UNMANNED by Dan Fesperman


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A timely thriller that brings drone warfare to the streets of America. There is treachery here—in the government, in big business and among the technology geeks who make it all work.

Darwin Cole is a hotshot F-16 pilot pulled back from the skies to man a drone; he flies from a screen in Nevada and watches in horror as a young girl in Afghanistan dies on camera. He flips out, loses his family and sinks into a dissolute life drinking in a trailer in the desert. Something doesn't add up for him. The wrong targets are being killed, and the military and civilian contractors involved are not being held accountable. Darwin’s road back to sanity begins when Keira Lyttle, a reporter following the threads of a labyrinthine story about the Predator program, appears at Darwin’s trailer and lures him into the hunt for the truth. Keira and her fellow journalists Steve Merritt and Barb Holtzman are tracing clues that military targets in Afghanistan and Iraq are “glorified test labs, proving grounds…for state-of-the-art technology.” What is learned in the air above the war zones is refined back in the U.S. and tested by surveillance on the streets of America. Darwin and his crew of reporters are tracked and even photographed inside their safe house remotely. Their clues lead to a security company called IntelPro, near Chesapeake Bay. Enter Nelson Hayley Sharpe, a technology guru who worked for the Pentagon. Sharpe is Fesperman’s signature character, a mad, colorful genius who pulls all the dangling threads together for Darwin. Having been pushed aside by the military, Sharpe is out for himself with more than a hint of revenge. Fesperman has delivered an unlikely thriller nuanced with moral ambiguity. As Sharpe says: “Legality is no longer the point.”

Well-written and dense with complicity, this is an action-packed glimpse of intrusive technology in which the good guys never have clear moral standing.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-385-35125-6
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2014


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