A German intelligence agent tracks an elusive group of hackers to Africa, only to learn that they’re planning a strike against the United States in Sterling’s debut thriller.
A cyberattack has created chaos in Kenya, where many people’s bank accounts now appear to be empty. But Budapest is where Frederic Ulrich’s boss at the German intelligence agency BND sends him, as that’s where they’ve traced dubious activity from computer gamers. But the true source of the crime is likely Srepska, a financial crime syndicate that “every country is after” and which the agency fears will target Germany next. Frederic quickly finds himself on Srepska’s radar in Hungary, where he dodges assassins. However, he picks up crucial intelligence—namely, that the group will soon be gunning for America. Frederic catches a ride to Washington, D.C., to hopefully deliver his information to someone trustworthy; however, the skeptical agent is fairly certain that Srepska has a mole in the capital. Meanwhile, BND enlists Swedish-born Californian Lars Christopherson, formerly a criminal investigator at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to check out Srepska’s link to a Los Angeles bank. Frederic and Lars ultimately cross paths with each other and the FBI, and they learn that the mysterious group’s scheme is much more than a mere cyberattack. Sterling’s fast-paced novel is reinforced by its skilled characters; Frederic easily dispatches men in close, unarmed combat and later proves equally capable with weaponry. Even between fights, the scenes are tense: “Frederic drew his own gun and waved toward the downstairs. [FBI Agent] Sam lined up behind him as if to cover him in the event of a firefight.” Some plot details are too convenient, as when Frederic manages to locate hackers by simply accessing their IP addresses, or when Lars cracks a password using random sequences. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of happenings to keep readers on edge, from blackmail to kidnappings, and it’s clear that a sequel’s a distinct possibility. The book would have benefited from a stronger edit, though, as the first part of Chapter 6 is repeated verbatim as the entirety of Chapter 17.
A thriller with engaging characters in which action takes precedence over plot.