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 Chaucer), 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.
***************************** disclosure *****************************
I don't believe that it's at all uncommon for authors to provide copies of their works to other published authors in exchange for a review. I do think it a bit strange, however, that someone would offer a novel for review to a person whose most famous published work carried the title, Quenching Cross Sections for Electronic Energy Transfer Reactions Between Metastable Argon Atoms and Noble Gases and Small Molecules
, and whose non-scientific publications were primarily tart letters to the editor of a small-town newspaper or flack written some thirty years ago for a small-town community theater group. But so, it has come about: Carac Allison
sent me a copy of Dark Digital Sky
to review. And so, I have now attempted to do that. I appreciate his doing that: it really was a book to like