Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.
For those suffering withdrawal from the unreliable narrators of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, should find solace within Andrew Grant’s spiral-staircase of a techno-thriller, Run.
Like in the aforementioned Flynn novel [and David Fincher’s film adaptation], Grant’s married executive couple Marc and Carolyn Bowman’s blissful lives are slowly unravelled when cracks appear in their job security, cracks that as they split, reveal something far more unpleasant and that perhaps reveal that things and events, were not as they were once portrayed. Even in this technologically driven world that at times appears faceless, we as humans, wear masks to protect ourselves, and perhaps to mislead others like the array of anonymous faces in the activist group termed ‘anonymous’.
At the opening of the book it seems that Marc Bowman, an IT trouble-shooter and somewhat of a loose cannon within the high-tech company, AmeriTel, after a long weekend on a covert project, is unceremonious fired from his job by his boss, and escorted off the premises in an equally ignominious manner. When he divulges the news to his wife, a fellow AmeriTel executive, Carolyn, a women he loves with a passion, he is equally perplexed when, rather than offer tea and sympathy, she sides with their employer.
The theme of this novel is then revealed; one that is best summed up by its one word title, as Bowman has to run for his life and his sanity. Before you can fire the starting pistol, Bowman is pursued by federal agents from the FBI, Homeland Security, underworld contract killers –or are they who they appear to be– as word is out that Bowman has sensitive AmeriTel data on twin USB sticks. And when things couldn’t conceivably get worse, his wife Carolyn and a large slug of cash vanishes putting this everyman in the crosshairs of some very dangerous people.
The plot and narrative is not built on firm ground as it meanders and misdirects as the myriad plot strands converge like the multi-coloured wires within a cable tray, that feed an array of computer servers revealing the arms of conspiracy, one that was hidden with motivations as dark as some of the shadowy users of the ‘Tor Network’, or ‘Dark Web’ as it is known in some quarters.
Run is Grant’s first standalone thriller, and reveals his skill as a master puppet-master, peeling away layer upon layer of miss-direction, and murky motivations of characters and situations, so the reader, at times feels like a centre-court spectator at the Wimbledon tennis final, as their head darts ‘back and fro’ between the volleys, that striate the narrative.
The author is better known for his David Trevellyan espionage thrillers. His work is landscaped against a high technology background– which mirrors his former vocation, a commercial engineer in communications technology–therefore his insight and research gives Run the pervasive air of authenticity.
The paranoia and fear, with the growing revelations of our security concerns with the globe engulfed in geopolitical strife; results in the war, now with trenches layered along the cyber-highways, where the good guys merge into bad guys, and the same happens conversely; because in the world of information technology, can we truly trust the motivations of those who control the ebb and flow of the numbers, that link us all?
Run is an exciting thriller ride torn from the technological paranoia that defines our age; an age where nothing is as it first appears, and more alarmingly no one is who they claim to be.
Be prepared to be immersed in a world of complexity, and at times of confusion. Like Marc Bowman, the reader becomes perplexed as this tale unwinds to its dark conclusion. As Arthur C Clarke once remarked "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", because like his namesake at the climax of Kubrick’s film of Clarke’s 2001 : A Space Odyssey, Bowman has to prevent disaster that lies hidden in a world turning more digital by each passing analog month.