Net Force: Dark Web

Written by Jerome Preisler Jerome Preisler’s new techno-thriller carries on a series created by the late Tom Clancy and Steve Pieczenik. Does it maintain the immersive, gotta-turn-the-page qualities of Clancy’s work? It’s certainly true that cybersecurity is a pressing matter, becoming more consequential by the day, but this book doesn’t really make the case.

True to current thriller-writing style, it comprises short chapters of a few pages, written about the actions of a large number of players. It’s black hat hackers versus white hat hackers. It’s corrupt African leaders. It’s the President of the United States and the people tasked with protecting her. It’s the CIA and FBI, parking garage attendants and moms with kids. In other words, it’s a lot. Unfortunately, if an author expects to maintain your interest through 700 pages at least some of those characters should be written in enough depth to make you care about them and their fates. The succession of quick snapshots here worked against that.

The story starts strong, with a prologue set in 2023 in Malta. Why this was a prologue and not the first chapter is hard to say as it’s contemporaneous with the rest of the story and integral to it. A young woman who has something to do with software development realises the men who’ve been chasing her are closing in, and she flees on foot through the streets and alleyways of Valletta. She’s unaware that all her evasive manoeuvres are in vain as she’s being trailed not just by men in vehicles, but by a drone that easily follows her every twist and turn.

In a nice reversal, when she’s captured you learn her pursuers are CIA and she may not be one of the good guys after all. Then the action moves to Romania where real black hat operators are hatching a plan. They will use the woman’s clever software to take control of a wide array of computers doing a great many things. They probably aren’t sure exactly what given the near-future pervasiveness of the Internet of Things. The CIA wants the woman to help them combat the black hats, but she’s keeping schtum.

Meanwhile, the US president plans to launch a major cyber security initiative with a ceremony in Lower Manhattan. You know that’s risky. The black hats plan some cyber and conventional terror actions to disrupt that ceremony, and you see the authorities trying to figure out what the risks are and where they’re coming from.

Then there’s the rogue military element in an African country killing protestors with various calamities ensuing. Frankly, this entire plotline is extraneous to the main story and could have been easily excised, reducing the page count. If there is a rationale for its being there, it’s weak or easy to miss. Likewise, when a new character is introduced Preisler describes the person at greater length and with more backstory than necessary for someone he’s never going to return to. You may regret trying to remember character details you won’t need again.

I’ve read a great many techno-thrillers, and what makes them work is your confidence that the author has his technology down pat. I never developed that confidence here. The implications of technology gone awry seem superficial. Inevitably, a moment arrives when the author is really out on a limb, when readers must suspend disbelief and go with him, but I never reached that point. As far as I can tell from his past works, Preisler has not written this type of book before, and it shows.

He does build some nice tension before the president makes her announcement, thanks to the significance of the office not the characterisation, and the chaos that ensues is believable. But, unfortunately, you end up caring more about a loyal dog than any of the people involved.

Try Dan Malakin’s The Regret or the recent books previewed here.

Hanover Square Press
Print/Kindle/iBook
£5.69

CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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