In his second techno-thriller, Russinovich’s (Zero Day, 2011) computer-genius power couple, Jeff Aiken and Daryl Haugen, find themselves enmeshed in a Chinese government attack on the Internet.
And right from the headlines, the Chinese also want to rid Iranian computers of the Stuxnet virus that will let the mullahs test their nuclear weapon. With the first third of Russinovich’s novel offering a precis on vulnerable computer networks and evildoer apocalyptic plans, readers learn Aiken and Haugen fired the code-bullets that defeated Al Qaida geek-terrorists. They’re now a couple and operate Red Zoya Systems LP, a computer security company. Aiken is called to London to cope with a virus wreaking havoc after transmission via a document attachment. Exotic locales sprinkle Aiken’s itinerary, including Geneva, where the virus was installed; then Prague, the lair of Ahmed Hossein al-Rashid, an Iranian undercover agent; and then Ankara and the dangerous road to Iran. The London-discovered virus is Chinese, and Col. Jai Feng, the People's Liberation Army’s computer warfare chief, has also developed a work around for Stuxnet for the mullahs. Not satisfied, PLA-techies are also code-infiltrating the U.S.’s 7th Fleet computers and inserting a Trojan horse into the U.S.’s electric power grid computers. Russinovich, a Microsoft Technical Fellow, turbocharges the narrative once an assassination-kidnap team, led by Ahmed, kidnaps Aiken and Haugen in Geneva, with Aiken escaping and then rescuing Haugen in Prague. Thriller action, true, but the story occasionally bogs down when it goes full nerd. However, it switches scenes rapidly enough to keep interest churning, especially with characters like CIA tech-wizard Frank Renkin; Saliha, a beautiful Turk immigrant in Prague seduced into muling code into Iran; and Gholam Rahmani, aka Hamid, a triple-agent with his own agenda. Heavy on tech terms, much worried about the ever-growing vulnerability of the Internet, Russinovich is nuanced enough to write terrorists as sometimes insecure, frustrated and anxious, authoritarian states as rotten with the human frailties to be found in every society, and good guys engaging in near-plausible heroics.
Top-notch geek lit.