How I rate it: 4 of 5 stars

What I liked: It was a thrill ride, a thinkers thrill ride, but a thriller nonetheless. It’s a bit creepy to contemplate the reach of the government in the post-9/11 world. Even creepier, I submit, when a skilled author brings characters to life who have to grapple with the issues in real time, on the run. 

Plot Summary: A clean up by the NSA leads to a cover up, and cover ups lead to more cover ups. The body count and loose ends lead an analyst inside the agency to start to ask questions, questions that she knows she isn’t ready to answer, questions that peel back the curtain on the NSA’s power and god-like reach.

“Something about all that power seemed to make the assholes who wielded it believe they were invulnerable.”

Significance: Edward Snowden. Need I say more? We live in a surveillance state, and privacy is an illusion. The government’s got the data on you and on me, and after reading Eisler’s novel I think that our only hope is that the tail starts to wag the dog, that those who weild god-like powers won’t be able to control it. Hopefully “too big to fail” also means “too big to succeed.” But yes, that’s a slim hope.

“If you wanted to understand the mentality of most Washington insiders, all you had to do was put yourself in the mind of an insecure teenager, at which point it all began to make sense.”

Note to readers: It’s a good winter read. Pop fiction, a thriller, and a page-turner — all done against the rather creepy and horrifying reality of our current state of intense surveillence. The author handles the necessary “info dumps” well, placing technical information within the narrative in a compelling way.

What I appreciated, as a writer: The novel is a thrill ride, but about two-thirds of the way through I realized that the protagonist was a single mom. Some might think that a single mom might be an unlikely heroine, the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. Eisler teases out the nuances that provide the basis for his compelling drama: unconditional love of a mother for a son and a devotion so fierce that she would do anything for her son, even kill for him. Her love and her son’s vulnerability are powerful points of drama and tension.

Notes on the Author: Barry Eisler is a Bay Area bestselling author who self-publishes at least some of his work and provides some handy tips for writers. He spent three years working “in a covert position” with the CIA and blogs about torture, civil liberties, and the rule of law. 

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