Washington Post columnist and best-selling novelist Ignatius, whose deep knowledge of the intelligence field gives his fiction unique credibility, once again turns to the CIA in a story inspired by the recent exploits of leaker Edward Snowden.
New CIA director Graham Weber meets James Morris at a Las Vegas convention. Morris, the head of the CIA’s Information Operations, isn’t the usual company man; he’s a mysterious loner who colors outside the lines. When a young hacker shows up at the U.S. consulate in Hamburg offering to turn over valuable information, Weber dispatches Morris to find him. Soon, however, the new director is enmeshed in an operation that has gone south. Not only does the hacker end up dead, his claims that the CIA’s been hacked ring perilously true. But that’s not the only challenge facing Weber: His own operative, Morris, appears to be involved in some shadowy Black Ops with other intelligence agencies, as well as a hidden friendship with someone hellbent on destroying the intelligence community. As a writer, Ignatius doesn’t know how to tell a bad story. His unparalleled understanding of the intelligence world propels his work so far above others who dabble in the field that there's little comparison. But in this case, he leans much too heavily on the technical side of the story, turning even his usual deft plotting and sharply drawn characters into afterthoughts mired in an ocean of technical computer-speak. Instead of high-stakes excitement, the intricate explanations of how hackers work, replete with step-by-step instructions, overtake and, eventually, overwhelm the simmer of danger that usually lingers just beneath the surface of his work.
Although the subject is timely, Ignatius wades too far into the mechanics of malicious computer use to make this a compelling tale; he turns an exciting idea into a story that fails under the weight of dull and irrelevant detail.