Book critic Ephron writes about cyber security and the ultimate betrayal in her second novel (Never Tell a Lie, 2009).
Diana Banks interacts with society in an online world peopled by virtual friends and acquaintances. Even in her job as a cyber-security consultant, Diana attends business meetings held in virtual conference rooms in the persona of her avatar, a woman she calls Nadia. Her preference for the virtual world grew out of the panic attacks Diana began experiencing after her husband, an idealistic hacker named Daniel, fell to his death. The accident took place when the couple was mountain climbing in Switzerland with Daniel’s best friend, Jake. After Daniel, who was obsessed with disrupting what he saw as over-intrusive government, died on Eiger, Jake and Diana invested the life-insurance payout into a legitimate business. Now, instead of hacking into companies’ databases, they detect intrusions and guide companies through security fixes. One of the few people Diana still sees from the real world is her younger sister Ashley. While visiting with Diana, Ashley decides to accept an invitation to a flash event in the city and go in Diana’s place. Ashley then disappears, setting Diana on a frantic search to find her, aided by an online buddy she’s never before met in person, as well as her own intricate knowledge of the way virtual worlds operate. While Diana confronts her fears of the outside world through the haze of grief that remains following her husband’s death, she also realizes that whatever happened to her sister wasn’t really about Ashley, but about her. Eventually, Diana must find a way to conquer her twin demons of panic and anxiety and pull the plug on a conspiracy that could have far-reaching consequences. Ephron dresses up a paper-thin plot with lots of cyber jargon and an impressive understanding of how hackers work, but the characters remain flat and unengaging.
A light, pleasant-enough read, but the story fails to develop any real momentum, and there is little suspense in this tale of a woman who barricades herself from real life.