Corporate shenanigans drive this erratic suspense novel, Richtel’s debut.
Narrator Nat Idle is a young medical journalist in San Francisco. His greatest professional accomplishment has been an article which led to the conviction of a cop for assaulting a prostitute. His personal accomplishment was snagging Annie Kindle, a dynamic investment banker working for her father, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist; alas, Annie died in a drowning accident four years ago, and Nat still feels the pain. He’s sitting in a café when a woman drops a note on his table telling him to get out. He does; seconds later, the café explodes. The weirdest part is that the note was in Annie’s handwriting. Nat is unhurt, though the explosion killed five people. It’s not a comfort that the investigation is being led by the brother of the cop he’d had convicted. Richtel keeps the pace fast, mixing flashbacks to Annie and her hard-nosed father with Nat’s own sleuthing, aided by Erin, a waitress at the café and another survivor; she appears on the up and up, but has a complicated history involving arson. We get a little bit of everything (romantic interludes, dangerous house fires, mysteriously encrypted computer programs) but not enough of anything; characterizations are paper-thin. Credibility breaks down when Nat’s acupuncture session with Samantha, a New Age healer, is interrupted by two rogue cops looking for a laptop. Next thing you know, they’re subdued by “a blonde with a gun.” They’re not heard from again, and the blonde remains shadowy. Then Nat picks up the phone and hears Annie’s voice; evidently she’d faked her death to avoid SEC and IRS bloodhounds. The rest of the novel has Nat realizing, after encountering her in the flesh, that Annie’s much harder than he’d thought; proof comes during a showdown in Vegas (again, too little detail) as a conspiracy to entrap computer users goes down the tubes.
Slight and unimaginative