A wisecracking analyst unwittingly finds himself in the thick of an international espionage operation in Ratcliffe’s (Red Hammer 1994, 2013) latest.
Cocky computer analyst John Reirdon is laid off in a round of downsizing at Sandia National Laboratory. Things only get worse when he’s on the outside. His close friend Peter Ferguson suspects fishy things are happening at the lab. Mysterious computer bugs are showing up, ones that can potentially compromise national security. Shortly after Peter shares his concerns with his friend, he’s killed. Sensing blood in the water, Reirdon escalates the issue, until a nondescript computer glitch is confirmed as a critical cyberattack. Oddly, the perpetrator isn’t one of the usual suspects—all fingers point to Japan. But who in Japan, an American ally, would do something so bold, so stupid? Unless, as Reirdon thinks, there’s another explanation. To get it, he’ll have plenty of help, most notably from NSA computer specialist Victoria Kowalski. “This one had all the trappings of a full-blown espionage thriller,” Reirdon wryly notes; he’s right. The novel starts out promisingly and with a bang. Unfortunately, this is no Jason Bourne escapade. Endless military acronyms, procedural details, and computer jargon—“The Linux 3.1 that we run on the NEC is B1”—bog down the narrative, which could use some heavy editing. The narrative strays from the show-don’t-tell directive, and it’s easy to predict most outcomes from a mile away. Clichés abound, and though Reirdon might have the requisite heart of gold under that tough exterior, it rarely shines through. Borderline misogynistic statements—“It was time to mount the confessional, spill his guts to yet one more supposedly understanding female”—don’t help either.
A run-of-the-mill thriller with unsteady aim.