Want You Gone

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Written by Chris Brookmyre – This is the eighth book featuring Jack Parlabane but he shares top billing in this one. Sam Morpeth is a troubled London teenager. Her mother is in prison and she is now the main carer for her sister, Lilly, with Down’s syndrome. Parlabane is also in London as he has landed a plum job with an uber-trendy media outlet who value his skills as an investigative journalist. He can scarcely believe his luck. Of course, it can’t last.

The wheels come off when Sam, a brilliant hacker, lets her online mask slip and she finds herself being blackmailed by the mysterious Zodiac. Sam needs to steal a prototype or her identity is going to be revealed to the police after her highly publicised hack on a national bank. Parlabane has a long history with the hacker known as Buzzkill. Meanwhile, Sam has some dirt on him and so she effectively passes the blackmail on down the chain. Now they are partners as they embark on industrial espionage.

Both Parlabane and Sam have certain skills. Parlabane has a chequered past and is not above a bit of breaking and entering when needed. After the set-up, the first half of the book explains their planning of the robbery. The social engineering elements are as interesting as the technical details of the online intrusion. Some may find this slow-paced but a more generous assessment is that the thrills are more cerebral. Those less familiar with the nuances of cyber crime may wonder if they have stumbled into a techno-thriller, but Brookmyre works hard to keep the human angles in crisp focus.

Jack Parlabane is his normal self and, as usual, written in a close third person. Self aware but reckless with it, he’s the archetypal loveable rogue. Brookmyre shrugs him on like a favourite overcoat. Cynical political barbs are a common thread throughout Brookmyre’s books. This has always been done with a characteristic black humour. In the early books it could at times feel preachy and the narrative has suffered. It often felt like Brookmyre was a damn good edit away from a cracking story. Brookmyre’s recent mainstream successes have seen the balance shifted and his star has risen.

Sam Morpeth is written in the first person and that gives us an intriguing counter-point to Parlabane. The first person offers us a more intimate insight to the contradictions of her character. In real life she is meek and cowed but online she is confident and even domineering. Brookmyre works hard to break down this paradox but it feels a little forced at points. She is genuine and is in many ways a richer character than Parlabane.

Want You Gone may have a dull generic title (the American version is The Last Hack) that seems to have been randomly generated by the marketing department’s computer. Don’t let that deter you. I’ve been reading Brookmyre since Parlabane made his first appearance in Quite Ugly One Morning in 1996 and his recent surge in popularity reflects his talents. As a thriller the final 100 pages do not disappoint and it storms along with revelations aplenty. Brookmyre takes all the plot strands and twists them one way then the other. There is a buzzy, visceral tension in the final third that strips through the pages. Want You Gone may not have the broad appeal of Brookmyre’s last hit, Black Widow, but this is a fine addition to the series.

The recent releases Exposure and Freefall also deal with cyber crime and hacking.

Little, Brown

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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