In this debut techno-thriller, a white-hat hacker realizes she’s working for a cybersecurity company that’s a front for an illicit operation to collect everyone’s digital information and control elections.
Mariana McAllister proves she’s one of the best at a white-hat hacking competition involving universities in 2002. NetSecure CEO Mansfield Pickett certainly takes notice and offers her a job at his company, handling IT security for the likes of the NSA, FBI, and CIA. She’s only been with NetSecure for a few years when she gets a fairly shady assignment: ensure that a British man does not win his bid for prime minister. Conflicted by the questionable ethics, Mariana ends her relationship with her lawyer boyfriend, Sander Bonham, fearing a connection with her could damage his legal career or worse. Mariana doesn’t know that NetSecure’s a veneer for a secret group, the Politburo, plotting to gather global digital information for data mining as well as steer elections to manage the U.S. population. A decade later, Sander’s pal Paul Blake, after voicing his suspicion of someone siphoning data at a phone company, winds up a car bomb victim. Sander’s resultant investigation puts him in NetSecure’s cross hairs, right where Mariana will be once she employs her cyber skills to rescue her ex. Statton methodically establishes characters, from Mariana engaged in competition in ’02 to the early stages of the Politburo’s sinister scheme. This focus doesn’t make the baddies any less intimidating, especially assassin Seth Blaculf, with one eye ice-blue and the other black. Technical jargon with context is abundantly clear for all readers, while a theme of privacy, or lack of it, is prevalent throughout (with a couple of references to East Germany’s Stasi). Colorful details, meanwhile, radiate even at a political convention, with the audience a “frenzy of noise. Stomping. Shouting. A tribal rhythm. An awakened beast.” Unfortunately, a stellar scene of Mariana cyber-defending a hospitalized Sander from Seth by remotely accessing the medical center, is the only instance of hackers in genuine combat.
Short but impressive actioner featuring dynamic characters and a memorable open ending.