“Jack Jr.,” a serial killer modeling himself after Jack the Ripper, stalks the Internet for victims.
Mean sites on the Internet have become the mean streets of contemporary thrillers, as this debut makes clear. Although plenty of nasty action plays out in San Francsico and L.A., the more compelling parts of McFadyen’s pursuit center on the net, where capture and survival become a matter of tracking website sign-on names, IPs (Internet protocol numbers) and user IDs. Faced with taking on a new case, FBI agent Smoky Barrett feels shaky. She’s Annie Oakley with a pistol and her early work at the Bureau was stellar. Then she killed a man who had just murdered her husband and daughter, but not before the culprit raped Smoky and scarred her face and body. Smoky realizes she must return to work when high-school friend Annie King is brutally murdered. The agent is shocked to learn that Annie had been the star performer on an Internet sex site. The killer, Smoky discovers, envisions himself as Jack Jr., a latter day Jack the Ripper determined to kill the whores working the net. Scrutinizing a video the killer made of the murder, Smoky and staff discern two killers at work and they wonder if the stalker, like a deadly computer virus, is recruiting other killers from sexually demented surfers salivating over porn websites. Even more disconcerting are Jack Jr.’s e-mails to Smoky and staff. He taunts them by revealing he knows intimate details of their lives and their homes. Emboldened, he suggests he’s coming after Smoky. The final race through streets and cyberspace heads to a confrontation that’s violent and suspenseful, and a revelation that’s rather startling—at least to readers who have never seen a 1980s Brian De Palma movie.
Brisk and fascinating.