In this thriller, a freelance hacker uses his expertise at a covert U.S. intelligence unit trying to keep America’s computer networks secure.
After leaving government work and retiring to his cabin in Bliss, Mich., superhacker Mick Kelly remains in touch with his former superior, Air Force Col. Tammi Chan, who hires him for some “off the books” jobs that require a little wetwork. Mick takes on four different assignments for her: plugging a security breach at a California high-tech company; stopping a hacker who’s siphoning money from the bank accounts of oil millionaires; infiltrating a gang of Russian mobsters in the U.S. who are using blood diamonds from South Africa to fund terrorist activities; and exposing a Middle Eastern plot to steal secrets regarding a next-generation drone. In methodical fashion, Mick outhacks the hackers, then uses clever means so that their deaths can’t be traced back to Tammi’s outfit. Unfortunately, Mick becomes vulnerable when his past comes back to betray him. While in California for his first assignment, he meets a barmaid named Zoe Sorenson, who becomes his lover, and in Cleveland, Mick befriends a teenager whose parents were executed on orders from the Russian Mafia kingpin. Both these characters lend an emotional note to what is otherwise a coldblooded exercise in cyberwarfare and violence. Part of the novel’s problem is the fact that it struggles to build suspense over the course of Mick’s four assignments. The outcomes of the individual episodes never seem in doubt. Author Emke appears to be on firmer footing when describing how to break into a secure computer system than when dramatizing human relationships. In particular, Mick’s hero status is a little too good to be true; he comes across as more of a comic book superhero or perhaps the extreme wish fulfillment of a computer nerd.
Sharp writing about computers and weapons systems, but the human element doesn’t quite boot up.