’s the question I want my readers to be asking themselves while they’re ripping through the pages of one of my thrillers. But it’s also the question I found myself contemplating about a year ago as I sat before my computer screen, staring at the intimidating blank screen.

It had been a long damn time since I’d written a series character. For a lot of years, I knew I was building up to Evan Smoak, aka Orphan X. Yanked out of a foster home at the age of 12, he was trained up in an off-the-books black program and deployed strategically to locations around the globe. At a certain point, because his moral compass was never broken, he fled the Orphan Program, blipping off the radar and emerging only to help those in desperate need under his code name: the Nowhere Man.

I told Evan’s story and—thanks to booksellers, librarians, and readers—his story connected. It was the success that I’d hoped it would be, and for that, I still wake up and ride a surge of gratitude to my desk every morning.

But the big question that arose for me that morning as I stared at the uncooperative computer monitor was, what do I do with the guy next?

One aim I set for myself when I embarked on this series was that I wanted every book to feel different. I have enormous admiration for thriller writers—such as Lee Child, Robert Crais, Chelsea Cain, and David Baldacci—who manage to do that, who keep their fifth book in a series as fresh as the first.

So I knew I wanted a different setup. In a way, I wanted to turn reader expectations on their head. I wanted to turn my own expectations on their head.

A few painful hours later, it came to me. What if instead of writing a book where the Nowhere Man rescues someone, I wrote a book where the Nowhere Man is the one who needs rescuing?

What if he found himself in precisely the kind of awful predicament that people called him for?

Okay, easy enough to think. But how the hell do I do it?

Oddly, my brain kept returning to two favorite John Fowles novels, The Collector and The Magus—two books that play with notions of captivity and control. Two stories that portray a dangerous, illicit dance between two characters who are evenly matched and equally deadly.

And I thought—what if someone with virtually limitless resources manages to capture Evan Smoak and knock him unconscious? This person wants something from Evan and is willing to keep him in a gilded (and armored) cage until he gets it. That’s precisely what happens. Evan wakes up in a luxurious remote chateau surrounded by guards. But none of them—nobody at all—realizes who Evan in fact is, and what he is capable of.

His captors believe they’ve trapped Evan inside the compound. But what they’re soon to realize is they’re trapped in there with him.

I have a long way to go yet with Evan Smoak. And I hope I’m lucky enough to have you riding shotgun for the whole glorious ride.