Computer scientist Evan Olsson returns to help track down the people who stole a high-tech laser before they can use it in Barthel’s (Death by Probability, 2014) techno-thriller.
A laser demo at the Halstead Aeronautic Laboratory for customer Enterprise AeroSystems turns deadly when two gunmen emerge from the audience and attack. The armed men steal documents and data disks, and Evan and FBI colleague Matt Emerson suspect industrial espionage as a motive. The laser, however, mysteriously vanishes during its shipment to EAS, and the stakes immediately soar. Circumstances become personal when someone sabotages Evan’s bike. The agent also believes an old enemy is trailing him—one who may not be quite as dead as Evan had hoped. In the second installment of Barthel’s series, Evan shines a little brighter. While he’s initially approached by Matt to help the bureau understand the technological jargon, he eventually displays his skills in surveillance, scrutinizing the whereabouts of dubious people like an artist who uses lasers in his art. Evan’s artificial intelligence, Al, offers only a modicum of assistance, but he does act as a sounding board. Their conversations are a highlight and resemble online chats. The prose is surprisingly light considering the story’s sober content, but it helps keep the plot moving. Al even provides comic relief, using alternating avatars to accommodate each particular situation, including a sagelike grandmotherly figure and the more overt Sigmund Freud. A second plot, detailing Evan’s affair with his girlfriend’s sister, Holly, who’s married, occasionally competes with the main plotline, but overall, it’s an effective counterbalance. Evan, for example, must struggle to keep sex and work separate, which isn’t an easy task when Holly (and her hubby, George) are HAL employees.
A focused, precise thriller; an improvement over the first installment.