Vigilantism goes viral in this thriller about a website that pays bounties for the killing of unpunished child abusers, financial scammers, human rights violators, and other bad actors.
These are individuals such as Chase Lombardi, a Bernie Madoff–like investment banker, who days after his acquittal gets shot through the eye by a sniper in the name of "social justice" while gazing out the window of his posh Manhattan office. The price on his head, as he was informed in taunting text and email alerts: $530,000. More than 20 other people have been targeted by bounty4justice.com in the United States, Europe, and Asia. But even the savviest techs can't locate the host servers of the site, especially after it starts dealing in untraceable NcryptoCash. As brutal as the killings are—a bigoted white congressman is torched in his car by his Hispanic limo driver for cancelling insurance benefits, resulting in the death of the driver's asthmatic son—the people behind bounty4justice are hailed as "freedom fighters" à la Edward Snowden. Soon enough, the "proof of death" videos required by the site for payment go viral, a reality show–like fever grips the nation, and ordinary citizens are competing with professional assassins for prize money. Byrnes (The Genesis Plague, 2010, etc.) has a solid, if far-fetched, premise to work with, and he knows his way around secure message boards and such. But he spends so much time cataloging the assorted targets and the workings of the site that he risks wearing the reader out. And the book never delivers the kind of dramatic payoff its "cyber spring" promises.
Charles Bronson's Death Watch meets the Internet, with little of the hand-wringing melodrama that might suggest.