I have been a fan of Barry Eisler for a long time, enjoying his fast-paced style with the John Rain series. So I was interested to see what he would do with – dare I say it – a more realistic style of thriller novel.
Let me get this out of the way first. I find many things that the NSA – the National Security Agency – do in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘security’ and ‘democracy’ to be at the very least, distasteful, and quite frankly downright scary. I suppose it doesn’t take that much imagination to push some of those realities that much further into the stuff of nightmares, although how far from the truth it is, I’m not sure.
In film-making there is a term called “The Uncanny Valley” – which relates to the use of CGI, or computer generated images. It has been found that audiences find CGI which is too close to reality to be unsettling, and prefer to understand clearly where the CGI starts and stops. This book suffers from some of the same problems with its over-dedication to ‘realism’ in its fiction. Eisler makes heavy reference to the real life events with Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, to the point where I think he attaches himself too much. Perhaps it is the fact that the novel is all too possible that is unsettling.
Once the story picks its way out of that minefield, Eisler falls into his familiar rhythm of character-driven thriller. There are twists and turns that would make an Tour De France leg look tame by comparison, and even with more of a ‘god’s eye view’ than the characters, you are never quite sure who to trust. This is centrally the story of a mother and her hearing-impaired son who are on the run, getting chased down by bad guys.
This is more of a techno-thriller than his previous works I have read, but it doesn’t get bogged down in the detail. You don’t need to understand the geekspeak, which is mercifully limited, but the consequences for privacy and freedom of thought and expression are clear enough.
This is not the perfect novel – as I said earlier, it is slightly too obsessed with being relevant to today’s events, with the effect that it may quickly become dated. But it is still a quality novel written by an experienced and accomplished author.
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.