A dangerous breakthrough in cryptography leads to a high-stakes adventure for ne'er-do-well Robert "Smiles" Smylie Jr., whose father founded computing security giant Alyce Systems.
On his 18th birthday, Smiles receives the first installment of his relatively modest trust fund. The following weekend, he drives his geeky teen-prodigy neighbor, Ben, to a cryptography conference at Fox Creek Casino. When Ben realizes he has discovered a fast-factoring algorithm that will destroy modern cryptography, Smiles hatches a scheme to sell the information to the National Security Agency. The basics of public-key cryptography are explained accessibly, but the focus here is on the fast-moving action and web of double crosses and buried secrets. Smiles' confident, upbeat and largely ingenuous voice lends the book charm, and chapters in which Smiles' fond ex-girlfriend Melanie investigates Alyce Systems' past are both warm and suspenseful. Many different storylines are at play here besides the NSA scheme: Smiles' family history, the upcoming Alyce Systems initial public offering, Smiles' relationship with his dying father and Smiles' growing attachment to a girl he meets at the conference. Each plotline works neatly with the others and achieves a satisfying resolution. One final twist is revealed a bit too quickly to have its intended impact, but readers get plenty of suspense and high-tech high jinks otherwise.
High-speed fun. (Thriller. 14-18)