Highly recommended is debut fiction author Hiawatha Bray’s entertaining new techno-thriller, set mostly in Boston. Like Bray himself, his protagonist, Weldon Drake, is a technology reporter for a leading newspaper, and both are deacons in an African-American Baptist Church.
Late one night, MIT graduate student Astrid Nelson is stabbed in the basement of Drake’s church. The motive for the attack is unclear, but the victim’s phone and laptop are missing. Days later, when she can finally talk, she tells Drake she’s been working with an international team of hackers on a secret botnet protection project. The day she was attacked, another member of her team was murdered in Germany.
She explains to Drake they are trying to thwart a botnet created for a worldwide attack on the banking industry. Bray’s descriptions of the botnet and other elements of the cyber attack are not overly technical but convincingly convey their dangers, and there’s plenty of danger to come in the physical world as well.
As he pursues leads from Astrid, Drake concludes her team members are not trying to protect the banking system. Rather, they seem more interested in increasing the attack’s destructiveness. Finally, Astrid confesses that, as launch time neared, she and the German hacker got cold feet and tried to call it off. In a flash, they went from insider to expendable. Now Drake is a target too.
The character of Drake has a number of interesting attributes. He says he has antisocial personality disorder, but what he’s really missing seems to be empathy. At least he says he doesn’t care about other people’s problems and that his church activities are a way to compensate.But I don’t quite buy it. For example, Drake has good relations with his friend, Boston PD detective and fellow deacon, Damon Carter, and they candidly discuss the tricky issue of how a black man must behave in encounters with white police officers. You may wonder whether a lifetime of such experiences has contributed to Drake’s tamped-down emotional responses.
The author has written for The Boston Globe, Wired, and Fast Company, so you’d expect him to write well, and he does. You keep cheering Drake on in part because he’s quite funny and shows excellent psychological insight. And I haven’t even mentioned his intriguing descriptions of how he uses a flight simulator to overcome his fear of flying.
The dangers of cybercrime are front and center in this book, along with the risks involved in an increasingly connected world. If you worry that the Powers That Be don’t take these risks seriously enough, this story won’t reassure you. Not only has the author crafted a timely adventure, he’s peopled it with believable, complex characters. You’ll be rooting for Weldon Drake all the way. A great read!