Blackmailed by an online stranger calling himself Zodiac, young black Glaswegian hacker Samantha Morpeth teams with scuffling journalist Jack Parlabane in an attempt to turn the tables on her foe.
Sam's circumstances are dire: her mother is in prison and her young sister, who has Down syndrome, requires a level of care that Sam, who attends the equivalent of a community college, can't afford with her menial jobs. Parlabane, with whom she's dealt in the past, has been laid low by the declining fortunes of newspapers but is hoping to redefine himself as an online reporter. Sam—aka Buzzkill—helps him do that by giving him the details of a shocking hack she perpetrated on a major bank. His exclusive lands him a gig at the glossy startup Broadwave. In return, Parlabane helps her deal with Zodiac, who has ordered her to steal a prototype from an electronics giant. That requires him to physically penetrate the company's seemingly impenetrable inner sanctum, taking directions from Sam, who is in her element at a computer keyboard. Timid to a fault in dealing with the government agencies that deny her child care assistance and the schoolmates who bully her, she prizes her status as a "fucking supervillain" on the internet. "I have to remind myself that how I see the world and how a non-hacker sees it can be very different," Sam muses. To Brookmyre's (Black Widow, 2016, etc.) credit, he makes the reader uncommonly comfortable in that world. As crowded as the book is with technical terms, they never stop the action for want of explanation. And Sam's hacking ploys are cool in the extreme.
An enjoyable departure from its predecessors, Brookmyre's eighth Jack Parlabane novel works exceptionally well as cybercrime fiction, but it's the human element that makes it tick.