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Haris Orkin
You Only Live Once
Haris Orkin, author
James Flynn is an expert shot, a black belt in karate, fluent in four languages and irresistible to women. He’s also a heavily medicated patient in a Los Angeles psychiatric hospital. Flynn believes his locked ward is the headquarters of Her Majesty’s Secret Service and that he is a secret agent with a license to kill. When the hospital is acquired by a new HMO, Flynn is convinced that the Secret Service has been infiltrated by the enemy. He escapes to save the day, and in the process, Flynn kidnaps a young Hispanic orderly named Sancho. This crazy day trip turns into a very real adventure when Flynn is mistaken for an actual secret agent. Paranoid delusions have suddenly become reality, and now it’s up to a mental patient and a terrified orderly to bring down an insecure, evil genius bent on world domination.
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 6 out of 10
Prose: 8 out of 10
Character/Execution: 7 out of 10
Overall: 7.25 out of 10


Plot: Orkin’s twist on the spy narrative is fast-paced and exciting, packed with thrilling action sequences and close calls. However, the final conflict wraps up too quickly and fails to convince readers that any of the characters are in real danger.

Prose: This novel is incredibly well written; the action sequences are finely crafted and give just enough detail to be effective. For the most part, descriptive passages are clearly written and lovely. However, there is expository information that should be integrated into the narrative. Additionally, the prose is less clean in the latter half of the novel, with overly detailed descriptions and overwrought dialogue.

Originality: Orkin’s novel has a promising premise that allows for a substantial amount of subversion of spy tropes. However, the narrative proceeds in fairly standard and familiar manner with few real surprises.

Character Development: Orkin’s construction of James Flynn is effective and his partnership with Sancho is particularly well done. However, the novel suffers from an abundance of minor characters who are more like stereotypes than real people.

Date Submitted: May 11, 2018


A psychiatric patient who believes he’s a British spy escapes from a mental institution and finds himself embroiled in real intrigue in this debut comedy. 

James Flynn grew up in California and was orphaned when he was 10 years old, shuffled from one foster home to another. But as an adult, he’s convinced he works for the British Secret Service and that his home, the City of Roses Psychiatric Institute, is his agency’s headquarters. He speaks in a British accent, walks the halls in swanky suits, and habitually seduces fawning female nurses. When the institute is taken over by a new administration, headed by the insufferable Dr. Grossfarber, James escapes, confident that the Secret Service has been compromised by adversaries. He finds Sancho, a 22-year-old orderly at City of Roses, and drags him into the search for Dulcie Delgadillo, a beautiful, young drug addict released from the institute, who James believes has been kidnapped. Once at her apartment, he finds a loaded revolver and a duffel bag crammed with cash, which belong to Dulcie’s abusive boyfriend, Mike Croker, a motorcycle gang member involved in drug dealing. James uses the money to outfit himself in an Armani suit, buys an Aston Martin, and is pursued both by drug dealers intent on retrieving their stolen cash and the police looking to return him to the institute. James then stumbles on a major crime boss’s plot to kidnap the world’s 10 richest people in an attempt to profit from the global stock market collapse that he believes will ensue. Orkin pays comedic homage to Cervantes’ Don Quixote, the obvious fictional inspiration for James’ flights of deluded fantasy. But unlike that work’s treatment of Quixote’s hallucinations, it remains tantalizingly unclear if James is sane or not—he’s uncannily talented at being an action hero for someone theatrically posing as one. This is really a novella, at under 160 pages, and the plot moves at breakneck speed. The author’s prose is so buoyant that it borders on gleeful, with James dispensing words of wisdom to Sancho (“A man is like a teabag….You never know how strong he is until you dip him in hot water”). Orkin skillfully manages to create a story that is genuinely amusing, tenderly moving, and decidedly thoughtful. 

A manically funny farce both delightfully absurd and strangely plausible.