Dark Digital Sky
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LA Private Investigator Chalk is hired to find three adult sons a Hollywood mogul fathered through a sperm bank many years before. United, the three half brothers discover they share a desire to be warriors. They plan a heist to prove they are worthy of enlisting with a paramilitary leader who has taken both a name and a mad inspiration from Kubrick's dark satire Dr. Strangelove. General Ripper's forces begin by robbing pharmaceutical warehouses and then mailing the stolen prescription drugs to America's veterans. They escalate to kidnapping video game designers and broadcasting their deaths. The ensuing chaos builds toward a culminating drone attack that will forever prove Ripper's warning that graphics have made warriors terrorists.
Chalk is an ex-FBI agent whose specializations are cults and computer forensics. The tools of his trade as a PI are a Porsche 911, an unregistered Glock, modified cellphones, radios, and an eclectic collection of computers. He suffers from bipolar disorder, lives alone and hopes to one day be able to see his son without the constraints placed on him by the courts.
Chalk: the hardboiled geek
This book is a rather interesting melding of literary genres. Fundamentally, it is classic, hard-boiled detective fiction, but mixed with oodles of geek porn, and whose background motivation borrows from the dystopian nightmares of the Millennial generation. Sounds like rather a mishmash, but Allison has done an excellent job weaving all this together into a compelling story.
The protagonist, Chalk (just Chalk, no Mr. and certainly not <em>Chaucer</em>), is a private eye, cut from the mold of Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's great invention (or if you prefer, think Sam Spade or Guy Noire). He's a bit of a loaner, he's irreverent, he mulls over the human condition, he's dogged, he's not above stretching legal boundaries to accomplish his tasks. Unlike Marlowe, he has admitted mental illness issues, mostly controlled by appropriate medications. Also unlike Marlowe, he does much of his sleuthing via various forms of modern electronic technology, hacking people's corporate and government networks, planting bugs and cameras in people's houses (after first disabling the house's electronic security), finding interesting ways to tap people's cell phones (bluesnarfing, cloning,...). But, like Marlowe, he also spends a lot of time driving around, talking to people: stroking them, bullying them, or conning them, as necessary. The writing style also reminds me very much of Chandler, straight forward and to the point.
As for the story itself, Chalk is hired to find the possible genetic sons of a rich media mogul. Many years previously, the mogul had donated to a sperm bank. The mogul now finds himself with a terminal disease and wants to meet his "sons". So Chalk hacks into the sperm bank's data base to find the young men. Along the way, he becomes drawn into a weird shadow, domestic terrorism plot overseen by a reclusive, faceless (Joan Rivers doesn't know for squat about surgical face rearrangements compared to this guy) General Ripper. General Ripper is part of the Dark Pantheon:
Serial killers that are never caught, never even known. Cult leaders who secretly access ancient rites to further modern madness. Technological shamans conjuring chaos. I am confident that General Ripper is a member of this Dark Pantheon. These dark figures know of each other and likely even communicate.
Gen. Ripper is amassing a terrorist organization of army veterans and youthful hackers, including the possible sons-via-sperm-donation of the rich mogul (two would-be warriors, albeit not veterans, one talented hacker). They seem to be united, in part, by a desire to return to the warrior's way of "authentic violence". In our current method of war making, drone warfare, soldiers sit at video screens, little knowing whether they're confronting real enemies or merely playing video games:
Graphics have made warriors terrorists.
Rather a dark assessment of our approach to "defending" ourselves from possible "enemy threats", but also, sadly, somewhat apt.
So, all in all, you've got an updated version of Philip Marlowe (or Sam Spade or Guy Noire), who isn't too finicky about the methods he uses to combat archetypal evil, but who ultimately produces results others could not. Something like that. It's a compelling story, well worth one's time, and seasoned with lots of tasty morsels for thought regarding the human condition.
A Compelling New Private Eye Character and a Promising New Series
At first glance Dark Digital Sky looked like a somewhat interesting mystery/thriller with yet another iteration of the typical off-kilter and flawed Private Eye updated for the 21st century.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Right from the beginning the lead character "Chalk" was skillfully drawn out as a compelling and interesting character. Sure he had a lot of the typical characteristics of the modern sleuth - literary ex-cop like Spenser, dresses like Virgil Flowers, relentless like Jack Reacher or Lucas Davenport and drives a cool car like Jim Rockford - but Chalk jumps off the page as something completely synergistic. He drives a Porsche 911. He has hacker skills. He works out while simultaneously watching classic basketball, movies and scrolling ebooks on multiple screens. He has an uncanny ability to get people to talk and find things the police and Feds overlook. This is one of the most fascinating new PIs to grace the page in a long time.
The plot, while sounding a little over the top from the book description, just works. The pace is masterful, worthy of Robert B. Parker or Raymond Chandler as it starts out with a small case and develops over time into something much bigger, all while keep the reader turning from page to page, chapter by chapter.
The plot resolution (which you'll have to read for yourself) is very satisfying while leaving room for more in the series. I'm hoping to read more.
If you're fan of Robert B. Parker, John Sanford or Lee Child you won't be disappointed by this very reasonably priced and well written book.