King’s (The Traveling Man, 2015) latest thriller picks up the trail of his married con artists as they descend on a software company.
Samantha Bartel is the assistant director of new development for Leapfrog Technologies in Cloverdale. Middle-aged, unmarried, and resentful of her superiors at Leapfrog who have benefited from her work, Sam plans sabotage. Enter the Traveling Man and his wife, this time using the names Joe and Tess Campbell. After surviving their previous con in Seanboro, this ruthless, manipulative couple once again hopes to fleece a deserving mark. Sam reveals that her company is about to roll out a data-mining program called Lilypad 5. For $100,000—half up front—she hires the Campbells to help steal the program and destroy the server holding it. While Leapfrog reels from the “accident,” Sam plans to sell Lilypad 5 to one of her firm’s competitors. Personal lives, however, tend to skew even the best-laid scams. Ronnie Franklin, Leapfrog’s director of new development, and Leroy Smalls, the company’s security chief, need piles of cash for private reasons. Once an initial double cross threatens to implode Leapfrog, the Campbells must stay ahead of the mayhem if they want to get paid. King returns in fine form with his devious creations in tow. Fascinating as the Campbells are, however, Sam, Ronnie, and Leroy vie for the reader’s sympathy in remarkable ways. When lovelorn Sam dines with a potential mate named Reuben, she wonders whether her life with him “would be just as empty as it was now, only with twice the laundry and cleaning?” King hints at the potential for psychological trauma from the lives his protagonists lead when Tess declares, “I don't have PTSD. I’m completely over what happened in Seanboro.” The violence here, though brief, is unexpected and staggeringly brutal; the repercussions electrify the narrative. King leaves his audience clamoring for more seedy, smart adventures, with perhaps a bit more damage accrued to Mr. and Mrs. Traveling Man.
King strikes another vein of modern noir gold in this technology tale.