There’s plenty to ponder and the stakes couldn’t be higher in this explosive cyber crime thriller. Following on from The Hacker, The Exploit is the second outing for FBI Special Agent Ericka Blackwood and once again she’s pitted against her Dark Web nemesis, Dantalion.
Dantalion is the modern equivalent of the megalomaniac villain we loved to hate in James Bond, only he’s all the more plausible in the age of cyber crime and digital terrorism where the tools exist to wreak havoc. This time the narcissistic digital puppet master and sociopathic killer has plunged even deeper into the dark side and is now in full terrorist mode. Canadian author Daniel Scanlan‘s experience as a criminal prosecutor, especially in the field of cybercrime and money laundering, gives The Exploit a touch of chilling authenticity.
After their mutually bruising encounter in the first novel, where Dantalion’s avatar taunted the FBI behind the scenes of some nasty murders, both he and Ericka dropped into the shadows. In short, he got away. Ericka is battered, traumatised and still coming to terms with the depths she could sink to in the all-consuming hunt for Dantalion. The pursuit of the master criminal is an obsession that hasn’t weakened since he vanished.
Two years later, he is manipulating his way into the weapons systems at USAF Creech Airbase in Nevada, from which US military drones are controlled. Dantalion has compromised one of the remote pilots, giving access to the network. When a unit of Rangers under fire from ISIL in Afghanistan call in a drone strike to clear the path of their retreat, the three MQ-9 Reapers go rogue. The Rangers suffer a direct hit and the remaining drones are rerouted into Pakistani airspace.
In a further demonstration of his capability, Dantalion screws up Chinese coast guard navigation systems to allow a smuggler vessel to evade capture. Both acts are a prelude to what is to come and Dantalion’s benefactors are very impressed. There’s a problem though, he’s now exposed and just about every security service in the world is searching for him. Strangely, that appears to be what he wants. It’s the best way to get revenge for past failure and draw out the old enemy – Ericka.
Dantalion is hell bent on demonstrating to the world just how clever he is and he still has time to think about killing his ex-wife – just as soon as he thinks she’s suffered enough through the fear of what’s coming. He loves to manipulate people and thrives on their pain.
Dantalion knows Ericka won’t be able to resist the game. The FBI are thinking along the same lines but are nervous of the rogue agent’s return. Ericka is pretty sceptical about coming back too, but it may be her only hope of redemption. The problem is, Dantalion knows that only too well.
Although it deals with the technical field of cyber crime, The Exploit isn’t a sophisticated or nuanced affair. But it is a thrill ride. This is a cat and mouse game where it’s not easy to tell who has the sharpest claws. The bad actors include terrorists, criminals, rogue government elements, foreign powers and, of course, Dantalion – all headed for a confrontation with Ericka and the FBI. This clash has geopolitical ramifications.
From page one, where the Rangers are pinned down under fire, the action never lets up. The story fleshes out Ericka’s obsession and Dantalion’s psychopathy enough to make sense of the coming clash of the titans. The landscape of escalating danger keeps us on the edge of our seats. Clearly Scanlan spent a lot of time researching weapons, tactics and logistics, the kind of thing that will thrill Tom Clancy fans but may turn off some readers looking for a more emotional experience. This is visceral and noisy.
The Exploit plays on the fear of a technological world that is leaving most of us behind; its possibilities are hard to grasp, just think of the debates surrounding AI or driverless cars, let alone the ills of social media. This is the nightmare ‘what-if’ scenario that is genuinely scary. Can a narcissistic megalomaniac threaten world peace? Can one woman stop him? For fans of the high-octane thriller, we have an intriguing female protagonist. It’s a quick read rammed to the hilt with excitement, twists, deviousness and loud bangs.
Head of Zeus
CFL Rating: 4 Stars
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